A Fence People Ignore
I should've styled the 8th Commandment: A Fence people feel free to ignore. They see no need to follow it; they can walk around it, go over it, use it sometimes against others and not at all on themselves. Chesterton said: Only once you saw the need for a fence could you be allowed to tear it down ("Drift from Domesticity", The Thing).
To ignore this Commandment, you have to ignore other things. First, Scripture. The 8th Commandment is God's Word. The Hebrew used in Ex. 20 and Deut. 5 prohibits first lies, then what is deceitful and useless. The unique phrase in Deut. (ed saw) prohibits "even those statements that no longer can be qualified as manifest lies" (Peters, Ten Commandments, 291). This is Luther's betray, slander, or hurt his reputation. James 3 says the tongue is "a world of evil" that "corrupts the whole personand is itself set on fire by hell" (6). Pv. 26 says, "The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts" (22). Prov. 19 says, "A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will not go free" (5). Scripture doesn't regard the 8th Commandment as ignorable.
Neither do our Lutheran Confessions. Under the 8th Commandment our Large Catechism includes such things a those who "condemn and persecute the truth" (I, 262). "All sins of the tongue by which we may injure or offend our neighbor" (I, 263). Those who think knowledge of sin gives them the right to judge it (I, 266). "Therefore, God forbids you to speak evil about another even though, to your certain knowledge, he is guilty" (I, 269). And should someone gossip to us we confess that we are to "rebuke him straight to his face and make him blush for shame" (I, 273). Finally, we are to use our tongue "to speak only good of everyone, to cover his neighbor's sins, to overlook them" (I, 285).
To ignore this fence you have to ignore Scripture, our Confessions, and your conscience. What if like Pinocchio every time we told a lie our nose grew? Who could turn sideways without poking his neighbor in the eye? You know when you're lying, prevaricating, deceiving. You may stand before men and say you told a lie unconsciously but God knows better and so do you. The power to quench or enflame gossip are both in the mouth. You can blow on a spark of gossip and the flame spreads or you can spit on it and quench it (Epistles, Pope Fabian, ANF, VIII, 638). Against my conscience, a serious sin, I do more blowing than spitting, and as pastor how many of you have I rebuked to your face for gossip or slander? So, I have two sins on my conscience: my gossip and not rebuking yours. The Rabbis said gossip or slander "'slays three persons: the speaker, the spoken to, and the spoken of'" (Proverbs, Aitken, 137). So, I'm really guilty of 3 deaths.
We can only feel free to ignore this fence by ignoring God's Word, our Confession, our conscience, and by going by our own standards. This I have tried to confront people with to no avail. Fence jumpers of the 8th are no different than the 6th. If living together or divorce is right in their eyes, that's all that counts. So also the person who maintains he can keep this Commandment by never telling a lie. He's not rebuked by sitcoms, by situations, or even Scripture. Every sit-com made from the 50s to 1970 has the story where a person vows never to tell a lie. It quickly devolves into silliness as he tells his wife that dress does make her look fat. Luther calls it a "felicitous deception" and a duty of love when telling a lie prevents harm or shame to your neighbor. The duty of truthfulness is subordinate to the basic command to love one's neighbor (Peters, 299). Augustine said that "it is not a lie when truth is passed over in silence, but when falsehood is brought forth in speech" (Augustine, Against Lying, ACC, OT, II, 156). You want Scriptural proof? Go to Ex. 1:19, 1 Sam. 20 and 21, Jer. 38, Joshua 2, and 2 Sam. 17. Read my sermon of 3-9-16 that explains these passages.
Neither sitcoms, situations, nor Scripture has repented people of knowing what they want to know. As long as they know something to be true, they are free to tell whomever they want. They did see a girl they know walk out of Planned Parenthood. They are free to tell everyone that fact. They did see me led out of Walmart in handcuffs, so they're free to share pics on Facebook. Likewise, if someone else tells you something they know to be true, you are free to believe it. Even though secular courts do not admit hearsay, your own personal courtroom does.
I'll tell you why we don't feel guilt for ignoring the 8th Commandment fence: because we feel silly when we "explain everything in the kindest way." That girl you saw coming out of Planned Parenthood was checking to see if another girl was in there. Me being led out of Walmart in handcuffs was because I got stuck trying them on or was falsely charged with shoplifting. Hah! you know what you saw with your own eyes and you feel stupid believing otherwise. Once, I demonstrated this to confirmation kids arriving for class. I had an open bottle of Communion wine on my desk. I made sure they all saw this as they arrived. I asked them in class what was the kindest way to explain it. They tried, "He was checking to make sure we had enough." "He was smelling it to see if it had turned to vinegar." Then one boy could not contain himself. Triumphantly he shouts, "But he had a glass on his desk!" You get that. He would've felt silly not concluding the obvious, and so do we.
