My apologies for falling behind with the catechism blog. Summer vacations off the grid and all that make it difficult to publish online blogs. This week's blog will be a catch-up as we finish the 8th Commandment and begin looking at the ninth.
Q: What is forbidden in the Eighth Commandment?
A: The eighth commandment forbids whatsoever does or may unjustly hinder our own or our neighbor's wealth or outward estate.
1 Timothy 5:8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
It is interesting that this catechism question assumes that not only can we steal from others, but also steal from ourselves. This seems to be a call for personal stewardship, living within our means, being responsible with the physical wealth that we're given. I wonder how often we think about the eighth commandment in these terms? Proverbs 21:17 says that, "Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves oil and wine will not be rich." This is a call to prioritize our wealth. Do we put our wants above our needs or the needs of others? If we do, if we squander our personal wealth away, we will find that we have not provided for our own needs, the needs of our families, or the needs of our neighbors, and in doing so we have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves. And this is indeed a type of theft. Not only does it rob our families or neighbors of physical goods, it also robs them of the love we are to show them. Again we see how these commandments are not merely addressing surface-level sins (in this case, the actual act of stealing from someone else) but is getting at issues of the heart.
Q: Which is the ninth commandment?
A: The ninth commandment is, you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members on of another.
God values honesty, and calls his people to live honest lives. Here we have a command about being honest concerning the actions and character of our neighbors. As we read through the Old Testament law books, we see that it is no small thing to bring charges up against another person. This command was given to remind God's people of the seriousness of charging a brother or sister of doing wrong. But it is also a reminder of the value God puts on the truth. Truthfulness, honesty, after all, is at the very core of who God is. Jesus Christ said of himself that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Bearing false witness against your neighbor does not only harm your neighbor, it does damage to the reputation of God himself because as God's people, we are called to live in a way the bears testimony to the character and nature of God.
Q: What is required in the ninth commandment?
A: The ninth commandment requires the maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man, and of our own and our neighbor's good name, especially in witness-bearing.
Zechariah 8:16 These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace;
Reputation is important. Certainly as the people of God, we strive to maintain a good reputation with the world. That is not to say that we compromise on our beliefs, but it is to say that regardless of what the world around us may accuse us of, whether its hate, intolerance, etc., at least they can say that we're honest. This commandment calls us to guard our own reputation. But beyond that, it also calls us to protect the reputation of our neighbor. There are lots of ways of damaging our neighbor's reputation. Whether we're gossiping, passing on bits of news that we ourselves cannot verify as true, or flat out making up false accusations about another person, all of these things hurt and damage our neighbor, who we are called to love. And again, not only do these things damage their reputation, but they also damage ours, and in doing so, they damage our good Christian witness to the character and nature of God.
I would just note, this commandment does not forbid us from making accusations against another person. It does not forbid us from calling out a neighbor, in love, when they are in the wrong. Part of loving our neighbor does indeed include holding them accountable. Love does not ignore wrong-doing. However, this commandment does forbid us from engaging in heinous acts such as gossip, slander, character assassination, or in the case of the church, side stepping the proper process for church discipleship and discipline. Our goal should never be to destroy the reputation of someone else.