The Best Possible Light

The Eighth Commandment

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

What does this mean?

We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.

 

When it comes to the eighth commandment, I have a role model. My role model is Jane Bennet, the eldest sister in the classic novel Pride and Prejudice. While Jane’s sister Lizzy is the main character, Jane is often close at hand and often joins Lizzy in conversation about their acquaintances.

Lizzy Bennet has no reservations about passing judgment on her friends, neighbors, dancing partners, and even her family. She is especially quick to judge Mr. Darcy and Miss Bingley for any perceived or reported misstep. At least Lizzy does not behave like her youngest sisters, who repeat any gossip they hear without the slightest concern for its veracity. 

Jane, though, is different. She does not delight in gossip, true or otherwise, and she tries to find a kind explanation for any person’s bad behavior. Even when faced with scandalous reports, Jane seeks to preserve the other person’s reputation if she possibly can. She chides Lizzy for heeding unkind stories about Mr. Darcy without hearing his side of the story.

It’s not easy to be like Jane Bennet. There are an awful lot of ways to break this commandment. 

Any time we repeat something untrue, whether it’s about someone we know or a celebrity we’ll never meet, we break the eighth commandment. Any time we share something unflattering about someone else, even if it is true, we break the eighth commandment. Any time we betray someone’s confidence in us, we break the eighth commandment. Any time we silently listen to gossip or trash talk but do not defend the other person’s reputation, we break the eighth commandment. Any time we jump to conclusions about someone’s motives or assume the worst about them, we break the eighth commandment.

If you were looking for a commandment that would be easy to keep, you’ll have to keep looking. If you’re looking for one that’s worth keeping, though, this is a good place to start. We all know the pain of being misunderstood, talked about behind our backs, and judged. We need this commandment because we need communities where we live free from lies, betrayal, and damaged reputations. What a difference it can make in our lives to trust that our church family would be a community that always works to be honest, defend our reputations, and see the very best of us. 

Now that sounds like a lifegiving community. A faithful community. A Christlike community.

Holy God, strengthen us to follow this commandment in our lives. May we defend our neighbors from gossip and slander, and let our own words and actions always be interpreted in the best possible light. Amen.