Looking into the Mirror: A True Witness

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Exodus 20:16).

When Peter and John were arrested by the Jewish leaders for preaching the resurrection of Christ, they defended themselves by saying, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). In this simple statement we find the definition and duty of a witness. Christ had promised His disciples would be witnesses (Acts. 1:8). Against that background stands the command to not bear “false witness” against a neighbor.

To Witness Falsely

What does it mean to bear false witness? The Hebrew phrase (`anah sheqer `ed) literally means “to give false/deceptive/lying witness/testimony.” The original meaning is likely connected to the judicial process. The phrase “against [lit. in the case of] your neighbor” refers to a reciprocal relationship between two people. Jesus defined “neighbor” broadly, and it’s best to see a broad application of this term as well.

If a witness is to testify about what he has seen and heard, then it follows that giving false testimony is to say what is untrue (ex: “I saw John coming out of Joe’s house at 1pm,” when in fact it was actually 2:30pm). Of course, false testimony need not be that blatant. Most falsehoods are far more subtle.

The Wider Context

Being a witness is not limited to judicial proceedings, however. As we pointed out earlier, Jesus says that His disciples will be His witnesses (i.e., witnesses of Him and His work). We also act as witnesses when we speak of other people in everyday conversations. The commandment is meant to protect the reputations, and giving false witness, either intentionally or carelessly, has the effect of damaging reputations. If we are to honor this commandment, then its words should have a sobering effect on what and how we speak.

In the account of Job, we found an example of what it means to be a false witness regarding God. For some context, remember that Job’s three friends came to comfort him in his time of grief after the loss of all he had. After their conversation (and God’s conversation with Job), we read these words,

After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7-8).

This is a rather serious charge. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had spoken about God things that were untrue. The penalty under the law for testifying falsely was severe (though this event likely happened before the law was given). God tells the three that unless they make sacrifice and Job prays for them, He will deal with them “according to [their] folly.” 

Paul gives another example of being a false witness in his discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. There he writes,

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either (1 Cor. 15:14-16).

Paul’s comments here are unmistakable. Anyone who says Christ was not raised from the dead is guilty of breaking the ninth commandment, since God has indeed raised Christ from the dead (this is the clear implication of his argument). 

These examples should give us pause when we consider how we speak about God to others today. In the context of bearing false witness, how does that apply when speaking of God? Violations of this commandment might include portraying God as:

  • judgmental apart from being compassionate
  • simply overlooking our sin
  • unconcerned with the needs of His people
  • anything less than absolutely sovereign and holy

Of course much more could be added to the list. The thing to bear in mind is that our portrayal of God should be according to Scripture, not what we think God should be like.

One final note is in order here. As witnesses, we not only witness with our words but with our lives. If our lives don’t match our words, we still run the risk of being false witnesses. Therefore, we must endeavor to fulfill Paul’s command to the Ephesians: 

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ (Eph. 4:15).


Looking into the Mirror: Not Yours But His

You shall not steal (Exodus 20:15).

Years ago, a Colorado woman sent in two eight-cent stamps to make up for having used one stamp twice (which, for some reason, had not been canceled). A former IRS employee mailed in one dollar for four ballpoint pens she had never returned to the office. In February 1974, the US government received the following letter, “I am sending ten dollars for blankets I stole while in World War II. My mind could not rest. Sorry I’m late.” It was signed, “an ex-GI.”i Stealing comes in many forms, and many forms that we may not recognize. Using a stamp twice? Not returning ballpoint pens? Most of us would hardly think about such things Yet, like all God’s commandments the eighth commandment does not discriminate between “big” and “little” sins.

Not Yours But His

The verb translated “steal” is the Hebrew ganab, which denotes “to steal, carry away [whether by stealth or not], by implication to deceive.” Though some scholars think the original form of the commandment had a direct object (and thus prohibited stealing a certain thing or person), the evidence for that is not convincing. The eighth commandment is therefore broad, including stealing of any type.

