11. No Telling Lies

Meditating on the Wonders of the Ten Commandments:  11. No Telling Lies

Ex 20:16   You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.

When God created  Adam and Eve, peace reigned. There was no reason for a cross word. Even immediately after the Fall both Adam and Eve spoke the truth and yet within it was blame and blame puts the onus on another person: The man said, “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” …..  The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Gen 3:12,13) Once we have sinned it opens the door for other sins. Because we ARE sinners, sinning came naturally (until we met Christ and he put his Holy Spirit within us). All sins are against God and many sins are against other people.

In this context our ‘neighbour’ is anyone in close contact with us. As we saw above we can speak the truth about our neighbour but it is still unkind. To constantly point out the failings of someone near us may be pointing out the truth, but it is still unkind and ungracious. We often speak against others because they are different from us; their lifestyle or their values may be different from ours. Unless we can do something about the difference, do something to bridge the gap, then speaking out our differences may make us feel good but does little good otherwise, and may subtly, even  in our own thinking make it more difficult for us to communicate with them. But so far we haven’t told lies about them, but I mention these things to show how complex relationships can so often be.

The lies, or the lack of truth or distorting the truth can come from two very similar origins and they both flow out of ‘self’. In the first one we can simply be an unpleasant person who, for whatever reason, just is unpleasant. May this never be able to be said about a Christian. This is a person still living the old life as the apostle Paul speaks about it, a life with no knowledge of Christ. Such people can have so many issues in their lives that it isn’t worth categorizing them; they simply need to come to Christ and be made anew.

Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” (Mt 15:19) Such people care little for the truth; they may say things out of sheer vindictiveness, sheer unpleasantness. It is how some people are. Inside they are all twisted up and so their words reflect what is going on inside. They desperately need to have an encounter with Christ. As I say, these cannot be Christians, or if they are they may have asked Christ into their life but never let him have his way in bringing grace and change to them. To them the law still comes – don’t say wrong things about those around you!

But then there is the far more common case, I believe, where somehow or other we come under attack from others and we retaliate – we speak back. The only thing about speaking back when you are hurt, is that your words cease to be careful and can so easily stray into the territories of exaggeration or ever complete untruth. I know let myself down when I put the word ‘always’ into a description, or perhaps, ‘never’. Speaking about the young preacher: “he is always straying away from the truth in his theology and isn’t worth listening to when he is preaching.” Perhaps he did once. Always is an exaggeration and is untrue and it is a false testimony about him. Or there is, “She never thinks before opening her mouth and so you’d do better never to listen to her.” Well sometimes she has a tendency to do that but often, no. That was a false testimony.

People who pass on information about others (it is called gossip!) are the most prone the passing on inaccurate information and any distortion is false testimony. You’ve no doubt heard of ‘Chinese whispers’ where a message is passed from person to person and by the time it has reached the tenth person is utterly different from how it started. A silly example perhaps but nevertheless it is an illustration of how false testimony comes about.

It also comes about so often through speculation. I wonder why they did that? Speculation, suggestions and soon the suggestion, the speculation, become ‘facts’. Well, no, that actually wasn’t what happened so that was false testimony. False testimony always demeans the reputation of someone, pulling them down in the eyes of the watchers and subsequently their behaviour towards that person subtly changes, and not for the better.  Love they say is the mortar that holds the building blocks of relationships. False testimony is the acid that corrodes the love and causes separation.

Recounting what went on or what you heard is always difficult. Only yesterday I was listening to a CD in my car, and recounted to my wife a little later, a story being told. I had no desire to give false testimony and the effect of inaccuracy in this case was completely harmless, but when we put the CD on to listen to it together I realised I recounted the story with two inaccuracies. It is so easy to do, and when it is passing on details of what someone at a church meeting says, or even recounting a conversation, it is so easy to inadvertently be inaccurate. False testimony.

Speaking the truth is the call to all Christians and that is the up to date version, if you like, of this commandment, but it is also a call to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15) which means sometimes we would do better to remain silent and sometimes really check our motivation,. This command seems simple but it can have serious effects.

