Jesus was famously asked to summarize the law of God by giving the greatest commandment. He replied that the great, or central, commandment is that we love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, but He did not stop there. He added that there is another essential statute around which the whole law is based—that we love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:34–40). The ninth commandment, which prohibits bearing false witness against our neighbor, fleshes out what it means to love our neighbor.
In the first instance, the ninth commandment has to deal with legal testimony. Bearing false witness to a crime by accusing an innocent person of a criminal act can cause great harm to the accused, and the Lord would have us do all we can to make sure we do not harm innocent people. God’s ire at false legal testimony is so great that He calls for those who bear false witness to receive the punishment that would fall on the innocent person if the lying testimony were accepted and the guiltless individual convicted (Deut. 19:15–21). Our Creator takes the truth seriously, for His Word is truth itself (John 17:17), and He is particularly attentive to justice in the legal setting. Those who pay attention to a false charge will not escape the consequences (Ex. 23:6–8). Practically speaking, then, Christians should be more concerned about truth and justice, biblically defined, than others are. We should not jump quickly to conclusions about guilt or innocence in legal matters but must allow guilt to be credibly established before we join in accusations.
The commandment against bearing false witness has application beyond legal settings, however. It has implications for the truthfulness of our speech in general, with particular importance for issues such as gossip and slander. As in legal testimony, bearing false witness can also cause great harm when we spread gossip about others or say things to unfairly cause friends, family, and acquaintances to question the characters and reputations of other people. Gossip and slander are so evil that Paul includes these sins in Romans 1 in the list of transgressions that merit the wrath of God (vv. 29–30).
None of us is innocent with respect to the ninth commandment. “All mankind are liars” (Ps. 116:11), not in that we tell lies every moment but in that all of us have at some point transgressed this law. It is easy to break this commandment in both large and small ways, so we should be on guard to remain people of the truth.