Morning Sermon: Exodus 20:16, The Ninth Commandment

Old Testament Reading: Exodus 20:12–17

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:12–17, ESV)

New Testament Reading: Ephesians 4:1-16

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’ (In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:1–16, ESV)


Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.


In our journey through the Ten Commandments, I have repeatedly reminded you that the first four commandments tell us about the love we ought to have for God, and the last six commandments tell us about the love we ought to have for other people. This is how Jesus summarized the law. Quoting from, the writings of Moses, he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40, ESV). Indeed, we love God when we obey all of his commandments. But it is clear that the first four of the Ten Commandments are about the love and honor we are to show to God, whereas commandments five through ten are about the love and honor we are to show to our fellow man. 

The fifth commandment establishes that honor is to be shown to all people. The command to “honor your father and mother”, requires us to “[preserve] the honor, and [perform] the duties, belonging to everyone in their [various] places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals” (Baptist Catechism, 69). Honor is to be shown to all who bear the image of God. This is the head commandment of the second table of the moral law.

The sixth commandment teaches us to honor human life as it pertains to its end. The command, “you shall not murder”, “[forbids] the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever [tends] thereunto” (Baptist Catechism, 74). Again I say, the sixth commandment teaches us to honor human life as it pertains to the end of it. 

The seventh commandment teaches us to honor human life as it pertains to its beginning. Human life is brought into this world through the process of procreation. And God has designed the human race to procreate in this way: through the physical union of a man and woman joined together in the covenantal union of marriage. It is in the context of the lifelong covenant of marriage that human life is to be conceived, birthed, nurtured, and raised to independency. The command, “you shall not commit adultery”, teaches us to honor human life as it pertains to its beginning. Given the sacredness of the marriage bond and the weightiness of the responsibility of procreation, “The seventh commandment [requires] the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior.”

The eighth commandment teaches us to honor human life as it pertains to its preservation and prosperity. The Lord sustains his creatures. And how does he do this? Indeed, we may say that he does it in spiritual and mysterious ways, ​​for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’;  ‘For we are indeed his offspring’” (Acts 17:28, ESV). But he does also sustain us through means in this world. He gives us bread to eat, water to drink, clothes to wear, and shelter from the elements. In other words, our lives are sustained in this world through personal property. And the eighth commandment, which is “you shall not steal”, teaches us to honor human life by respecting the property of others. “The eighth commandment [forbids] whatsoever does or may unjustly hinder our own or our neighbor’s wealth or outward state (Baptist Catechism, 80).

Now we come to the ninth commandment, which is, “you shall not bear false witness.” In brief, the ninth commandment requires us to speak the truth. What does this have to do with honoring or fellow man? What does this have to do with love for neighbor? Well, if the preceding commandments teach us to honor human life as it pertains to the end, beginning, and physical preservation of it, the ninth commandment teaches us to honor human life as it pertains to human relations. Human relationships depend upon truth and trust. Where there is truth and trust relationships are able to flourish. Where there is deceit and distrust relationships are damaged.

This is true of all kinds of human relationships. We may think about this on a very large scale. Societies will flourish where truth and trust prevail. And societies will quickly fragment where there is deceit and distrust. Think of how vital truth is to the functioning of our government, our judicial system, and our economy. Where there is truth, these institutions within society may flourish, where there is deceit and falsehood, these institutions will rot and produce division. The very same thing may be said of the smaller and more intimate institutions in society like the church and family. 

We live in a fallen world, friends. We will always have to work through challenging situations with each other. We will experience afflictions of various kinds. We will struggle with the consequences of our own sin. We will offend one another and disagree with one another. In other words, friction is unavoidable in human relationships now that we are fallen. Truth and love are vital. It is truth and love which enable human relationships to function and even flourish despite the friction that is unavoidable because of our sin. What oil is to the engine of your car, truth is to every human relationship. What will happen to the engine of your car if you drain the oil from it and then start it up? It may run for a moment, but it will not run smoothly. And eventually, it will seize. The friction will prove to be too much. And the same is true of human relationships. If human relationships are to function and flourish, there must be truth and trust. Trust is the fruit of truth. Trust is something that is earned over time. It can be lost quickly. It can also be regained. All human relationships depend upon trust which is the fruit of truth. 

As a father, I have, from time to time,  lectured my children about this. I’ve said, “tell me the truth, son – tell me the truth, daughter – we can work through anything, but I have to trust you. Without truth and trust, this relationship can’t function.” I’ve also appealed to the goodness of the thing, saying, “believe me, when you are a teenager you are going to want me to trust you. Trust will produce freedom and privileges for you.” It is not difficult to see how this works in a parent-child relationship. Here I am saying that it is true of every human relationship. Where there is truth and trust there is freedom and liveliness; where there is deceit and distrust, relationships are damaged and even destroyed. 