As with all the commandments, “do not steal” is firstly a sin against the Lord. The command recognizes that all belongs to Yahweh (Ps. 24:1; 115:16). Since all is His, He alone is entitled to “give and take away” (Job 1:21). Therefore, I must not take what He has given to another as my own.

What Can Be Stolen?

That seems to be a rather simple, if obvious, principle. At the same time, we often limit our thoughts on stealing to possessions. Much more can be said to be stolen, however:

We steal from God when we refuse to give Him the worship He is due.

We steal life from another when we commit murder or harbor hatred in our heart.

We steal reputation from another when we bear false witness against them.

We steal revenue due the government when we do not pay our taxes or find illegitimate ways to avoid doing so.

We steal respect and honor due our parents when we disrespect and/or disobey them.

We steal companionship, love, affection, and commitment from another when we engage in adultery.

There are many more we could list. As we see, stealing is not limited to possessions. In fact, often the non-tangible things that are stolen cause the most damage. Stealing, like all the commands, is a matter of the heart. To steal is to proclaim we do not trust God to take care of us. We take matters into our own hands. We think we are entitled to this or that, so we find a way to take it, in order to meet our own desires (which we proclaim as needs).

Since stealing is a heart issue, the solution is found in repentance. We must forsake our demand for independence and turn to Christ in dependence, trust, and obedience. He has promised we will have all we need–and even more.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matt. 6:33).

[He] is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us (Eph. 3:20).

iTold by Max Lucado, Six Hours One Friday, p. 59.

Looking into the Mirror: The Great Sin

You shall not commit adultery (Exodus 20:14).

Do not commit adultery. This command, like all the Commandments, seems so simple and straightforward. Yet, one look at the world around us–and even within the church–tells a different story. Like many of God’s commands, the church has often been guilty of treating only the symptoms without getting to the root cause.

The Spouse of Another

The word translated adultery here and in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word na’aph, which has the simple meaning “to commit adultery.” In Jewish and Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) societies of the time, adultery was defined as sexual relations by a married person with someone other than his or her spouse or fiancee/betrothed. (One who was betrothed was treated as though married for legal/moral purposes. Hence why the betrothal could only be broken by a certificate of divorce.)

While all ANE societies, including the Jews, took a dim view of adultery, there were some differences. Many non-Jewish societies spoke of adultery euphemistically as “the great sin.” (see Gen. 20:9, where Abimelech mentions this). However, when giving the law to His people, Yahweh specifically calls out adultery, and He never refers to it ‘discreetly.’ In addition, while adultery was always a crime against persons in the ANE world, for the Jews it was firstly a crime against God. (Note David’s statements in 2 Sam. 12:13; Psalm 51:4, expressing repentance toward the Lord for the sin of adultery.)

Adultery is to be distinguished from fornication (sexual relations between unmarried persons). While the penalty for adultery was death (Deut. 22:22), the penalty for seducing a virgin is the payment of a bride-price and an offer of marriage (Ex. 22:16-17). However, this should not be taken to mean fornication is a “lesser sin,” for the New Testament clearly teaches neither fornicators nor adulterers will see the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10).

Adultery of the Heart

Like all sin, adultery begins in the heart. In our last post (“The Sin Behind Murder”), we discussed an important passage from the teaching of Jesus on sin.

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone (Matt. 15:19-20).

As with murder, adultery begins in the heart. By the time one engages in the physical act of adultery, he or she has already committed adultery in the heart. Jesus made this clear when He said,

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt. 5:27-28).

To commit adultery is to break a covenant relationship and seek after another. And since marriage is to be a representation of God and His covenantal love for His people, adultery, like murder, is an attack on the very image of God. The root issue behind adultery, then, is turning the heart toward another. This is reflected over and over in the Old Testament, as God calls Israel to return to Him.

As we know, Israel’s history was marked by constantly turning from Yahweh to other gods. The Lord called this adultery (Jer. 3:6-10). He had entered into a covenant with Israel, and they had broken the covenant (time and time again) and turned to others. This leads to an important point in our discussion of adultery.

To commit physical adultery, one first commits adultery in the heart. One who commits adultery with another person has already committed spiritual adultery against the Lord.

