As we begin this morning we want to connect God’s Character to God’s law.
GOD IS JUST
Scripture teaches repeatedly that “God is just.”
Dt. 32:4 “ The Rock! His work is perfect,
For all His ways are [a]just;
A God of faithfulness and without injustice,
Righteous and upright is He.
Psalm 33:4 For the word of the Lord is upright,
And all His work is done in faithfulness.
5 He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the lovingkindness of the Lord.
Even the pagan Kings could testify as did Nebuchadnezzar,
Daniel 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are [a]true and His ways [b]just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.”
And when all is said and done, God’s justice will be a theme in the singing in the final age
Revelation 15:3 And they *sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
“ Great and marvelous are Your works,
O Lord God, the Almighty;
Righteous and true are Your ways,
King of the nations!
The character of “God as just” is seen in His ten words given to mankind. In our series on God’s justice on display in the Ten Commandments we have seen repeatedly that God is just and righteous and has given men, as His image bearers, His just character to live by.
GOD’S JUSTICE REPLICATED IN HIS PEOPLE
In Psalm 37 we see a connection between God who is just and His love for those who live by His just Character.
Psalm 37:28 For the Lord loves justice
And does not forsake His godly ones;
They are preserved forever,
But the descendants of the wicked will be cut off.
29 The righteous will inherit the land
And dwell in it forever.
30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
And his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
His steps do not slip.
God is Just and He loves seeing His justice in His Redeemed people as His Law is in their hearts.
We shouldn’t need to say this but we will nonetheless. It is understood that our only righteousness is found in Jesus Christ who is our law keeping perfection before the Father. But it is precisely because we are counted as having fulfilled the law in Jesus Christ that we esteem God’s law.
God is just, and we are just in Christ, and so we seek to speak up God’s justice by advocating for and living by God’s law.
BECAUSE WE ASPIRE TO TAKE GOD’S JUSTICE SERIOUSLY WE ESTEEM GOD’S LAW
This is why we spend time considering the ten words. We spend time considering God’s ten words because we desire to live the abundant life and we desire for God’s justice to be known among the nations.
This just character of God as seen in God’s law is seen as a threat by those who prefer to define justice according to their own law word. They feel threatened by God’s just character and so God’s law.
But, we might ask, is so threatening about God’s law?
Is it threatening that all people might honor, respect, and submit to lawful authorities? (#5)
Is it threatening that all people be committed to protecting the lives, and welfare of all other men? (#6)
Is it threatening that all people be committed to their own spouses and that all be committed to ending sexual exploitation? (#7)
Is it threatening that all people refused to steal property of others thus protecting their own material welfare? (#8)
And in light of the fact that all of this expresses God’s just Character, would it be threatening if everyone took this God seriously? (#1 – 4)
These commandments of God are those commandments that people have serious problems with. Because these laws are so threatening they must be removed from the places were children gather, they must be removed from the places where litigants gather, and they must not be appealed to as a basis for public policy.
Yet despite this cavil against God’s law if we as God’s people were to cease advocating for God’s law in our own personal lives and for the public square we would be left being in opposition to the character of the God we say we serve.
When it comes to God’s justice whoever is not with God is against God, and whoever does not gather with God scatters.
And so we teach and esteem God’s law. Not as our righteousness before God. We have that in our Lord Christ. No, we teach and esteem God’s law out of a sense of gratitude and love for the fact that the law no longer condemns us because we are righteous in Christ.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF GOD’S TRANSCENDENT LAW
And what shall happen if we give up on God’s law as a transcendent standard for our personal lives and for the public square?
Well, obviously we then will live by injustice. If God is just, and if His ways are altogether perfect, if we give up on God’s law we give up on justice and embrace injustice.
If we give up on God’s transcendent justice, as summarized in the Ten Commandments then we must find justice in the immanent.
Ill. — Transcendent Justice — Navigating by North Star
If there is no North Star then some other standard for justice has to be appealed to. That other standard will inevitably be defined by whoever has the most power.
If we will not be guided by the North Star of God’s transcendent law we will be guided by man’s immanent law that teaches, per Chairman Mao, that “power comes from the barrel of a gun.”
We will either serve the creator God’s transcendent justice or the “justice” that we create will serve the desires of which ever creature is in control.
The Russian novelist Dostoevsky, in his book “The Brother’s Karamazov” warned that once God is set aside, “man will be lifted up with a spirit of divine titanic pride and the man-god will appear.”
That man-god that Dostoevsky speaks of could be the arrival of anarchy where each man is his own god and where the law is, “every man does what is right in his own eyes.” That man-god could be the arrival of some democratic majority such as the one which was channeled by Robespierre in the French Revolution and gave the law of the guillotine. That man-god could be the arrival of some Despot and Tyrant setting atop a Nation-State who gives the law of his whim and fancy through the procedure of extra-constitutional signing statements or by fiat run around of constitutional authority. However the man-god arrives, he arrives because we failed to esteem God’s transcendent law that gives us North Star justice.
And so we appeal to God’s law as a transcendent norm that norms all other norms. We believe that if we did not appeal to God’s law as a transcendent norm that norms all other norms we would be a cruel and mean people. This is an important point to tease out for a moment.
When Alabama State Supreme Court judge Roy Moore insisted that God’s law stay in the court building in Alabama he was depicted as mean and as a obscurantist. But Judge Moore was the one who in his insistence that God’s law remain in the court room who was reflecting the milk of human kindness.