I’ve said, what oil is to the engine of your car, truth and trust are to every human relationship. Before moving on from that idea I wish to draw your attention to that Ephesians 4 passage that was read at the beginning of this sermon so that you may see that Paul spoke of truth in this way. There in Ephesians 4, Pual was exhorting the church in Ephesus to be unified. In other words, he was addressing their relationships with one another. In verse 1 we read, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…” The “you’s” are plural. He was writing to the members of the church of Ephesus and urging them to walk worthy together. I continue, “…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1–3, ESV). So if we are to walk worthy together – if we are to have healthy and god-honoring relationships with one another in the church – we must be humble, gentle, and patient. We must be forbearing. We must have love in our hearts for one another. Now in verse 15, after warning them of being tossed to and fro by false doctrines, “by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes”, he says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” (Ephesians 4:15, ESV). 

The truth that Paul speaks of here is first and foremost the truth of the Gospel – the truth of the Word of God. But is also truth in a more general sense. How were the Ephesians to relate to one another? How were they to walk worthy and to be unified in Christ?  They were to speak the truth in love to another. Where there is truth spoken in love, there is unity and peace. Where there is false doctine, human cunning, and craftiness in deceitful schemes,  people are “tossed to and fro” like the waves of the sea, and they are carried off in this way and that. Human relationships cannot flourish without truth and without love. That is true in the church, and true in every institution within society.


What Does The Ninth Commandment Require And Forbid?

With that now as a kind of big picture introduction, I wish to ask the specific question, what does the ninth commandment, you shall not bear false witness, forbid and require? As has been my custom, I will use trustworthy catechisms to help us. 

First our catechism, the Baptist Catechism. Please listen carefully to these questions and answers.

BC Q. 82. What is required in the ninth commandment?

A. The ninth commandment requireth the maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man, and of our own and our neighbor’s good name, especially in witness bearing. (Zech. 8:16; Acts 25:10; Eccles. 7:1; 3 John 12; Prov. 14:5,25)

Q. 83. What is forbidden in the ninth commandment?

A. The ninth commandment forbideth whatsoever is prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own, or our neighbor’s good name. (Eph. 4:25; Ps. 15:3; 2 Cor. 8:20,21)

Notice three things. One, on the most basic level, the ninth commandment requires us to promote truth between man and man. Anything that promotes what is false is a violation of the ninth commandment. It is sin. Two, our catechism draws special attention to the importance of maintaining our own and our neighbor’s good name. When we tell lies or live a life of deceit we bring shame to our own name. And if we tell lies about others, we shame their name. In other words, we do damage to our own reputation and the reputation of others when we lie and deceive. A good reputation is a very precious thing. As Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” A good reputation is a precious thing because it, one, honors God, and two, enables us to relate to others freely. Three, our catechism emphasizes the special importance of truthfulness in witness-bearing. It is always important to tell the truth. Our “yes” should mean “yes”, and our “no” should mean “no”… always. But it is especially important to speak truthfully when called to serve as a witness in some kind of civill or ecclesiastical matter? Why? Because the stakes are high. As you know, the lives and livelihoods of men and women can be taken away unjustly through false witnesses.  

I’ll read now the Westminster Larger Catechism. This will help us to think about the ninth commandment more broadly and to apply it more thoroughly, I hope. 

WLC Q. 144. What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?

A. The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.

Q. 145. What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?

A. The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence, suborning false witnesses, wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, outfacing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence, calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked; forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful or equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of the truth or justice; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, talebearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; flattering, vainglorious boasting, thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts and graces of God; aggravating smaller faults; hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession; unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense; evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any; endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt, fond admiration; breach of lawful promises; neglecting such things as are of good report, and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering what we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.

Brothers and sisters, this is a rich resource. I would encourage you to read Westminster Larger 144 and 145 again later as you reflect on the ninth commandment and seek to apply it. There is so much truth here. I cannot parse it out in this sermon for lack of time. In general, I will say this: the ninth commandment is not only about not telling lies. The ninth commandment is about living a life of truth and love. We must think what is true, feel what is true, speak what is true, and do what is true. And must live this life of truth with love in our hearts for God and our fellow man. WLC 144 and 145 help us to see that, I think.

