The Eighth Commandment: From the Pastor’s Desk (September 2022)

This article is part of a series from our monthly newsletter written by Pastor Steve. Read more from the series by clicking the button below:

The Eighth Commandment

Throughout the year, I will be reflecting upon the Ten Commandments in the newsletter.  This month we continue by examining the Eighth Commandment.  I plan to begin with Luther’s explanation and then move into what this might mean for us today.

The Eighth Commandment

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

What does this mean?

We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or

destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.

Luther writing in his Large Catechism about the Eighth Commandment says:

‘The third aspect of this commandment, which applies to all of us, forbids all sins of the tongue by which we may injure or offend our neighbor.  Bearing false witness is nothing but a work of the tongue.  God wants to hold in check whatever is done with the tongue against a neighbor.  This applies to false preachers with their blasphemous teaching, to false judges and witnesses with their rulings in court and their lying and malicious talk outside of court.  It applies especially to the detestable, shameless vice of backbiting or slander by which the devil rides us.  Of this much could be said.  It is a common, pernicious plague that everyone would rather hear evil than good about their neighbors.  Even though we ourselves are evil, we cannot tolerate it when anyone speaks evil of us; instead, we want to hear the whole world say golden things of us.  Yet we cannot bear it when someone say the best things about others.’   (The Book of Concord, p. 421)

This commandment tends to be one that we do not think about very much and it is one that people forget is one of the commandments, yet I think this commandment may be one of the most important commandments for us in our world today.

Think about how people talk about each other in our world today.  It is commonplace to maybe say nice things about people who agree with us or our friends, but what about other people?  The commandments as a whole have a broader understand of neighbor than people we like or those that agree with us.  In many ways, neighbors are a way of talking about everybody.  It seems like the tone of people and the volume of speech has been ramped up over the last decade or so and has only gotten worse lately.  Think about how republicans talk about democrats and how democrats talk about republicans.  It is almost as if someone on the other side of the aisle can do nothing good.

Notice, this commandment doesn’t command us to agree with others or acknowledge they are right.  Rather it calls us to not slander or destroy their reputation.  It calls us to work at speaking well of them and trying to interpret their actions in the best possible light.  Are there ways to be civil with people with whom we do not agree with?  Can we dialogue with one another and learn from each other? 

I would hope so! 

Think about how the world would be different if rather than condemn people who are different than us, we would be able to find ways to talk and learn from each other. 

Luther says that the commandments 4-10 can be summed up in two words:  LOVE NEIGHBOR.  The commandments are not meant to create divisions and have a culture of us against them.  The commandments are meant to teach us how to love our neighbors and this commandment in particular seeks to have us love our neighbors through our speech.  For we should seek to speak well of them, defend them and interpret their actions and words in the best possible light.

This is not easy (particularly with some people).  But just because it may be difficult and goes against the grain within the culture; doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t attempt to fulfill this commandment.  Be attentive to your language and how you speak about others.  May this commandment ever be on our minds and direct our words in all our conversations.