Why is this true? It is true because when we turn away from God’s design and willingly break His commandments, we turn away from Him. We say to Him, “You are not enough; your Word is not enough, I’m going to do things my own way.”

How does one avoid adultery? By keeping his heart turned toward the Lord, and his/her spouse. Love is fundamentally neither an emotion nor a choice of the will. Love is firstly a disposition of the heart. When my heart is turned toward the Lord, then the rest of me will follow. When my heart is turned toward my spouse, then the rest of me will follow. When my heart begins to turn away or draw back, again, the rest of me will follow.

As we live out the Great Commandments, we will find our hearts fixed on the Lord and His presence and plan for our lives, and thus avoid the great sin.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31).

Looking into the Mirror: The Sin Behind Murder

You shall not murder (Exodus 20:13).

Like many of the Ten Commandments, most people know (or think they know) what murder is and how it applies to their life. (And most would say it doesn’t, since they have never killed anyone.) However, like all the Commandments, Jesus has a different idea of what murder entails and from where it comes. As we will see with this commandment (and the rest of the commandments), Jesus sets the bar much higher, going to the very heart.

The Act of Murder

First, we need to take a look at the very word itself to get an understanding of what it means. The Hebrew word in Ex. 20:13 is ratsach, which denotes “to murder, slay, kill (either premeditated or by negligence).” The root form of the word means “to dash in pieces” (which has implications for our study, but more on that later).

We see in the Old Testament that God prescribes death for anyone who takes a human life with premeditation. The first such mention of this is right after the flood, when God makes a covenant with Noah. We read there:

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image (Gen. 9:6).

Since the commands in this verse were given well before the Law was given to Israel (beginning with the Ten Commandments), it is reasonable to conclude that they are universal principles and apply to all people. Thus, the punishment for murder is not simply a matter of the “Old Covenant,” as some might claim.

Having said that, we should be quick to point out the Lord did differentiate between the crime of premeditated murder and what we might call negligent homicide or manslaughter. In Exodus 21, the Lord tells Moses:

Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die (Ex. 21:12-14).

Notice that the Lord says anyone who kills another in premeditation is to die. Plain and simple. The fact that many judicial systems are limiting or doing away with the death penalty for premeditated murder does not change the standard God sets. However, notice also that the Lord speaks of one who “did not lie in wait . . . but God let him fall into [the killer’s] hand.” In such cases, the Lord provided a place (“a city of refuge”) where the killer might go and be spared from the “avenger of blood” (a relative of the victim). The killer had to remain there until the High Priest died, and then he would be free. 

In this same section, we find that other crimes were to be punished by death: striking father or mother (v. 15); kidnapping (with the intent to sell into slavery), and anyone in possession of the kidnapped victim (v. 16); cursing father or mother (v. 17); hitting a pregnant woman so as to cause the death of unborn children (vv. 22-25). Why is the penalty so often death? Recall God’s words to Noah: “for God made man in his own image.” An attack on a human is an attack on the very image of God. 

The Roots of Murder

Fast forward now to the time of Jesus and His words on the subject of murder. In the discourse often known as the Sermon the Mount, Jesus declared,

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt. 5:21-24).

In this passage, Jesus is giving us a hint about where murder begins. While the act of murder (killing another person) will subject the offender to criminal penalties, to have hatred in the heart for a brother will subect one to eternal judgement. In another discourse, Jesus was even more explicit:

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone (Matt. 15:19-20).

Murder, according to Jesus, goes much deeper than the outward act. It starts in the heart with hatred. So, even if one has not physically killed another person, if he harbors hatred in the heart, that hatred is the seed of murder–and equivalent to the act itself. John agrees with this thought when he writes, 

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. . . . Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:11-12, 15).

What we learn from Cain is he murdered Abel in his heart long before the blow was struck. Like all of the Commandments, this commandment goes to the very heart of the matter. As we grow in Christ, we must be willing to look beyond the outward behavior and ask the Lord to search the deepest part of our hearts, so that we may “not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18).

