You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.
Friends in Christ,
“[Love] does not rejoice with wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” (I Corinthians 13:6) The Eighth Commandment is about the truth. It is about the way we are to treat our neighbors, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ, when it comes to their public reputation.
At first blush this command is set in the context of a court of law. We are not to give false testimony. We should not lie when we are “on the stand” and “under oath”. This is true, of course. If you lie in court you could send an innocent person to prison or set a guilty person free. False lawsuits cost millions of dollars and waste precious time and energy.
But Christians are called to be patrons of the truth, honest and loving in every setting. We should always speak well of our neighbor unless we have definitive proof of their wrongdoing. We are to explain their faults to them kindly, not with harsh words and accusations.
This applies especially when we have conflicts with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is tempting when someone has sinned against us to tell others about it, to spread the “good” news about how this person has wronged us. Another temptation is to sit at home and brood about it, letting our anger fester and boil. Both are wrong.
In Matthew 18:15 Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” This is the first step for a Christian. This is the way of truth. Notice that Jesus says we should confront our brother or sister to their face. We are to “go and tell him” in person. There should be no anonymous phone calls, no mysterious letters slipped under doors.
Otherwise how can a person repent? How can they receive forgiveness? If you do not personally confront your brother or sister with their sin, then you deprive them of the opportunity to repent and receive forgiveness from your lips. And that is precisely the opposite of the Christian message and mission (Luke 24:46-47).
Jesus Christ is the truth. His death and resurrection have paid the price for all human transgressions, even those of people we may not like. Sin should be confronted in truth, not with gossip or slander, not in anonymity, but with courage and love. If you are holding a grudge, it is time to let it go. It is time to forgive just as Christ has forgiven you.