You have agreed to speak lying and corrupt words before me till the times change. Therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can show me its interpretation. Daniel 2:9b
A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow.
Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips. Proverbs 25:18–19
Originally published May 4, 2020
In the previous post, we considered the fact that sin is as much as a matter of action as a matter of motive. Good intentions do not justify sin. Surprisingly, this precept prepares us to honestly examine what motivates us to act as false witnesses.
Scripture consistently presents false witness as a sin of commission maliciously done to the detriment of others. The standard set by the Law of Moses (Ex. 20:16; Deu. 19:18–19) and examples of heinous men such as Haman the Agagite (Est. 3:8-9), display the evil of false witness to any reader. But as much as we might know what false witness is, recognizing it in action is an altogether different matter—especially when it is taking place in us! This sin can be difficult to spot and even harder to uproot for two reasons.
First, false witness involves a lot more than erroneous information. In most cases, no one summoned us to testify. Rather, we stepped forward and presented ourselves as an authority to be trusted. Thus, what was once simply a matter of information becomes a matter of image and even identity. Even a court witness must be granted a place at the stand, but we appraised ourselves as above such restraints. Pride lifted us out of our gallery seat, past the attorneys, and right into the judge’s throne. But the exhilaration that comes with premature power is short-lived because once enthroned we have nowhere else to go. We must continue this masquerade or acknowledge our criminality before the court we claimed to rule. Sadly, many choose the former path only to find that their outward splendor masks an inward terror, for everyone knows in their heart that only God can be both witness and judge.
Secondly, the deception is at least two tiers deep, for we not only pass on false information but also bear witness to it as sound truth. We choose to step forward and publicly testify to something that is false. The whole of it—word and deed—was false!
Escaping the Excuses
The amount of self-deception required to commit false witness helps explain why it is so difficult to assess our motives after engaging in it. If we choose to break our compass, why would we think we have a bearing on our current location? Isn’t it clear that we need the help of a trustworthy friend to understand our situation and determine how to go forward? Repentance will require nothing less than courageous honesty and a readiness to suffer the consequences that will surely result from our folly. But the truth is well worth the price, for once we’ve thrown our “good intentions” in the garbage we will be free to examine the real motives that powered the behavior. Let’s look at the first of these motives now.
Reason One: False Witness is Easy
False witness requires no work. No amount of reflection, humility, or self-control is required to assume improper motives and slander others. Study and verification require tedious, time-consuming effort; it is inestimably easier to let someone else think for you. Today’s technology has taken this reality to a whole new level, allowing us to sail seas of “knowledge” that are miles wide but inches deep. Soundbites, shock jocks, comment columns, memes, and other media tropes rapidly supply microscopic perspectives on massive, multifaceted issues. Worse still, men and movements—left, right, and center—take advantage of this situation, weaponizing information for their own ends. Never before have ignorance and insolence been given such a prominent platform. This situation is worsened by the fact that we often go to news, talk radio, and social media not because we are curious but because we are bored and tired of thinking. When this is the case, we cannot categorize such sources as references but as entertainment—and quite dangerous entertainment at that!
I cannot close this post without asking you a practical set of questions that emerge from this discussion. And I would welcome your feedback in the comments section. Patterns of Truth exists to make Christ known in the internet age by providing God’s Truth in a truth-filled manner. What does this look like in our day and age? Where and how have you seen Christ glorified through faithful testimony? And are there ways that Patterns of Truth can improve in avoiding the danger of false witness?