Looking into the Mirror: Honor Father and Mother

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you (Exodus 20:12).

In an age where people are living longer, and society is more transient and fragmented than ever, many Christians wonder how this commandment should apply to their relationship with parents (if it should apply at all). Because this commandment is part of God’s Word it does have relevance here in the 21st century and beyond.

What is Honor?

This commandment tells us that we are to “honor” our parents. What does honor mean? The Hebrew word is kabad, and it contains such meanings as heavy (Ex. 5:9), harden (Ex. 8:15, 32; 9:7), glory (Ex. 14:4, 17), and revere. It’s the same word that God uses of Himself when He speaks of getting glory for Himself (Ex. 14:4, 17; Lev. 10:3).

When we honor someone, we esteem that person highly, as very valuable. So, when we honor or glorify God, we place Him in His rightful place as Sovereign Lord of all. We esteem Him as the highest of all, and we act accordingly in His presence. Obviously, then, our honoring of anyone else is not to place that person in the same place as the Lord. What, then, does it mean to show our parents honor?

What Does it Look Like?

The first way we honor them is to value their wisdom. No one is perfect, of course, but parents have life experience that we lack. Proverbs 4 talks about seeking after wisdom, in the context of a father talking to his son. The implication of that passage (and indeed the whole book) is, “Listen to me son, and I’ll pass along my wisdom to you.” Like all counsel from fallen humanity, we are to test the wisdom and counsel we receive against Scripture. But, we do well to seek and embrace the wisdom of our parents.

Secondly, we show them respect. Though this should be true of all, it is especially true of our parents. We are not to disrespect them, either in word or deed. Jesus even reminded the Israelites,

For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die’ (Mark 7:10).

When we take that statement with the promise of the commandment, “That it may go well with you in the land,” we see that the Lord takes the honor of parents seriously. Why is that? The main reason is that they represent God to us. That may seem strange to say, especially if our parents are unbelievers. But, it is still true. Most people get their first images of God from their parents (by word and/or example). 

A third way we honor our parents is we care for them. In both the Old and New Testaments, the children were taught to care for their elderly parents and provide for them. In fact, if we look at the remainder of what Jesus said in the passage from Mark, we’ll see an important truth. This is the full statement:

For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down (Mark 7:10-13).

Notice here that Jesus links financial support of elderly parents to honoring them. It seems the Jewish leadership, over time, had made a ruling that an adult child could avoid caring for his parents by devoting that financial help to God. Such an idea, of course, is found nowhere in the Old Testament, and is contrary to how the law viewed parents and the childrens’ responsibility to them.

How this principle is applied today may vary from family to family. Some children actively care for their parents (in their home). Some provide financial and practical help while still living apart from their parents. And some seek an environment (such as a nursing home or long-term care facility) that can give the kind of care the parent deserves. As with many things in Scripture, it really boils down to a matter of the heart.

Finally (as much as it shouldn’t have to be said), we honor our parents when we obey them. We are to obey, as much as we are able to do so, without compromising our devotion to God and His calling on our life. Paul tells us,

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (Eph. 6:1-3).

This passage has caused many questions in the church. Does it refer to adult children? The word rendered children is the Greek teknon, which denotes primarily a son or daughter, without regard to age. It’s used in the New Testament for both young children (Matt. 2:18) and older children (Matt 9:2, where the context suggests an older man). It’s also used without thought of a particular age (Matt.7:11; 21:28). The fact that Paul ties this command back to Exodus 20:12 suggests it’s not limited to young children still living with their parents.

For an adult child, this passage is directly linked to our first principle: wisdom. If we honor and respect our parents we will seek their wisdom and take it seriously. Again, however, it should be pointed out that obedience to parents must never come at the expense of obedience to God, but neither should obedience to God be used as an excuse to ignore or disrespect parents. 

In the end, the honor we show to our parents is a good indicator of the esteem to which we hold the Lord. One cannot claim to truly love God while dishonoring his or her parents. But one who seeks to honor his or her parents will see honor returned in the favor of the Lord.