Lastly, I will read from another catechism that we should be happy to call our own, called the Orthodox Catechism. It is a Baptist revision of the Heidelberg Catechism compiled by Hercules Collins in the 17th century. 

Question 130: What is God’s will for you in the ninth commandment?

Answer: God’s will is that I never give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause. Rather, in court and everywhere else, I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind; these are devices the devil himself uses, and they would call down on me God’s intense anger. I should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it. And I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.


Suggestions For Application

Well, I think you understand what the ninth commandment is, what it requires and forbids. I will begin to move this sermon toward a conclusion by offering some specific suggestions for application followed by a gospel contemplation. 

 I’ll deliver the suggestions for application under three headings. All who have faith in Christ, whose sins have been washed away, whose hearts have been renewed by the Holy Spirit, and whose minds are being renewed by the truth of God’s word, must obey the ninth commandment, one, in thought, two, in word, and three, in deed. 

Think What Is True

Brothers and sisters, if we are to keep the ninth commandment really and truly, we must first think what is true and love what is true. You cannot speak the truth, or live a life that is true, if you do not first think what is true. 

Thinking what is true begins with submitting to God and to his word. What is truth? God is truth (John 3:33). And the word of God is truth (John 17:17). If we hope to live a life that is true in word and in deed then we must begin by submitting ourselves to God and to his word.  We must first “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save [our] souls.” (James 1:21, ESV). Living a life of truth begins with thinking what is true, and do this we must submit ourselves to God and to his word.

Stated negatively, to believe a lie is to live a lie. The is a sense in which those who believe what is false live a life that is false. Though they may tell the truth from time to time, or perhaps very often, they live a life of falsehood because they have not submitted themselves to the reality of who God is, who they are in relation to him, and of his purpose for them. In other words, because they have believed a lie, they live, not for the glory of God but for some other purpose. Those who have not submitted themselves to God and his word through faith in Christ, live according to falsehood, and this is bondage of the worst kind. This is why Jesus spoke to those who believed in him in this way, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32, ESV). Freedom comes through the truth. The truth of God’s word frees us to live according to the reality of who God is, who we are, and his plans and purposes for us through faith in the Savior he has provided. 

So, to live a life that is true we must first submit to the truth of God, his word, and his Christ. And we must be sanctified progressively by this truth throughout our lives. How do we come to be saved? By believing the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And how do we grow or mature in Christ? Through the truth of God’s word as the Spirit works. In John 17 we have a record of the prayer that Jesus prayed to the on behalf of those the Father gave to him. In verse 17 he prays, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17, ESV).

The truth of God, his word, and his Gospel must be believed at the beginning of the Christian life, and also throughout. We must be careful to fill our minds with the truth of God’s word as the Lord refines us and keeps us. Paul warns us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of [our] mind…” (Romans 12:2, ESV). In another place, he says, ”whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8, ESV). these are positive exhortations to think what is true. In the scriptures we also find warnings to not believe the lies of the evil one. In John 8 Jesus confronts those who do not receive him, saying, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me” (John 8:44–45, ESV).

So you can see that in this world there is truth and there are lies. God is truth. His word is truth. And the evil one is a liar and the father of lies. What will you fill your mind with? What will you believe? You will act upon what you believe, friends. What you speak and what you do comes from somewhere! Your words and actions come from the heart and the mind. 

Fill your heart and mind with God’s word. Learn to think rightly about God, the world that he has made, and your place in it. Develop wisdom. Develop discernment. Grow in your knowledge of truth. All the while, beware of the lies of the evil one. Beware of the lies that he speaks to your own mind and soul. Beware of the lies that he speaks to you through others. Beware of the lies that he speaks to you through the culture and through propaganda. If we wish to speak the truth and live a life that is true, then we must have the truth of God stored up and treasured in the mind and heart.  

Speak The Truth

Secondly, those in Christ, who have been washed by his blood and regenerated by the Spirit, must speak the truth in love. 

One, do not lie, brothers and sisters. Your “yes” must be “yes” and your “no” must be “no”. Speak the truth instead. Bring the truth of God’s word to bear upon the situations you encounter in life. Tell the truth about yourself and others. 

Two, do not distort the truth in any way by telling half-truths, or by playing with words. Again I say, let your “yes” be “yes”, and your “no” be “no”. Let your speech be plain, direct, and clear. Indeed, we must be very careful with the tongue knowing how powerful it is. Our words can be used for great good and for great evil. Our words should be few. “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19, ESV).

Three, speaking the truth in love also requires us to listen truthfully. This is what the WLC is referring to when it forbids “misconstructing intentions, words, and actions.” In other words, to listen to others and to twist their words and misconstrued their intentions to hold it against them is dishonest.

