“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor, what does this mean? We should fear and love God that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, or say anything that might ruin his good name and reputation; but we should defend him, speak well of him, and explain all his words and actions in the best possible way.”
How important is your reputation to you? How about your neighbor’s? Perhaps a simple illustration which many of us probably experience fairly often will serve to show both how important our reputation is and how badly we have failed to care about our neighbor’s.
You’re standing around at the water cooler at work or by the lockers at school or at the game with your friends and the topic of conversation is…”her” or “him.” Gleefully, you add your three cents. Maybe you frame it as “concern” but your inner gossip girl is positively glowing with the opportunity to preside over the sins of others.
But now turn the situation around. You’re on the outside of the circle and you overhear what “they” are saying about you. It hurts doesn’t it? It makes your blood boil. You probably obsess over it for days. Because you know how important your reputation is. You take great pains to craft your image a certain way (even if it’s a facade). Oh what great harm unkind words can do. James says the tongue is an unruly evil filled with deadly poison or like a man walking in a dry forest dropping lit matches with every step.
It’s not just about whether your words are true or not, they must be both true and loving. This is what Christ has redeemed you and your tongues for, to speak the truth in love! And that applies especially when you know that someone has sinned. It’s not a juicy morsel to be taken, shared, and ravenously devoured with friends. It’s an opportunity to speak the truth in love. It’s an opportunity to edify. It’s an opportunity to rebuke with the law and then heal with the gospel. For, “If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” Remember the wonderful words God has given you to speak to those in need – the Word which He Himself has spoken to you for all your sins against this and all commandments, “You are forgiven.” Let it be so.