25. Hold On

Meditations in 1 John : 25 : Hold On

1 John  2:24,25   See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us–even eternal life.

Remember the context: John is encouraging the believers to resist the deception of lies and distorted teaching that was arising in the first century. He has reminded them that they have the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, who has both anointed them and indwelt them, and He will help them remain in the truth. But the fact is that we as individual believers still have free will and we can make choices and we can choose how we will live. We can choose to be Christ-like in attitude, in word and in action. We can choose to obey God’s commands. Choice still plays a large part in our lives. We can choose to pray – or not. We can choose to read the Bible – or not. We can choose to go to church – or not. We can choose to worship – or not. We can choose to be a witness – or not. Oh yes, at every turn the choices are ours and God will not force us. It is a mystery why one person chooses to be all out for God and another chooses to be half-hearted (yes, we even choose that.)

The New Testament is full of instructions that require us to make a response. Again and again we see such instructions and we should imagine them having the word ‘You’ in front of them. For example, “(You) Be joyful always; (you) pray continually; (you) give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thess 5:18) That would remind us that such instructions are written to us individually and individually we need to respond to them.

Thus now, we find John giving such an instruction that we might render, “(You) See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you.”  Another way of putting that might be to say, hang on to all you have heard of the Gospel and of the apostolic teaching, and make sure it genuinely remains the expression of the active outworking of your lives.

This sounds such a simple exhortation, yet it is such a fundamental and important one.  To the church at Ephesus, the first of the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3, Jesus declared, “You have forsaken your first love.” (Rev 2:4) They were no longer what they once were. This happens because we change our thinking. The word ceases to be alive to us as it once was. We no longer hold to the truths we were taught as young Christians and are more laid back in our appreciation of them. In such ways we fail to hang on and ensure we hold to what we “have heard from the beginning,” so that no longer does it remain in us in the same way. It is so easy, as we see the passing of years, to let this happen. It is a vital call that John brings here, one that we all need to heed. So, let’s ask the question: are we ensuring that what we have heard from the beginning still remains in us? Is it alive and as vibrant as it was when we first received it?

John then says something which is seriously challenging: “If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.”  The implication is that if we don’t hold on to the truth we don’t remain “in the Son and in the Father.”  Put aside arguments about whether or not you can lose your salvation, is it possible for you and me to lose contact with Jesus and with the Father, and thus cease to commune with them?  I believe the answer is undoubtedly yes. How many people that you come across, started out so strongly and were wonderful examples of all-out-for-God committed Christians, yet as the years passed, times with God early in the morning got squeezed out with the busyness of life and awareness of the Lord’s presence faded? I am not pronouncing on your eternal destiny but I am asking about the reality of our daily walk with the Lord?  Is it still like it once was? The most terrible of the indictments of the seven churches of Asia Minor, was that of Laodicea: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” (Rev 3:15)

Half-heartedness is the greatest bane that can settle on the Church. It is so easy to let it settle on you in this materialistic age, in this age that is so busy and active. It is so easy to let it settle when we start getting jaded with modern church life that so often lacks reality. How easy it is to become cynical and then we step back and instead of letting our feelings stir us to challenge the church and the world, we let them neutralize us and we become ineffective, church life becomes repetitiously boring, and the world is untouched by us.

John has something more to add: “And this is what he promised us–even eternal life.”   When the true life is flowing in us it is eternal life, it is the very life of Jesus, of his Holy Spirit, and that life brings life and activity that is not merely following rules or performing rituals, it is responding to the prompting and energizing of the Spirit within. This goes with the thoughts about communing with the Son and the Father. When we commune with them, we are open to them and the Spirit is able to energize, guide and direct us. THAT is life.

32. Forked Tongue

Meditations in James: 32 : Forked Tongue

Jas 3:9-12      With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

We don’t seem to have many Western films these days, especially those showing American Indians, now referred to as native Americans, but when I was young it was the day of the Western and the ‘Indians’ were both warlike and noble. Thus they had codes of honour and truth was one of them.  When they encountered a white man who they believed was lying to them, they spoke the immortal phrase, “White man speak with forked tongue.”  The picture of a tongue that speaks two different things is a good picture and it’s one that James now picks up on in his teaching about the use of the tongue.