Often Christians with their transcendent norms and with their advocacy of God’s law as a universal norm that all men should be governed by are seen as the mean people but in point of fact it is people who appeal to get rid of the North Star that was given to regulate human behavior who are the cold hearted mean people. Those who desire to throw off God’s law to be ruled by the un-anchored relative law of the creature are the cruel and the despotic. Those people who have successfully thrown off God’s North Star rule of “Thou Shalt Not Kill” as being oppressive have successfully murdered over 50 million unborn children. Those people who have successfully thrown off God’s North Star rule of “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery,” with legislation that has been counter intuitive to the support of the family are responsible for the destruction of untold numbers of family and individual lives. We could go on, but you get the idea, it is those who oppose God’s law as a transcendent norm that norms all norms who are the mean ones and the cold hearted.
With all that as backdrop we continue to examine God’s law.
This week we take up the 9th commandment again.
Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness
That this law still has influence in our lives is seen by how we raise our children. Likely, all of us raised our children impressing upon them the importance of “telling the truth,” and we made sure that our children didn’t run with other children who we knew were capable at lying. In our marriages we expect spouses to be honest with one another and we find it to be a fault in a husband and wife that lies to their spouse. In the workplace we still look for honesty in both our employees and our employers even if we are often disappointed.
And in the public square we still have the residual influence of God’s transcendent “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness” on our books. We still have laws against perjury, slander, and libel, and fraud, and insider trading, and obstruction of justice, even if those laws are not enforced as much as they should be.
We take it for granted that “Honesty is the best policy,” but in other cultures untouched by Christian thinking this is not necessarily so.
Don Richardson, in his book, “The Peace Child” related the story of a tribe where lying and deceit was the greatest honour / trait a man could have! And upon the first telling of the death of Christ, initially the tribe thought Judas was the hero because of his deceit.
So, unlike other cultures, we still have a residue of a memory of “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness.”
A people who are honest and truth tellers are necessary to have a culture that can function, whether that culture is just in a family, or a workplace, or a community. If we could not trust one another to be truth tellers relationships would not be stable, and commerce could not function. If we could not trust one another to be truth tellers we would be withdrawn and solitary. If we could not trust one another to be truth tellers we would grow to be suspicious and paranoid.
We can see how important “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness” is for healthy communities.
In the Catechism we are instructed what is required in this commandment
Answer: That I bear false witness against no man, (a) nor falsify any man’s words; (b) that I be no backbiter, nor slanderer; (c) that I do not judge, nor join in condemning any man rashly, or unheard; (d) but that I avoid all sorts of lies and deceit, as the proper works of the devil, (e) unless I would bring down upon me the heavy wrath of God; (f) likewise, that in judgment and all other dealings I love the truth, speak it uprightly and confess it; (g) also that I defend and promote, as much as I am able, the honor and good character of my neighbour. (h)
Types of False Witness
Last week we spent time on the fact that this commandment is especially in reference to the court room looking at how this commandment serves as a legal fence around the other commandments. There is no way, that judicially, one can protect Life, Marriage, and Property, unless one can get to the truth.
But clearly, the ninth commandment has in mind a much wider scope than the judicial system alone. It forbids all forms of false witness, all forms of lying (Eph.4:25).
25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.
The 9th commandment aims at preserving reputations and our neighbors good name. One way to destroy a man is to destroy his reputation and so the 9th commandment seeks to protect reputations by forbidding
(1) backbiting and gossip.
Scripture speaks of backbiting as done by the wicked.
Rom.1:29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Rom.1:30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Gossip may not include overt lying. Gossip may succeed in false witness by leading astray or by giving truth in such a way that one knows it will be misinterpreted.
Backbiting is a graphic word that communicates an attack on someone in such a way that he can not defend himself. In our imagination we should see it closely akin to the guy in the Movie who shoots someone in the back. Backbiting attacks a person where he is most vulnerable because he can not ward off the attack.
(2) judging rashly
The disciples passed a blind man and asked Jesus who had sinned — the blind man or his parents (John 9:2).
Clearly this was a rash judgment as Jesus points out that neither was the case.
We need to remember this prohibition as we deal with people. Sometimes it seems so obvious what motives for people’s behavior that is reported to us, but we must be careful not to judge rashly. Matters are often not what they first seem. We should try to give people the benefit of the doubt … especially those that we know.
As we enter into this election cycle it will be important for us to not judge rashly. Advertisements on all sides are aimed at us spending 30 or 60 seconds to convince us to judge rashly. Of course judgments are necessary but we should try to, as much as possible, arm ourselves with all the facts before we come to a conclusion.
Libel is lying openly and intentionally in print.
Libel often occurs by twisting someone’s ones words, by giving half a quote or by not giving the full context. Truth is in precision.
When we enter into this kind of behavior we are violating the 9th commandment.
As Christians we are to be characterized as dealing in truth.
Jesus said that when we speak lies we speak the Devil’s language. (John 8:44)
Elsewhere Scripture teaches,
Prov.12:22 Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight. Prov.13:5 A righteous man hateth lying: but a wicked man is loathsome, and cometh to shame.
Jesus Christ Our Truth Before God
We are liars. None of us keep the command to not bear false witness perfectly.
And so we must constantly repair to Christ.
Our trusting in Christ does not give us license to lie (shall we go on sinning that Grace might increase?) but it does remind us that when give up on our own self righteousness in terms of bearing false witness, Christ is the one who is our righteousness before God.