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The Sins Forbidden by the Ninth Commandment in a Social Media World

Ninth Commandment

In an article I shared a couple of days ago, we began to take a look at the ninth commandment (“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”) and its relevance in a world in which so much of our communication takes place through social media. Specifically, we considered some of the duties required by the commandment. Today we want to look at the flip side and consider the sins it forbids. As with the first article, I will share in bullet points each phrase of the explanation provided in the Westminster Larger Catechism, then, beneath each one, suggest questions that may foster meditation and application.

The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are:

  • all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature;
    • Do you routinely seek out and read information that causes you to look at other people with suspicion? Do you spread information (online or offline) about brothers or sisters in Christ that might cause others to look at them suspiciously? Do you spread the kind of information that prejudices people against others?
  • giving false evidence, suborning false witnesses, wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, outfacing and overbearing the truth;
    • Do you ensure that every bit of information you share about another person is the whole truth? Do you do your best to verify that information you learn about another person is nothing less than the whole truth? Do you assume damaging information you learn about another person is true or do you demand evidence?
  • passing unjust sentence, calling evil good, and good evil;
    • Are you too quick to pass judgment on others, perhaps declaring them heretical with too little evidence or according to a loose definition of the term? Do you call evil good by consuming sites or feeds committed to sharing information that is untrue or unnecessary?
  • rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked;
    • Do you reward wicked people with your time, attention, clicks, subscriptions, follows, shares, retweets, and ad impressions? Do you treat godly people wickedly by assuming all you have read about them is true?
  • forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others;
    • Are you unwilling to stand for the truth or defend a brother or sister in Christ when you have evidence that would vindicate them or promote their reputation? Do you conceal truth about them in order to allow their reputation to be more consistently impugned?
  • speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful and equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice;
    • Do you share truth about others in a way that is actually meant to do them harm? Do you weaponize truth, perhaps sharing information that, though true, primarily seeks to damage another person’s reputation? Do you hold facts over another person with the threat of exposure?
  • speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, talebearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring;
    • Do you visit sites that tell full-out lies or that convey half-truths? Do you spend time in the online company of people who slander others, who backbite them, who detract from their reputations, who scoff at them, or who revile them? Do you do any of these things yourself? Are you harsh with others and with your interpretation of the facts about them? Or do you choose to believe the best about them in the absence of undeniable evidence to the contrary?
  • misconstructing intentions, words, and actions;
    • Do you interpret intentions and convey them as fact? Do you assume you know the inner motives of other people? Do the sites you read and feeds you follow only convey facts or do they also assume knowledge of intentions and motivations?
  • flattering, vainglorious boasting;
    • Do you flatter others or brag about yourself through social media? Do you see social media success as so meaningful you are tempted to sin to achieve it?
  • thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others;
    • Do you use social media to speak too highly of yourself or too highly of others? Do you use it to speak too poorly of yourself or too poorly of others? Do you visit sites or read feeds that commit such transgressions?
  • denying the gifts and graces of God;
    • Do you fail to identify or do you outright deny evidences of God’s grace as displayed in the lives of other people, and especially of people you dislike or disagree with? Do you deny that these people are displaying evidences of the Spirit’s presence through their spiritual gifting? Do you thank God for every evidence of his gifts and graces, even in the lives of people of whom you are suspicious?
  • aggravating smaller faults;
    • Do you focus on the small faults and peccadillos of other people? Do you allow even their minor transgressions to become gossip?
  • hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession;
    • In your own life, do you fail to confess the full measure of your own sinfulness? Do you excuse sins in yourself you would not excuse in another? Do you read writers who are far freer in expressing the faults of others than of themselves? Do you see evidence of the grace of humility in your own words and conduct and in the words and conduct of those who influence you?
  • unnecessary discovering of infirmities;
    • Do you go online to research the faults of others when there is no good reason for you to do so? Do you read web sites committed primarily to exposing the sins, faults, and heresies of other people?
  • raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense;
    • Do you read sites that spread rumors and do you yourself spread them in the absence of clear and undeniable facts? Do you read and receive and spread reports about others that are speculative or unsubstantiated? Do you fail to read and evaluate the defence of a person’s character with the same hopefulness and thoroughness as the attack? Are you willing to tell others you will not hear rumors, but only necessary facts?
  • evil suspicion;
    • Do you read sites that cause you to grow in suspicion toward others? Do you spread information that causes other people to grow suspicious, particularly about fellow believers?
  • envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any, endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy;
    • Do you find yourself hoping you will learn negative or damning information about another person? Do find pleasure in hearing bad news about another person? Do you rejoice in their downfall? Do you fail to give them credit where credit is due to them, especially for how the Lord has sovereignty seen fit to use them?
  • scornful contempt, fond admiration;
    • Does what you read cause you to increase in scorn and contempt toward others?
  • breach of lawful promises;
  • neglecting such things as are of good report, and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering what we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.
    • Do you neglect to seek out and rejoice in good reports of others? Do you say or share things that would cause another person’s reputation to be diminished? Do you fail to avoid sites or feeds or accounts that cause another person’s reputation to be diminished? Do you fail to call others to account when they diminish another person’s reputation?

Let me repeat what I wrote before. The ninth commandment is not the only commandment, so we do not obey it at the expense of what is required or forbidden by the other nine and, of course, by the rest of the Bible. Neither is it the only word on our relationships with other people and certainly there are times we must investigate what others have said or done. Still, God calls us to examine this commandment carefully and apply it deliberately. I trust these two articles have helped us do so.

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