THE NINTH COMMANDMENT
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
“As Jesus Christ hung on the Cross, it seems clear that He was reciting Psalms. Just before He died, he quoted Psalm 31:5: “Into Your hands I commit My spirit”. If He’d had the strength to complete the verse aloud, He would have added, “O Lord, God of truth.”
Icons by permission of Saint Isaac’s Skete at skete.com
I suggest that each night before you go to sleep you join with your Lord. Make the sign of the Cross and say “Into Your hands I commit my spirit, O Lord God of truth.”
“Do not bear false witness” meant: When you’re standing before a judge, don’t tell lies about people. Still a good idea, since we now call this Perjury, and it can land you in jail.
The Church usually expands this Commandment to mean: Do not tell lies.
To avoid spreading falsehoods we need to know…
This is often no easy matter these days when so much disinformation surrounds us, when some people even in the highest places have seemed unable to tell truth from lies, when sites designed to spread falsehoods are all over the news and social media.
Why should we seek to speak what is true?
Because… go back to Post 232, where I gave you a bunch of reasons from the Scriptures. Chief of them is that our Lord Jesus identified Himself with truth, and truth with Himself: “I am the way, the truth, the life ” John 14:6 And when He stood before Pontius Pilate, He said: “This is why I was born, this is why I came into this world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” John 18:37.
When we tell lies we become children of Satan who is the “father of lies” John 8:44
Why does untruth exist?
Sometimes it’s an honest error. Sometimes it’s the result of gossip. You know the old game of whispering something around a circle, and by the time it goes ’round, “my brother got into the game with a pass” has turned into “my mother killed her aunt with an axe”. Often, I fear, lies are told by those seeking money or power. And behind it all is Satan, “the father of lies”, the Destroyer. For all lies are destructive.
Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Spreading falsehoods, however we do it, always hurts someone. In the old days the best way of doing this was gossip over the back fence or by phone. Today people usually use the social media, that cursed source of misinformation – Gossip on steroids. This means our lies now go all over the world.
Right: Henry Scott Tuke, 1885. Left: Fuast1357 at Creative Commons
So, some practical suggestions:
1 Believe about 10% of what you hear, and only about 50% of what you see in person.
2 Regarding matters in the news, I mentioned in Post 232 that there are various “fact check” sources where you can find when politicians and others have been inaccurate. Or check it out for yourself. (This is not hard. You’re intelligent. Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this Blog!) Follow the news from various sources carefully for a while. However if you’re one of those people who do not trust the media at all, you obviously should not be passing on anything about such matters. (Think, people. Think!)
3 Regarding articles we receive by email or social media: If they are not signed by or attributed to anyone, or if they begin “SHOCK! SCANDAL!” they are almost always untrue or falsely exaggerated. Delete them.
4 There are websites devoted to digging up dirt about the Church. I have been Orthodox long enough to know that much of this is inaccurate, not to mention nasty-minded. I gave up reading this stuff a long time ago, and I suggest you do too.
5 If you are sure the information is true: If it’s positive, share it. If it is something negative, ask “Is it any of my business to pass this on?” If not, don’t. However, sometimes it’s wrong to keep quiet. In court, witnesses must promise to tell “the truth, the whole truth…” If you are very sure evil is going on (you see someone mistreating a child, or something) then you may have a duty to speak up.
6 Conclusion: Most of us should believe much less than we do, pass on much less than we do. Please do not hurt others and ruin your reputation by gossiping. Zip your lips. Keep your hands off the keyboard. Do not push “Send”. Go say your prayers. Read a good book.
Bloggers also should be very careful what we write. I try to be accurate, but should you catch me in an error, please comment at the bottom of these Posts. Don’t let me ruin my reputation – such as it is.
Oh, I didn’t talk about “white lies”. I’m planning a surprise birthday party, and the “birthday person” asks “Are you planning a party?” … You tell me: What should I say? and why?
Finally, as I’ve prepared this Post I’ve realized again how much I learned from my mother: During World War Two we moved to a village which was gossip city. Pastor after pastor had been driven out by gossip. This is the church. I’m sure things have changed now. My mother decided she would not participate. When the talk started she would walk away quietly, or hang up the phone saying “I’ve got to go now”. In time even the pastors came to trust her and talk with her about their problems. They knew she would keep her mouth shut.
“Go and do likewise.”
THE TENTH COMMANDMENT
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his house, neither shall you covet his field, nor his male servant, his female servant, his ox, his donkey, any of his cattle, or whatever belongs to your neighbor.
To covet means to “earnestly desire” something. This Commandment forbids desiring things that belong to others. The Church expands this into a discussion of coveting things in general.
