Exodus 20:16 Sermon Notes


Pastor Joe Valenti

​Proverbs 18:21: Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

‌‌We don’t need to own a weapon or take MMA classes to be dangerous to our fellow man. Our weapons are always readily available and we’ve gotten quite adept at using them. Sentences & paragraphs. Keyboards and cell phones. Whispers in the office like cloaked daggers. Screams in the living room as damaging as medieval war instruments. Social media rants. ‌Emails like poison on the tip of the arrow. Texts message laced with arsenic. Now, of course, this is figurative language—reminding us of the power that our words have to affect people either in a positive way or in a negative way. BUT—Imagine with me that we had to learn the lesson that this Proverb intends to convey by our words actually having the power to kill.

If we were quizzed on the content of the 9th commandment, maybe of us might answer – thou shalt not lie. The actual language of the 9th commandment is legal language.

‌​Exodus 20:16 – You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. The primary issue in view here is giving testimony in a legal proceeding. The command is to ensure that what you say about people in legal proceedings really matters. Whereas some ancient legal systems only required one witness, we find in Deuteronomy that God required at least two witnesses – preferring three. Perhaps you recall the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. In a very famous scene, Jesus tells the religious leaders that he who is without sin should cast the first stone. The roots of this idea of casting the first stone are found in the Deuteronomy chapter 17 as well. Justice was meted out FIRST BY THE WITNESSES. The witnesses that testified against the convicted were the be the first ones to begin the stoning – and then everyone else would join. So – you didn’t get off the hook if you were going to witness. The weight of your testimony was mirrored by the fact that YOU had to throw the first stones. Life and death truly were contained within the tongue.

So, the ninth commandment has its roots in the legal system, but it goes further. Phillip Ryken – president of Wheaton college – reminds us of this truth about how to view the commandments, and the ninth specifically: “A courtroom is not the only place where someone can give false testimony. Remember how the Ten Commandments work. What they forbid is the most extreme form of any particular sin. Murder is the worst kind of hatred, adultery is the most destructive sexual sin, and so on. Similarly, the ninth commandment forbids the deadliest lie: one that condemns an innocent man for a crime he did not commit. It is not just about the false testimony that people give in court, but also about the lies they tell their neighbors over the backyard fence and the rumors they whisper between the pews at church.”

‌‌But it’s not merely the words that are the problem. The words are the FRUIT of the problem. Jesus sheds additional light on the root issue. In the book of Matthew there is a little story of Jesus and a run-in with some religious leaders called Pharisees. They’re all bent out of shape that Jesus’ followers  were not washing their hands before they eat. This wasn’t a germ issue, but more about tradition. Jesus responds by taking issue with the fact that some of their traditions actually get in the way of obeying the commandments. The story picks up in verse 10 – Jesus wants to address the issue of hand washing and he ends up teaching us much more about our hearts and mouths than about our hands.

‌‌Matthew 15:10–20

Eating bread with unwashed hands is the LEAST of our problems! It goes in and – well – comes back out. It’s not what goes into your mouth, Jesus says, but what comes out of your mouth that is the issue. Why does what comes out of our mouths matter so much?! Because – he says – there is a direct link from your mouth to your heart. The “heart” in the Bible is not the blood-pumping vessel, but the center of spiritual activity. There are strings attached to every other part of the body from the heart; the heart dictates what you think, the heart dictates what you look at, the heart moves your hands and feet into action, and the heart is the word-factory. What you really think, believe, feel, desire, hold dear – who you REALLY are comes out of your mouth.

‌There is a huge list of sins in the Bible related to our words: Cursing, boasting, complaining, grumbling, quarreling, etc. But for our purposes today in the 9th commandment, I want to look at 4 specific types of lies. I’ve been greatly helped in my study over the last few weeks by Jen Wilkin – an excellent Bible teacher and author – and her book on the Ten Commandments, Words to Live By. She draws attention to some specific ways that lying occurs and in which we break the 9th commandment.

‌‌3 Types of Lying

  1. Flattery

‌Flattery: Manipulation masked as praise

‌‌Proverbs 26:28 – A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.