He has spoken of the tongue being the thing that directs our path through life, a thing that though small has the potential to wreak havoc, and yet a thing that is impossible to tame, and now he focuses on the ability we seem to have of being able to speak good and bad from the same mouth.  He starts off pointing out that Christians have this awful ability to praise God one minute and curse people, who are part of God’s design, the next.  Here we have our Christian on a Sunday morning, singing for all their worth, joining in the worship whole-heartedly and, in some circles, raising holy hands and perhaps even dancing.  When you look at them you think what a spiritual person they must be.  But follow them home, follow them into the school, college or workplace the next day, follow them through the week and watch what they do and watch what they say. Here they are in a discussion at home about the neighbours who they are roundly condemning for a variety of reasons. True, these may not be Christians they are talking about, but they are still part of God’s creation, and the sadness it that they haven’t come to know Jesus as their Saviour yet, but we don’t see it like that and so we demean them in our conversation.  It’s tantamount to cursing them.

Then there’s the conversation in the classroom or office about someone senior in the place.  We don’t like them, or they’re not very good at their job, and in our talk we pull them down.  We don’t feel sorry for them and we haven’t prayed for them, we just pull them down in our talking, and it’s tantamount to cursing them.

This, says James should not happen, and to put weight to that declaration he illustrates it.  Stop and think about it, is what he is implying.  If you have a spring of water, can pure water and salt water come out of the same spring? No, of course not!  And if we still haven’t got the message, he adds in a further illustration. Can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? No of course not.  These things go against nature.  They are not designed that way, and so it should be with the mouth. We should not be saying good things one minute and bad the next.

Solomon gave us an interesting proverb: The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Prov 18:21).  First of all he notes the power of the tongue.  With your tongue you can bring either ‘life’ or ‘death’.  You bring life by leading someone to the Lord, or by sharing His love with them.  That person is blessed by what has happened to them because of what you have said.  But you can say wrong things and lead people into low places of depression, anxiety, fear or even temptation.  You can lead them into a place of spiritual or even literal death, by the use of your tongue. But implies Solomon, depending on the direction of your heart, you will love that use of your tongue and as a result of using it in that way you will reap the fruits of that – either life or death.  If you joy in bringing blessing to other people by the use of your tongue, you will be blessed. If you enjoy using your tongue to pull down others, you will be cursed and will pull yourself down. But Solomon saw it as one or the other.  You cannot joy in both things, and in that he is saying the same as James.

Perhaps there is one further facet of this we should consider to ensure we are wise in our understanding.  Equated with this are truth and lies. For instance Solomon said, He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue.” (Prov 28:23). He saw that sometimes rebuking a person is a good thing. Telling someone off or pulling them up, for having done something wrong, is a good thing. We shouldn’t see the good use of the tongue as being only saying nice, comfortable words, because sometimes those words are not appropriate. If you flatter someone and in fact they have been doing wrong, then your words were not appropriate. Truth is a key element to be considered with our words. We should not be speaking truth one minute and untruth the next. Somehow we are to speak truth all the time. Perhaps that is why Paul refers to speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15). Perhaps there are times when we need to seek the Lord for His wisdom (Jas 1:5) to know how we are to say corrective things that build up rather than pull down.

These are just a variety of ways that we can let ourselves down and fail the Lord. These are things He wants us to think through and work on. The tongue, as we have been seeing, has the potential to guide us, or bring destruction. It is only changed when our heart of changed and it should not be bringing good one minute and bad the next. Our tongue has the capability of speaking truth with love and bringing the wonderful love of God, and therefore His blessing in to many people’s lives. The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.” (Prov 10:11). May it be like that with us all the time! Ask the Lord to help you be that each day.

30. Tongue Burnt

Meditations in James: 30 : Burnt by the Tongue

Jas 3:5,6 Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

There are two sorts of TV programme that don’t excite me. One is the morning TV where there is a studio full of people talking about a contentious part of life.  The other is so-called soap operas.  Imagine both of them without any sound.  First of all imagine the contentious couples debate if they, and the other participants, were dumb.  Nobody would watch it, would they, because it is the angry words spoken that stir people’s interests.  Imagine soap operas as real life dramas and imagine again the people being dumb.  Most of the ‘difficult situations’, that go to make up the interest of these ongoing television fillers, are what they are because of what the various people say.

