Honoring Christian Speech (Commandment #9)
HEIDELBERG CATECHISM, LORD’S DAYS 43
What is God’s will for you in the ninth commandment?
God’s will is that I never give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause. Rather, in court and everywhere else, I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind; these are devices the devil himself uses, and they would call down on me God’s intense anger. I should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it. And I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.
DEVOTIONAL: October 1-7
Honoring Christian Speech (Commandment #9)
The Ninth Commandment – “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” – is God’s call to use our speech as an act of sacrificial service. Our spoken words, like the rest of our lives, are to be rooted in the life and character of Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:7, 1 Timothy 4:12), and are to protect and promote the inherent dignity of the image of God in every child, woman and man (James 3:1-12). What does this mean?
First, we are to root our words in God’s Word. Christians are people of the Word. Not only is it the authority upon which our faith is built (Belgic Confession, Article 5), we also believe it is sufficient to guide us in the whole of our new life in Christ (Belgic Confession, Article 7). The Written Word, the Bible, is given to direct us to, root us in, and pattern our lives after His Living Word, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3). We are called to use our words in joyful obedience to this Living Word. Jesus has rescued and delivered us from the powers of evil, and the Holy Spirit, through the Written Word, is restoring the inherent dignity of the image of God in every child, woman and man who turns to Him in repentance and faith. Therefore, we are to root and pattern our words according to His Word of gospel truth.
Second, we are to be wise with the use of our own words. Our words, rather than being an act of sacrificial service to protect and promote the inherent dignity of the image of God, are often merely an exercise of self-interest. Sometimes others are the victims of our private and public words. That’s why Proverbs reminds us that “the tongue has the power of life and death” (18:21), and the Catechism teaches us that false testimony, gossip, slander, lying, and deceit violate God’s will, and should “never” be used. Sinful words “are the devices the devil himself uses” to dehumanize and destroy human hearts and lives, and are the complete opposite of God’s gospel purpose in His Living Word, Jesus Christ. So, we are to be wise Christians who seek to “love the truth, speak it candidly, and…do what [we] can to guard and advance [our] neighbor’s good name.” Like our Savior, we seek to understand and practice the wisdom of Solomon: “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but violence overwhelms the wicked” (Proverbs10:11; cf. James 3:1-12).
Sometimes the Ninth Commandment is sadly reduced to a legalistic platitude that lying in any and every situation is unquestionably prohibited. Generally speaking, lying should not be a regular habit because it is wrong. Lies are statements that are intentionally false and do untold damage to human lives, whether in a court of law or casual conversation. Our God, however, is a God of truth who does not lie (Numbers 23:19) and who declares as “detestable” such things as “a lying tongue,” “a heart that devises wicked schemes,” and a “false witness who pours out lies” (Proverbs 6:16-19). Lying is wrong, but legalistic platitudes are unhelpful. We live in a highly complex, non-black-and-white, world filled with endless moral conundrums. We are never free to relativize the law, but we must also understand that we fulfill the law by loving God and our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40, Romans 13:10). Please do not underestimate this gospel point. The Dutch were not wrong to mislead the Germans about hiding Jews during World War II. Like Rahab, they obeyed the Lord, and with her will likely be counted among the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 11:31). They acted to “guard and advance [their] neighbor’s good name” and, therefore, their actions were an honorable, God-glorifying fulfillment of the meaning and purpose of the Ninth Commandment.
The Catechism asks: “What is God’s will for you in the ninth commandment?” I hope the answer for us all is that, because we are people of the Word, we will be people who wisely use our words as an act of sacrificial service that glorifies God through the Christ-like love that protects and promotes the inherent dignity of the image of God in every child, woman and man
Pastor Calvin Hoogendoorn
Sunday, October 1
The Catechism roots its teaching regarding moral behavior in the character of God. Prayerfully read Luke 23:34. How do Jesus’ words on the cross bring life and hope into your life? How do they equip you to bring the Word of life and hope into other people’s lives?
Monday, October 2
The Catechism states that “I should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it.” Prayerfully read Proverbs 18:21 and 1 Timothy 4:12. How are you an example of Christ-honoring speech that protects and promotes the inherent dignity of the image of God in every child, woman and man?
Tuesday, October 3
The Catechism states that “I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.” Prayerfully read 1 Peter 3:8-13. How do those words define your marriage, family, Church, neighborhood and work relationships?
Wednesday, October 4
The Catechism states: “God’s will is that I never give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause.” Prayerfully read Ephesians 4:17-27. Anger often results in words that harm both our own and other’s dignity and value. How will you protect yourself and others during times of intense stress, struggle or anger?
Thursday, October 5
The Catechism states that “I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind; these are devices the devil himself uses, and they would call down on me God’s intense anger.” Prayerfully read John 8:42-47 and James 3:1-12. How will you be vigilant to protect yourself and others from Satan’s evil attacks through the use of your words?
Friday, October 6
Prayerfully read 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Describe the ways the Lord through His Spirit and Word is “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training” you in “righteousness,” especially as it relates to your private and public speech. How are you learning to guard and advance your neighbor’s good name?
Saturday, October 7
Prayerfully read 1 John 1:5-2:2. How do you practice genuine and daily repentance and renewal in Jesus Christ, especially as it relates to the attitudes, motivations, purposes and goals of your words?