‌Proverbs 29:5 – A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.

‌‌If you pay close attention, this type of lying is extremely common in suburban America. We learn that perhaps getting huffy and rude isn’t typically the best approach to getting what we want, but the other side of the coin – flattery – seems to work quite well.

‌You give high praise and respect to your boss – not because you actually believe those things about them, but in an effort to get ahead at work. Someone who is kind to grandma – taking her to appointments and calling each night not because of genuine love, but in hopes that she’ll leave you a good portion of the inheritance. Boasting about the achievements of someone you love not to affirm the gifts of God in them, but to make sure everyone else feels a little bit of envy. Encouraging someone not mainly so that they will feel good about themselves, but so that they’ll think you’re a nice person. Pouring false likes and comments into someone’s social media feed in hopes that you’ll become popular by association. Heart problems of arrogance, pride, low self-esteem, and greed drive these lies that come out of our mouths. Flattery may SEEM to bring life to the hearer, but it is a sly killer.

If flattery brings death, what is the flip side that brings life?! Genuine Encouragement

Ephesians 4:29 – Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

‌The phrase here – to give grace to those who hear – means to impart a blessing. Encouragement – building up one another – is one of the many ways that we can bless one another. But genuine encouragement not only honors and blesses those around us, it also honors God. Anything that is praise-worthy in a person is not of their own doing, it is a gift of God. So when we see things that are praise-worthy in people, we can worship God for the way that he made them, the skills he gave them, and the way that they are using them as AND at the same time be a blessing to them.

Flattery brings death → Genuine Encouragement brings life. What’s the difference? Same words → different aims in the heart.

‌‌3 Types of Lying

  1. Flattery
  2. Silence

Silence: Choosing not to speak due to cowardice or cunning.

‌While it is true that immense harm can from for bearing false witness against our neighbor, the other side of the coin can be equally as damaging – failing to bear truthful witness when given the opportunity. Perhaps the most perplexing example of this is seen in the third chapter of Genesis.

Genesis 3:1–6

Adam was, apparently, standing there the whole time. And not a word – no warning, no correction of the snake, no guidance of his wife – nothing – silence. Perhaps the most deadly silence of all time. Our silence can be due to…cowardice (we’re afraid to speak up when he should) or cunning (we know the truth, but holding back the truth will actually get the result that we want.

A co-worker has been wrongly accused. You know that the issue was not their fault, but they are also ahead of you for a promotion, so you sit quietly and let things play out. Rumors at school start floating around. You know they aren’t true, but the person’s reputation being down-graded might just increase your stock. You’re in a situation where racist or discriminatory remarks are being made. You know they’re wrong, but you’re not going to win any fans in this group if you speak up – so you stay silent. You sense that prompt from the Holy Spirit to share Jesus with someone, but you’re just too scared of what they’ll think of you, what they might say – what if this goes badly? So, you stay silent. Silence is lying without saying a word. And it can bring death.

If silence brings death, what brings life?

‌We find the answer in James’ letter.

‌​James 1:19–20 – Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

‌‌Silence is not always the answer – especially if it is rooted in a heart of fear or manipulation. But we also must be aware that being quick to speak or speaking out of anger is not always the best solution either. We listen first. Do we hear gossip that is untrue or harmful? Are the facts being presented in an unfair way? Are the facts simply incorrect? We listen. We ask the Holy Spirit for help and discernment. Hopefully we have some scripture memorized that can help us navigate this situation. And we speak. Maybe in the moment when necessary, but maybe later, in more strategic ways. We also need to recognize that the opposite of silence does not mean that we speak the truth in all places and at all times. Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor is first and foremost and local, communal command. Lying affects everyone, but the damage is often far worse the closer you get to home.

‌‌Silence brings death → Being slow to speak brings life.

3 Types of Lying

  1. Flattery
  2. Silence
  3. Reviling

Reviling: Intentionally attempting to increase our value by robbing someone else of theirs.

‌Reviling is not a word that we use much – if ever. But it is used the Bible, and the things that God says about reviling are quite significant.