Oh yes, the tongue is the instrument that has this devastating potential for causing upset and upheaval. Having just written about how the tongue guides our life, James now goes on to warn us of the tremendous power of the tongue.  Solomon was aware of this when he wrote Proverbs: With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor (Prov 11:9) andThrough the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed.” (Prov 11:11) and A fool’s lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating.” (Prov 18:6) and A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” (Prov 26:28).  Note the things in that short list that the tongue is capable of doing: destroying a neighbour (presumably by slander), destroying a city (presumably by lies, deceit, and generally leading into unrighteous business deals), personal strife (probably by rudeness and verbal attack which invites retribution), and general hurt and ruin by harshness and flattery which deceives.

If you are a watcher of these “sort out the problems” morning TV programmes or of soap operas, next time think about what all the people are saying.  Observe where there are words that are attacking, words that are demeaning, words that are violent, and think how different the situation would be if the exact opposite sort of words were spoken instead.  James says, Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark and so watch and see how a few words can ignite a situation and cause hostility and upset and division and hurt and anger and….. the list goes on!  In families there are words that should never be spoken: “I hate you!” or “I wish I’d never been born!” or “You’re ugly” or “You’re stupid!”  Each one of these is a small spark that has devastating effects.  Once said they cannot be withdrawn and they set a fire of passion blazing which is not easily put out.

But James pushes it further.  He says, The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. That sounds awful!  Why is he using the analogy of a fire?  Because a fire is something out of control and capable of spreading destruction.  But why does he say that this fire is a world of evil among the parts of the body? Well we sometimes speak about how we ‘compartmentalise’ our lives, and he’s saying imagine our bodies like different compartments.  If you imagine the tongue as one ‘department’ in the running of your life, it seems that in so many people it is a department that is evil.  It may be the expression of the heart, but it is the visible, or rather audible expression of evil.  The mouth is the propaganda machine of the human body, that is able to reach out and influence or harm others by the words that come out.  It is seen in many people as evil, speaking out hurtful, harmful words.

But he goes on, It corrupts the whole person. If you corrupt something you spoil or mar it, you taint it or pollute it.   Speaking out words is very influential, and tragically most of us don’t realise this, so that when we put something into words it’s like it strengthens something in us.  While it only remains a thought, it is fairly powerless, but once we speak it out, it seems like it has the effect of spreading that negative right through us, so it is something that becomes more established in us.  If our lives were like a glass of clear water, when we speak negative, unkind, hostile, impure, unrighteous words, it is like black ink is being dripped into that clear water and it is polluted and no longer clear.  The words have the ability to change the life.  The heart was wrong, but the words established that wrong in a deeper, firmer way.

But James then piles on further pictures: It …sets the whole course of his life on fire. If the tongue is a fire, then the words are like flaming pieces that soar up into the air and where they land they spread the fire. As we’ve just suggested, when the words are spoken they affect the rest of the life. We used the analogy of clear water; James uses the analogy of fire.

Then he finishes with a strange expression: and is itself set on fire by hell. Can I use an analogy that I use often, that of anger? A person may use anger to get their own way, but that is unrighteous. Now if a person uses unrighteous anger regularly, then they open themselves up to Satan’s influence and he can press in on that person so that their anger flares up and is completely uncontrollable. Now the same thing is true of the tongue. Some people use the tongue to put down others, as a means of having influence over them, but this is unrighteous.  So what happens is that when they do this they make themselves vulnerable to Satan (and hell is just shorthand for ‘the powers of darkness and all that they bring’) and so Satan takes the fire (emotional words) that they have used, and blows on it so they become completely out of control.  What this person finds is that no longer can they control what they say; they are motivated or driven by these emotions which are beyond their control, and the fire burns and burns and burns until the person is destroyed. Did you realise the terrible power that is there in the use of the tongue and the forces of destruction that can be released by it?  Well think about these things.