We feel free to ignore the fence of the 8th because we've first ignored Scripture, Confessions, Conscience, and it only feels right to go by our own standards. But we can only do this if we bypass the Passion. How many Lenten hymns mention passing by His sufferings not knowing or caring it is for you? You caused this. Your sins of tongue are the reason Jesus' tongue swelled up with thirst; your sinful lips are the reason His lips were slapped and bled; the reason His mouth was beat is because you sin with yours, and His head is crowned with thorns because our thoughts our crowned with our wrong interpretation of this Commandment.
The first time Jesus was questioned He was asked about His disciples and teaching. Jesus replied that He had spoken openly and they could ask anyone who had heard Him (Jn. 18:20-21). Then we read that one of the officials slapped Him demanding to know if this was the way to answer the high priest? Jesus then replies: "If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike Me" (Jn. 18:23)? Could any of us ever say we never said anything wrong? Would any of us say, "Go ask my children what I've said"? We'd be embarrassed, shamed, knowing that we've sinned against our spouses and kids with our mouths. But Jesus who never spoke wrongly is slapped in the face because we have.
It gets better, rather worse, for Jesus. Matthew (26:59) and Mark (14:55) say that the Sanhedrin sought false testimony against Jesus so they could put Him to death. Both tell you that many false witnesses came forward, but even their testimonies didn't agree. Then two came forward and Mark says they gave false testimony. "We heard Him say, I will destroy this Temple that is made with hands and in 3 days I will raise another, not made with hands" (14: 57-8). What Jesus actually said was, "Destroy this temple, and in 3 days I will raise it up." Now, even at the time His own disciples didn't know He was talking about His resurrection, and it wasn't till Easter that they believed Him. But the witnesses put the worst construction on it making it sound that Jesus aimed to physically destroy the existing Temple.
However, Jesus doesn't answer these charges now. But He can't remain silent when He is asked: "Are you the Christ, the Son of God." Ego eimi. I am Yahweh in flesh and blood, Jesus says, and that got Him the sentence of death. Jesus is God the Son and God the Father sent Him into the world to suffer and die for all the sins of the world: yours especially. Pilate too puts Jesus to death for telling the truth that He was indeed the King of the Jews. Hence the reason for Pilate's official charge which would've hung around the neck of the one led out to be crucified and then nailed above his head: "The King of the Jews". Hence, Pilate's absolute refusal of the chief priests' demand to change it to read: "This man claimed to be king of the Jews." Nope, Jesus didn't lie; He is King of the Jews, and this is what that unbelieving nation wanted done with their King: death to Him. And when you don't submit to King Jesus' fences, sacrificing for you, or forgiving of you that's what you're saying too: death to Jesus' rule, forgiveness, and will.
But it is you who die if you go this way and not just today or the next but forever. Think how badly the fear of death unnerves us. We try to handle it by assuring ourselves with the laws of germs, of medicine, of safety that we're doing all things correctly. Or we put our death in the hand of an absolute fate: That's Doris Day faith: "Que Sera Sera", "Whatever will be will be." Or worse, we put Death in the hands of the gods Randomness or Fortuna. No, your death is in the hands of your King Jesus. He died the sinful death you deserve, so He would be Lord not only of your life but of your death. Does that mean you will die pleasantly, peacefully, in your sleep? Nope, the latter is the best Kenney Rogers can hope for not the Christian. Our better hope is Jesus' words: "He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die" (Jn. 11:25-26).
Jesus on the cross refuses the sedative of wine mixed with gall; He says in effect, "No anesthesia for Me; I want to feel and suffer all of Death, so her, him, you and you don't have to." Oh there is pain when soul is separated from body, but for the Christian it's not the pain a damned sinner deserves for ignoring the 8th Commandment. The Christian's soul is not ripped from him. It's commended to the Father as Jesus did once He says He's finished paying for sins.
I now know why this fence is here: To teach me that apart from Jesus' truthful life and His death for my lying lips, there is no way I can go to heaven, but still I can't tear it down. As a sinner I will always need this fence. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lenten Midweek V (20200325); 8th Commandment Passion Reading 5