Four, speaking the truth in love forbids gossip and slander. 

We gossip when we speak of others in the wrong place. It is possible to say what is true about someone but to be guilty of gossip. What we say might be factually true, but we are guilty of gossip when we say it to those who do not need to know. Beware of the sin of gossip, brothers and sisters. Ask yourself the question, does this person need to know this? Is it their business? Are they in some danger? Are they in a position to help? Do they have some responsibility to act? I there counsel absolutely necessary? These are the kinds of questions we should ask when determining if information about others needs to be shared. If the person does not need to know, then don’t share it. We are to speak the truth in love. And we know that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8, ESV). This does not mean that sin is to be ignored. This does not mean that sin is to go unconfronted. But it does mean that our impulse should be to cover the sin of others with grace instead of magnifying it. If a brother is caught in some sin, we must confront it in love and with humility. If there is no repentance, others are to be involved. Eventually, it must be told to the church. But nowhere in that process is gossip appropriate.  

Slander is similar to gossip. We slander when we say things about others that are untrue, partially true, unfounded or misleading to the detriment of the person’s reputation. We should mind our business, brothers and sisters. If we must say something about others, we should only say what we know to be true. “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:8–10, ESV).

Speaking the truth in love requires us to say only that which is true, and to say it to the right people, in the right place, at the right time, with the right words, and in the right way.

Fifthly, if we wish to keep the ninth commandment in word, we must also speak up for the truth when we are in possession to do so. Often time, keeping the ninth commandment will require us to refrain from saying that which is false, but sometimes keeping the ninth commandment will require us to say what is true.   

Live A Life That Is True

Thirdly, and lastly, those in Christ, who have been washed by his blood and regenerated by the Spirit, must obey the ninth commandment in deed. Here I mean that we must live lives that are true and unhypocritical.

Live according to God’s truth, brothers and sisters. Live in light of who he is. Live in obedience to him. Live trusting in Christ, who died for your sins and rose again for your salvation. And be true to God and to your profession of faith in every aspect of your life. Be one person, and not two, or three. Are you following me? It is not uncommon for people to be one person at church, another in the home, and another in the workplace. Don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t live a double life. Be one person who is true to God and to the word of God in every sphere of life. I think this is especially common for young people whose faith is immature. They have not developed the courage or the conviction to be true to God and to his word in every arena. They are tossed to and fro, therefore, by the pressure of their peers. We must be found faithful and true – true to God and true to our profession of faith in Christ.

In other words, it seems to me that the ninth commandment requires genuineness and sincerity in the whole of life. Men and women violate the ninth commandment when they give the impression that they are one way when in fact they are another.

I’ll make one last suggestion for the application concerning this theme of genuineness and sincerity. Be careful with social media, brothers, and sisters. In fact, be careful with everything digital and virtual. It is so easy to get lost in that world and to detach from reality. That world is filled with falsehood, gossip, and slander. That world is also filled with people who misrepresent themselves as being something they are not. Christians need to be grounded in the real world. We need to be real and genuine people interacting with real people in the real world in real and genuine ways. I’m afraid that the temptation to detach from reality and to live a life of lies will only increase in the years to come, but those in Christ must be found faithful and true.

Gospel Contemplation

Now for a brief gospel contemplation.

In our consideration of the moral law of God we must not forget the gospel of Jesus Christ. If I were to ask you the question, have you kept this law – the ninth commandment, properly understood – perfectly, all should say, I have violated this law in thought, word, and deed. The law of God condemns sinners as guilty.

But ​​“there is… now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1–4, ESV).

The law does not condemn the one who is united to Christ by faith, for Christ has kept the law for us, has paid for our sins, and was raised for us in victory. But the Spirit of God does still use the law of God to convict the Christian. God uses his law, not as a judge to condemn us, but as a loving Father to discipline us, for by his grace we are his beloved children through adoption. God disciplines those he loves.

So then, being found in Christ, and being convicted of sin, we must turn from it and to Christ again and again. And using the law as a light to our path, we must obey it. We must obey it, not in own strength, but with the strength God provides. We must obey it, not out of slavish fear, but out of gratitude towards God for his mercy and grace. We must obey God’s law, not to earn God’s love and favor, but because his love and favor have been freely bestowed upon us in Christ Jesus. He has washed and renewed us in Christ Jesus. Now we must walk in the newness of life that is ours in him.

Romans 6:3 says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3–4, ESV).

Comments are closed.

"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

© 2011-2022 Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church