15. Tongue & Heart

Meditations in James: 15 :  Tongue & Heart

Jas 1:26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

I have this picture of a heavenly watcher keeping score of all the different sorts of sins being committed on earth. I’ve got this horrible feeling that it’s not the sins of physical or sexual violence, or of taking other people’s property, that score the most, it’s sins of the tongue. Why? Because it is so easy to do!  Go into any room where there are a lot of people and just listen.  People talk. People talk a lot. In the 12th meditation of this series I quoted a verse from Proverbs which has convicted me in the past: When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Prov 10:19).  Some of us are quieter than others. Perhaps they are the wise ones.

Being in a church context, I’m often in a room with lots of other people and I enjoy just sitting and watching what is going on. I hope that in the church the talk is good. Mostly in my presence it is, but what about behind the closed doors where just two or three are discussing the many facets of a church’s life. If Jesus was sitting quietly in the background, listening in on what was being said, I wonder if some of the things actually would be said?  Paul challenges us about malice, slander and telling lies (Col 3:8,9). Malice is speaking unkindly about another person. Slander is speaking falsely about another person, and lies are simply not speaking the truth. Listen to the gossip in the street and it’s always about other people, and so often it is either unkind or inaccurate. For people in the world, we should expect it for they have no standard to keep to, but for people who claim to be religious, now that is something else!

But it may not be behind people’s backs; it may things said directly to someone. They may be unkind and harsh. They may be critical and demeaning. How about the husband who makes derogatory comments about his wife, or the wife who is nagging or even scathing about her husband? According to James’ general comment here, these things should not be. Or there is the parent who snaps at the child or the teenager who answers back to their parent’s rebuke. These things should not be.  Or maybe it is at work. Here is the boss who acts like a bully to his or her employees. Listen to their forceful demeaning words. If they are ‘religious’ it should not be so. Or here is the employee making excuses why their work is substandard, and the truth is not being completely told. Then there is school or college, fertile grounds for harsh use of the tongue, especially when discipline is not all it could be. Everywhere you turn, there are people and people have a habit of using their tongue and not for good and edifying purposes.

With his use of the words religious’ and ‘religion’, James seems to make an all-sweeping inclusion of anyone who purports to have spiritual beliefs, beliefs about God. Forget it, says James, if you can’t even control your tongue, your ‘religion’ is worthless. Now that is strong language! It actually says to a lot of people that their beliefs and even actions on a Sunday are worthless.  Why is he so strong on the subject of the tongue? Well it will come up again in his writings but let’s consider the motivation behind what comes out of the mouth.

Isaiah said something very simple: For the fool speaks folly (Isa 32:6). What he was saying was that because a person was a fool, he will speak foolish things. The two go together. The opposite is true also. Later he spoke of: He who walks righteously and speaks what is right (Isa 33:15). If the intent of your walk through life is righteousness, then you will speak righteously. On one occasion Jesus challenged the Pharisees of his day: You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” (Mt 12:34,35). Did you see what he said? The mouth speaks what is overflowing from the heart. If you have a heart that is not fully God-centred then out of the mouth will come self-centred words.  Sometimes people speak hostile attacking words because deep down they feel threatened.  Their outward angry words reveal an inner defensiveness. Young people today, from broken families, so often speak hard and harsh words as they reflect the inner pain and insecurity that they feel.

Oh yes, the reason James is so strong about what comes out of the mouth is because it reflects what is going on inside. You may ‘say’ you are religious, but if that faith is not bearing fruit inside you and bringing inner change to you, as evidenced by the words you speak, then that religion isn’t worth much, is it!  The truth is that if we really want to we can rein in our words, but that is very difficult if the heart hasn’t been dealt with. Becoming a real Christian is a heart experience. Our heart is broken and we give it to God to transform. In that attitude, He works and we are brought into a new place of security and love, and that is reflected by the words that then come out of our mouths. However, all along the path, the enemy is trying to stir up something else within us, so that out of our mouths come hurtful, harmful, unkind or untrue words. Yes, there may be the occasional slip, but if the heart is being transformed, then they will only be an occasional slip. For the most part, our words should be as Paul said, Let your conversation be always full of grace (Col 4:6). But remember, it’s a heart thing first and foremost, so check out your words and then consider whether you need to go to the Lord for further heart surgery. 

