We struggle with truth. We struggle to know it, and we struggle to speak it. In an era of "fake news" and social media, the false narratives seem to flow freely, often making it difficult to distinguish between what is true and what isn't. Truth is elusive in our age of subjectivity.
The ninth commandment ("You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.") uses legal language, but it is not limited to just giving false testimony in a court of law (nor is it a commandment just about telling lies). It's about speaking falsely of others.
We have a lying problem. That's why we make people swear to tell the truth in court -- because we know they won't. It's been said only drunk people, children, and yoga pants tell the truth! There is, however, a big difference between lying and false testimony. Lying damages our own reputation; lying about others damages theirs. When we speak falsely of another person, our motives are more sinister as we try to undermine and destroy the other.
The 9th commandment isn't just about saying false things about others; it also addresses, I believe, our desire to believe false things about others. The reason why falsehood flourishes is because we want to believe the worst about people we don't like. When we have our preexisting beliefs and ideas, sometimes we are quick to accept and seek out confirming information while ignoring or discrediting the source of contrary information. In other words, we believe the bad stuff because we want to believe it. These false narratives are flying at lightning speed through social media, affirmed by our likes and clicks and shares as we give it energy. This commandment exposes our hearts.
If we believe everything we hear about our enemy, we are not loving our enemy.
Truth is harder to discern. If we value truthfulness, here are some things we should consider:
1] Pursuing truthfulness requires us to be impartial (insert belly laugh). We have to be willing to filter through our biases and emotion carefully to lay aside our prejudices.
2] Pursuing truthfulness requires us to consider the motives of the source. Why is this being told? What does the party passing along the information stand to gain from it?
3] Pursuing truthfulness requires verification. We should verify before accepting, and we have to learn how to fact check the fact checkers. We have to do our research, but we don't do this very often (either because we are lazy or we like what we hear).
4] Pursuing truthfulness requires self-discipline. We don't have to receive the gossip, we don't have to entertain it, we don't have to take the bait.
5] Pursuing truthfulness requires followers of Jesus to filter everything through God's (T)ruth. Truth does not originate in the mind of humanity but in the nature of God. God is Truth, and He has created us to love Truth.
In our series "Ten", we've been looking at how each of the 10 Commandments reveal an important aspect of the nature and character of God. We don't murder because God creates life. We don't commit adultery because God is faithful. We don't steal because God is a giver. And we don't give false testimony because God is Truth.
[Read Deuteronomy 32:4, John 14:6, and John 17:17].
When Jesus was being tried in Pilate's court (and falsely accused, I might add), Jesus spoke these words: "The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." (John 18:37). That has serious implications for those of us who may have bought into the enterprise of lies, trading in the commodities of deceit. Slander and falsehood are an injustice, and these things could not be more opposite to the Spirit of Christ.
If we belong to the Truth, we should be people who value what is true...people who speak what is true...people who do the hard work of truth. We were born to testify to the truth -- to point people to Jesus. Jesus is the Truth, and those who follow him love it.