Take the 9th Commandment: You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor (Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20). This is the first of two commandments that emphasize the damage that can be done to our neighbor if we violate the law. Speaking falsely against someone does real harm to our neighbor, so in a sense God says, “Don’t do it!”
But God also tells us what to Do so that He can bless us—
- How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! … For there the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore (Psalm 133:1, 3).
- Psalm 15 says that he who will live in God’s presence is the one who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman (vv. 1-3).
The word for false in this commandment can mean: (1) an untruth; (2) insincere or deceptive words (e.g. flattery); (3) being purposely vague; or (4) speaking words that are true but harmful. So we Don’t want to do those, but what should we Do?
Jesus said that the way we speak is an indication of what has been going on in our heart and mind (Luke 6:45), so the way to fulfill the Do part of the commandment starts inside. A good guide is Paul’s list in Philippians 4:8—are my thoughts about my neighbor focused on what’s true? noble? right? pure? lovely? admirable? excellent? and praiseworthy?
In the New Testament, the word “blessing” is a compound word that literally means good words. So here’s the question I’m asking myself: Are my words to and about my neighbor a burden to them or a blessing?