11. Truth

Lessons from the Law: No.11 : Respect the Truth

Ex 20:16 You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

We have said that all these commandments are linked to relationships. The first four are relationship with the Lord, the fifth is about relationship with parents, the sixth is about relating rightly to all other humans and respecting their life, the seventh was about marriage relationships and the eighth about relationships with all other people, and respecting their property ownership. Each command stops abuse of that relationship in some specific way. Life is all about relating to God and to other people. None of us is an island and so life is all about how we relate to everyone else we encounter in life, starting with God.

The ninth commandment gives us another abuse against others: speaking wrongly about what they have said and done. This is more than just speaking badly about others, although that is also wrong, this is seeking to pervert justice, because false testimony is telling untruths about them that lead to injustice. Each of the previous commandments we have just considered are to ensure there is peace and harmony in the community of God’s people. Murder takes life, adultery takes a person’s heart, stealing takes a possession, and now false testimony takes a reputation, and each one causes harm and upset in the lives of individuals and in the community. It isn’t only the individuals that are upset, although that is bad enough, but the whole of the community is adversely affected when these things take place. Guilt, shame and especially mistrust break in to the lives of the people in the world around you when you break these commands.

We find similar instructions given later in the law: Do not spread false reports.” (Ex 23:1) and “Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.” (Ex 23:7) False speaking was to have no place among the community of God’s people. Why? Because as Solomon was later to write, “There are six things the LORD hates…. a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” (Prov 6:16,19) The Lord is concerned with truth and reality and lies and deception are only of His enemy and so He hates these things that disturb and upset His world. Indeed, Solomon later wrote, “The righteous hate what is false,” (Prov 13:5) and so a righteous person, reflecting their Lord’s heart, will have nothing to do with speaking falsely.

It was quite a key issue with Solomon and crops up in Proverbs again and again in different forms: “A truthful witness does not deceive, but a false witness pours out lies.” (Prov 14:5) and “A truthful witness saves lives, but a false witness is deceitful.” (Prov 14:25). So strongly does he feel about it that he gives severe warnings: “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will not go free.” (Prov 19:5) repeating it slightly differently a few verses later: “A false witness will not go unpunished,and he who pours out lies will perish.” (Prov 19:9) But it is also the person who listens to these lies and accepts them who is drawn into this: “A false witness will perish, and whoever listens to him will be destroyed forever.” (Prov 21:28). Speaking even more graphically, he later says, “Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor.” (Prov 25:18)

Yes, the message is quite clear from Scripture: the Lord is against lies, and especially lies about those who are around you, whoever they may be. And ‘neighbour’ can mean those who live near you or those who work around you or learn around you at school or college. ‘Speaking falsely’ is saying anything about another which is not the truth about them. It may simply be an opinion or it may be secondhand, but if it is not true, we are still ‘giving false testimony’; we are saying things about them which are not true and we are conveying to others false information or false impressions. We are leading others to think badly about the ones we are speaking about and in so doing we diminish their reputation. To use a word we used a lot in the previous meditation, we ‘demean’ them; we make them less than they are.

I suspect that this commandment is broken far more regularly than we are mostly aware. Reports mount up that press reporting and TV news reporting are sometimes careless in checking the details before publishing them, and thus false reports or ‘slightly inaccurate’ reports are given. How many reputations have been destroyed because a reporter and their editor were a little bit flexible with the truth? The media representatives may find they have a lot to answer for when they face the Lord eventually.

But it isn’t only the media; it is each one of us. How careful are we about speaking the truth? Gossip tends to inaccurately convey the truth. Yes the truth may include an error or mistake or piece of bad behaviour, but if it comes without compassionate understanding, it is not the complete truth and the gossip will be answerable to the Lord for breaking this commandment which, we have noted above, is highly regarded by the Lord.

No, don’t think that this is a minor commandment, one less than murder. You may not be physically killing a person but you may kill their reputation and, indeed, their future. We must be very careful to stick to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, otherwise we may find ourselves being held accountable by the Lord, and that will not be pleasant!