Notice: The first nine Commandments dealt with external actions: Don’t make idols, rest on the Sabbath, and so on. But coveting is an interior attitude, similar to envy or jealousy.
Now, there are many good things that we should seek: to be better educated, more informed, to have enough money to provide decent food, shelter, health care, culture, arts, music, travel for our selves and our children. “…the living God… gives us richly all things to enjoy.” 1 Timotny 6:17 Above all, we should “earnestly desire” to become better persons, so we are ever more filled with love of God and love of neighbor, and finally worthy of Heaven.
Coveting what others have
What the Tenth Commandment forbids is not wanting a wife for myself, but my neighbor’s wife. Not a decent house for myself and my family, but my neighbor’s house. Not a car for myself, but my neighbor’s car.
Here are two stories about coveting what others have, and what it led to:
1 King Ahab coveted his neighbor Naboth’s vineyard but thought it wrong just to seize it. His pagan wife Jezebel said: I’ll take care of it. On false charges of treason she had Naboth executed. Ahab went to take possession of the vineyard, and there stood the prophet Elijah (Elias). Ahab said, “You have found me, my enemy”. Elijah said “I have found you… Thus says the Lord: I will bring evils upon you, [your house will be destroyed], and dogs will devour Jezebel.” And so it happened. 1 Kings 2
2 I could tell you too many stories of people who coveted their neighbor’s spouses and what that led to. Here is the story of King David whose coveting led to adultery, murder, stealing, lying and punishment.
David from the roof of his palace saw a beautiful woman bathing – Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite, a soldier away at war. (I’ve always wondered why she left the shutters open. She had no idea how many movies would be made about this.)
David desired her (covetousness) and called her to the palace (stealing) which led to you know what (adultery). She sent word to him “I am with child.” So David had Uriah sent into the front lines where he was killed (murder). After a suitable period of mourning Bathsheba moved into the palace and married David, and they told everyone it was Uriah’s child (lying).
Then one day David’s court prophet Nathan came in and told him about a man who had great flocks of his own, but coveted his neighbor’s only ewe. So he had his neighbor killed and took his ewe. What should be done with this man? asked Nathan. David (not getting the point) said: “He should be put to death!” Nathan said to him “You are the man!” King David’s punishment came upon their infant son who died, and so as David mourned, his little boy’s blood also was on his hands.
That was why David wrote Psalm 50/51: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your great mercy: according to the multitude of Your tender mercies blot out my iniquity. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my iniquity: and my sin is ever before me.” I Samuel 11
Whole nations can be given over to coveting. For examples: Hitler coveted the world. We Anglos coveted North America and drove native Americans off their lands again and again. Israel covets the West Bank.
Why does covetousness exist?
The best analysis is in the Epistle of James: “Where do wars and fights among you come from? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war within you? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and make war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask in the wrong way, only so you may spend it on your pleasures.” James 4
God has better things in mind for us than other peoples’ vineyards, better things than Bathsheba, better things than this whole world. If we ask for truly good things humbly in faith, God will give them to us – when we can handle them, which may be not yet.
What coveting things does to us
Our modern commercial system, with its advertising, is intended to make people “earnestly desire” stuff we don’t have, don’t need, maybe won’t satisfy us much if we get it. And then they start again: If you really want to be happy you’ve got to have the latest (and more expensive) upgrade or style or model.
Please do not fall for this. It makes us miserable. Begin by being grateful for what you do have, by enjoying what you’ve got while you’ve got it – which won’t be forever (said the 82 year old Blogger). Most of us are surrounded by so much beauty, so many good people *, so much luxury compared to previous generations and with much of the world.
- If you want to find some, go to church.
If you’re coveting what your neighbor has, stop and consider: For all you know, your neighbor may be unhappy too. He may even be coveting what you have.
Worst of all, coveting causes you to waste your self. You can always find people who are smarter than you, better looking than you, richer, with more apparent advantages in life than you. What you cannot find is another you. There has never been and there never will be again on earth another person with your unique combination of heredity, environment, gifts, experiences, talents, interests, strengths – and also weaknesses to keep you humble. Make use of what God has uniquely given you – lest you come to the end and find that you have “wasted the talents God gave you”. Matthew 25:25-30
Saint Paul’s advice
He was speaking here from experience. Paul grew up privileged in every way. He gave up most of it, and you know how he spent his life. He had no immediate family, so he didn’t have obligations that most of us have. Nevertheless we can learn from his attitude. His conclusion late in life was this: “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. If we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in utter destruction. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.” I Timothy 6:6ff:
Those are things which obviously you cannot steal from your neighbor. But you can win them for yourself. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” Matthew 6:33
“You shall not covet.”
Next Week: How to keep Great Lent – Advice from people much wiser than I
Week after Next: The Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great