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The Least Observed Commandment

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The Least Observed Commandment

©2003 by Jefferis Kent Peterson

for The Sharon Herald, "For the Pulpit" Due 5/28/03 for June 7, 2003

"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor…" Exodus 20:16

It is one of the Ten Commandments. It is one of the least observed because it is the least understood. Everyone knows what lust is and everyone knows what adultery is. We have a good idea what idolatry and theft are. But what is false witness? Here's a modern translation: "You shall not lie to or about your neighbor. You shall be a person of integrity and honesty both in your words and in your deeds. You shall not gossip. You shall be true to your word. You shall keep your promises. You shall not lie in a legal matter."

Being in business as well as being a pastor, I am astounded by the dishonesty and lack of integrity in business – especially by people who claim to be Christians. The scriptures say "the Gentiles (non-believers) reject God because of you," (Romans 2:24). I have met many people in business who have caused me to understand that scripture all too well. Without naming names, let me say this to you: "By your lack of integrity in your business dealings, you have mistreated non-believers, and they want nothing to do with your God. What you do in His Name brings shame to His Name."

Really! I am a Christian, but I've gotten to the point where if someone confesses Christ while making a business deal, my guard goes up. I want to see if they are just using the name of Jesus to make money from me. It has happened too often. I've also met many Christians who really shouldn't admit that they are. In business, they may "intend" to do what they say, but they do not follow through on their words or keep their commitments. "Yes, I want to buy your product," they say, but when it comes time to sign the deal, they change their minds. What was "yes" is now "no." Is it wavering, uncertainty, or dishonesty on their part? I don't know. Maybe it is passive-aggressive behavior, or fear of offending people by saying "no," but whatever the reason, they are not being honest and it makes for bad relationships.

Unfortunately, churches are often the worst offenders. I've met a lot of sales people who will not do business with churches. I create websites to earn a living to allow me to preach what I believe without charge, but I don't work for churches. In my experience, the committee-led inefficiency of churches makes them unreliable. They take months to make decisions and even longer to pay their bills – if they pay at all. Many salesmen I know call churches the black hole of business. You pour in your time and your labor out of love for God's work, and the people you serve don't respect you enough to pay their bills. It's thankless. It ought not to be so. We ought to have integrity. Instead, our churches give God a bad rap!

Paul said some people think that "godliness is a means of financial gain," (1 Tim. 6:5). They use the name of Jesus as a way of getting a business deal. They are con artists at worst or incompetent at best. You see, it really doesn't matter if you actually intend to cheat someone or if you just fail to keep your word; in either case, you've born a false witness. You lied in the name of Christ, because you do not do what you say you will do.

In years gone by, a verbal agreement was a legal contract. There is still a law on the books in Pennsylvania that allows you to hold one legally responsible for their words as if they were written down. This law harkens back to a time when a person could be counted on to uphold his word because not to do so would be to break one of the Ten Commandments and offend God. We've lost that reverence for God and so we lie to one another without fear of the consequence.

Your word is supposed to be your bond. It is your commitment. It represents who you are. Psalm 15 is one of my favorite Psalms. It says simply, "LORD, who shall live in your presence on your holy hill? The one who walks uprightly, and does right, and speaks the truth from his heart. Who doesn't gossip about his neighbor or do evil to him… Who keeps his promise even when it costs him more than he expected and still does not back out of a deal. The one who lives this way shall never be moved." If all Christians lived this way, Jesus would have a better reputation in the world. His followers would be examples to be admired, not liars to be held suspect.

Therefore, don't bear a false witness for God by making a promise as a "believer" and then not keeping your word. Don't steal from others by your words or in your business practices. Do not say "yes" to things you have no intention of doing, and don't bring the name of Jesus into disrepute. Do not cause others to curse and reject God because of the way you behave. That would be a good start towards observing the least observed commandment.

Jefferis Peterson is a pastor with the AIM Network of Churches and author of the book, "Pardoned or Paroled?" published by Isaiah House (

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