““You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”Exodus 20:16, ESV
The big question I have with this commandment is, what does it mean? Is it only in reference to my neighbor? Or, its it about lying in general? Years ago, when I attended a Christian College, we had a required course where the textbook was “Situation Ethics,” by Joseph Fletcher. It has been a long time since I read the book, but what I remember most is that Fletcher attempted to define ethics in terms of the context and that there are no absolute values.
WEEELLLL – not really. For Fletcher, there is one moral absolute, namely, that of brotherly love. Even my uneducated mind recognized the moral relativism being applied to God and the Bible. However, like all claims to moral relativity, there is still a need for at least one absolute. Fletcher chose for his absolute brotherly love, a very Christian sounding ideal. But what exectly is brotherly love? How do you define brotherly love (yes, I recognize that in today’s language this is misogynistic)? Jesus made very clear who our brother is in the parqable of the good Samaritan. Yet, pinning down a definition for love is much more difficult.
You may be thinking, “What does this have to do with the nineth commandment?” I suggest that the greatest violation of this commandment is the way love has been defined as social justice, and that Jesus’ ministry was all about social justice. This interpretation of the gospels is a good example of eisegesis (reading a passage in terms of a preconceived position). And I propose that interpreting Jesus’ ministry this way is bearing false witness against him.
The only one who has a right to interpret Jesus’ ministry on earth is Jesus and the Father. Jesus performed many acts that we might consider as examples of brotherly love. Take healing, there are many who would say this is what Jesus meant by love. Such people carry over that idea to universal healthcare. In other words, if we want to love like Jesus loved, we need to have those who have money use it for those who do not. The same goes for the homeless and hungry poor people. Now, I am NOT suggesting that we don’t have a responsibility to help where we can. But the good Samaritan did not have someone force him to help the injured man. No one said he had to pay for a night’s lodging. The good Samaritan was good because he chose to get involved.
There are other problems with the false rendering of Christ’s earthly ministry. Jesus did heal many people. However, he did not heal every sick individual. Nor did he every say that if individuals would not be charitable, that they should be forced to be charitable by taking their money or property to provide for these needy people. In truth, the exact opposite is the case. In Matthew 25, at the end of the chapter, Jesus speaks of the judgment to come. At that time he said he would divide all humanity into two groups, the sheep and the goats. What was the basis of this division and the final estate of each group? The willful choice of the individual to be charitable to those in need.
I do not believe that forcing people to be charitable is real charity. As history has shown, all of the programs the govenment has established to heal the sick, house the homeless, or feed the poor have only created more people who are sick, more people who live on the streets, ans more hungry people. Therefore, to say that Jesus was a social warrior by our terms and definitions results in bearing false withness against him.
How many Evangelical churches have changed the gospel into some kind of justification of forced charity? I will not judge, but Jesus will. And, I can point to a passage that denies that Jesus came to help the poor, etc. John six relates the event where Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people by the Sea of Tiberius. After the meal, the people with full stomachs sought to make him king.
“So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”John 6:13–15, ESV
To say he was the Prophet was to identify him as the Messiah. In this judgment, they were correct. So why did Jesus depart and go to the mountains by himself? Because he did not come to fill bellies. He came for a very different reason.
““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.John 3:16, ESV
Jesus is the Christ. But the role of the Messiah was not to rule by might, but to save by his sacrifice. When the twelve disciples bickered about who will be the greatest in the Kingdom, Jesus recognizes that they have the wrong idea of his Kingdom. Using a child, he taught that the one who is like a little child shal be the greatest. He was speaking of humility. Before Pilate, Jessus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” The issue centers around Christ’s mission to die for the sins of his people and to establish the seeds of the Kingdom of God on earth.
Until we can learn the humility that Jesus spoke of, until we quit trying to define Christ, we will violate the nineth commandment. Situation ethics or not, submission to the truth of Christ and the truth of the Word, do we really need to ask other questions. And, by the way, love is defined in both Old and New Testaments by obedience to the commandments.
“Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. …Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth...and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”1 John 3:8, 18, 22-24