What is your most valuable earthly possession? I remember being required to consider this question as a high school assignment. How would you answer as an adult? Do our insurance policies give us clues? Is it your home, your car, your physical ability to work, your life itself? Sometimes an insurance agent will encourage you to consider how you will fare if you were to suffer the loss of a particular item or possession. This is meant to help you determine whether or not it’s worth insuring.
Would any of us put “my reputation” on that list? I’m sure it wasn’t on my list in high school. How valuable or important is “a good name?”
God cares about your good name.
“It doesn’t matter what other people think of you, just as long as you know who you are…” That sounds nice, but it doesn’t prove true. You could ask the woman who’s trying to secure a home mortgage with a bad credit report. You could ask the man with a felony on his record as he’s trying to get a job. You could ask the young lady who’s terriﬁed of going to school because of one photo that made its way onto the world wide web…
But even with all these anecdotes aside, God Himself says that what others think of you matters. God cares about your good name. He demonstrates as much by placing a hedge around your good name – your reputation.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
That God would give such a gracious hedge around your neighbor’s good name shows the mercy of God. It also shows the treachery of our tongues. Though other muscles in the body are far more prominent and feared, none can harm our neighbor in spiritual or daily bread matters more than the lash and bite of our tongues. This hedge doesn’t mean only to prevent false claims, but even those that may be true but are spoken with the motive to muddy a reputation or perhaps make ours seem glowing by comparison. God seize our tongues from such slander and forgive our many sins in this regard.
And though our fallen tongues have in them the treachery to do great harm, the only reason tongues can do so much harm is because God has endowed the characters and syllables
that come from tongues (we call them ‘words’) with power that He means to be a wonderful gift to us and to our neighbor. With the words that come from our tongues, God gives power to excuse a husband his many moments of inattention, power to excuse a wife her frequent failures to speak of her husband in a complimentary way. With the syllables that come from our tongues, God gives power to speak well of a civil servant we didn’t vote for, power to put the best construction on our pastor failing to visit our loved one in the hospital, power to presume the best of our parishioner who hasn’t always done the same for us.
Jesus bears true witness.
The prohibitive requirement – “you shall not bear false witness” – shows our guilt. Luther’s positive promotion – “excuse, speak well of and put the best construction on our neighbor” – this reveals our woeful void. But Jesus bears no guilt here nor lacks any good. Jesus is the True Witness. He endured the loss of His own good name throughout His public preaching and teaching at the slander of the teachers, the Sanhedrin, and Pilate. He addressed the guilty in person and with the purpose of repentance to faith. He used his ﬂesh-and-blood tongue to pray for his enemies even as they did their worst to Him. Jesus is the epitome of righteousness with respect to this Divine command, and His spotless record is credited to us by faith. Jesus’ life of True Witness is our righteousness – our good name – with God our Father, in whom we fear, love, and trust above all things.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, so that we do not lie about, betray or slander our neighbor, but excuse him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.
Rev. Kyle Madson
Editor, The Lutheran Sentinel
Norseland Lutheran Church
St. Peter, MN
Norwegian Grove Lutheran Church