“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.”
-Martin Luther, The Small Catechism
The eigth commandment is traditionally applied in the court of law. It stands for justice and fairness in the eyes of God. As with the other commandments, this seems like a basic rule, why should it have to be reiterated? As people, many things can get in the way of justice such as prejudice, wanting to fit in, or self-interest.
The eighth commandment isn’t just about the abstract idea of a court of law, or even limited to parents or teachers trying to figure out what happened in a specific situation. Times when we are tempted to break the 8th commandment rear their ugly heads throughout our everyday life. This is especially evident when it comes to name calling and rumors. To better understand what I’m talking about, I’d like to tell you a story about my own time in middle school.
When I was in 7th grade, what I wanted more than anything was to be cool. I thought that the best way to do this was to be involved in as many activities as possible and tell everyone about how great I was at all of them. However, instead of making me popular, this strategy just made everyone think I was a jerk.
When I was in middle school, no one really had a good way of telling someone they were a jerk. Instead we used other words. In this case the other kids in school decided to use “Gay”. It started off small a few guys here and there would toss around a slur like fag whenever I did something they found annoying. But then as the weeks and months dragged on more and more people started to pick it up. It started happening even when I wasn’t doing something annoying. People would say things like, “That’s such a gay thing to do, even Andrew does it.” or “Quit acting like such a fag, or should I say a Karrmann.”
At first it was easy to shrug off. When it was just a few people I could avoid and ignore them. But when things became more prevalent throughout the school even that became difficult. I understood that none of the people who had said these things actually thought I was gay, but that didn’t stop me from questioning my own sexuality. Once I eventually did bring up the whole incident to teachers and eventually the principle. The students who did say things had no idea that what they were saying could have affected someone so much.
- How were students Breaking the 8th commandment when it came to their interactions with me?
- What effect can using a derogatory term about someone have, even when we know it’s not true?
Now you think that I would have learned from this whole thing that I would be the last person to struggle with following the 8th commandment. However, this simply wasn’t true. In fact, I and my friend participated in almost the exact same act in 8th grade. After the whole school had a lecture from the principle about calling people “gay”, the student body simply came up with a new term for things they didn’t like. This time it was “retarded”. Since as far as I knew this term wasn’t directed at anyone in particular, I figured it would be just fine if I used it. It began to slip into my daily vocabulary.
One day at my friend’s house, we let it slip that the video game we were playing was retarded because we couldn’t beat a level after playing the same thing for over 2 hours. His mom came rushing in and let us know that it was absolutely not okay to say retarded in that context. Even when we explained to her that it wasn’t about any particular person, she was still adamant that it was not okay.
- Why was my friends mom so insistent that we not use the word “retarded” even when it wasn’t aimed at harming an individual?
- What does this have to do with the 8th commandment?
- What are the names that you think people call each other when they don’t consider the consequences?
As with the other commandments, the 8th commandment isn’t really about what not to do, although it may seem that way on the surface. Instead the commandments all call us to do something good. As we can see in Matthew 7:12, Matthew 18:15, and 1 Corinthians 12:20-23, the eighth commandment is really calling us to stand up for others. The eighth commandment calls us to stick up for the weird, outcast, and new people.
Take a few minutes to journal on a time when you’ve struggled with the 8th commandment. Then destroy your journal. Consider what you might be able to do in your everyday life to stand up for someone who is the victim of gossip.