‌1 Corinthians 5:11 – But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

‌‌Here Paul says that if someone claims to be a follower of Jesus and is a reviler – have NOTHING to do with them.

‌1 Corinthians 6:9–10 – Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

‌That’s important – revilers will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Reviling can come in a lot of shapes and sizes – attacking the reputation of someone else, criticism intended to be hurtful, mocking, sarcasm, verbal abuse or mistreatment, gossip.

‌‌See, some of the other forms of lying are sly, underhanded, clever. We may even not recognize some of these other forms from time-to-time. But reviling is altogether different. Reviling is the way that we use our words brazenly intending to tear someone else down, to cause harm, to increase our reputation by stomping on someone else’s in the public square.

‌In the book I mentioned previously by Jen Wilkin, she says this about reviling: “While flattery and silence are the subtle pickpockets of reputation, reviling stands in the lobby of First Reputation Bank spraying bullets and sacking the vault. In the modern church, perhaps nothing attests more to our current levels of biblical illiteracy than our casual, thoughtless, and frequent commission of the sin of reviling.”

‌Spreading rumors about the incompetence of someone’s parenting, not based on fact, but on desire that you would look like a better parent. Public shaming on social media – tearing down a person, a group, or their ideas with cruel words and a malevolent intent. Mocking a classmate when they answer incorrectly to ensure that you look smart and they look like a fool. Belittling someone’s choices or with sarcasm and exaggeration to present your own ideas as superior and wise. Celebrating another person’s misfortune.

‌When our identity and hope are not rooted daily in being loved and cherished by God, we set out on crusades to prove our worth at the expense of those around us at work, school, in our families and neighborhoods. Our mouths truly do have the power of life and death. And so…what do we do?!

‌If Reviling bring death, what is it that brings life?

If Jesus is right – and he is – that what comes out of our mouths proceeds from the heart, then we need to start there.

‌‌2 Solutions:

‌1. Some of us need a new heart.

‌As I mentioned previously, when the Bible speaks about the heart, it doesn’t mean the blood pumping thing in your chest. It means the center of your spiritual life. And Jesus tells us that we either have a heart of stone or a heart of flesh. To have a heart of stone means to be spiritually unresponsive, stubborn, resistant, hard towards God. People who have not trusted Jesus Christ to be the leader and forgiver of their lives have a heart of stone. And the concerns of having a heart of stone of myriad. At the level we’re talking about today, it’s natural for someone with a hard heart to have hurtful things come out of their mouths. If you have not experienced the unconditional love of God that imparts genuine value to you, you need to find that value somewhere else.

‌So, you attempt to get it from other people, from you wallet, from your skills, from the success of your children, and sometimes you need to employ some crafty wordplay to ensure that we end up on top so that we can feel good about ourselves. Jesus tells us that he is the way, the truth, and the life. He lived the life that we could never live – a sinless life. ‌Never a word out of place. Always kind, loving, hospitable, and encouraging. He died the death that we deserve to die. There are consequences for the ways we hurt people, live out our pride, and ignore God. But Jesus paid the debt that we owe for our sinfulness.

‌1 Peter 2:22–25 – He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

‌‌2. Clean Heart

‌Maybe you are already a follower of Jesus, meaning you have already experienced the work of God giving you a new heart. But, perhaps, there is a need for repentance.

James 3:10–11 – From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?

‌James is speaking to believers here, but believers who are still learning and growing. They’re heart is new, but they are still growing in grace and obedience to Jesus. We all need some level of repentance. Maybe certain situations, habits, people came to mind this morning and you may need to both ask God for forgiveness and someone whom you’ve harmed with your words. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind any areas where we have misused our words to cause harm to others and then ask Him for forgiveness. ‌Pray specifically for the people we have hurt, that the Lord would bring healing and restoration. One of the keys to edifying speech is humility. Let’s ask the Lord together for humble hearts, listening ears, and mouths that are slow to speak. Finally, the heart is the word production engine. Let’s ask the Lord for clean hearts and pure minds.