Be not a witness against thy neighbour without cause; and deceive not with thy lips.
You can hurt others by words. Or you can protect them by guarding your speech. It is easy to harm another person by gossip or slander. By hurting his reputation or testimony, you may inflict great pain or disadvantage on him. Part of godliness and wisdom is to rule your mouth, so you do not injure another person through malice or indiscretion.
Legal situations occur where you might be called as a witness for an accident, crime, or a person’s character. Your duty before God and men is to not testify against anyone without cause – there must be a righteous reason to disclose anything about another person, especially something negative. And you should never lie about him, which is bearing false witness, the ninth commandment of God’s ten to Moses (Ex 20:1-17).
Who is your neighbor? Your neighbor intends many more than just the few who live near you. It includes anyone you meet during your life, even those you might dislike and consider enemies by culture or race (Luke 10:29-37). It includes fellow employees, church members, relatives, fellow students, citizens, your doctor’s staff, and all like them.
A call to court as a witness is rare, but supervisors or managers asking you about fellow employees is not. Are you ready for such an event? You should tell only the truth needed, if confronted. But you should never use the opportunity to damage another employee to advance yourself, either with true events or lies. Solomon condemned it (Pr 30:10).
Never tell negative things about another person, unless necessary for some authority to rightly exercise their office. Even if events are true, it is wrong to spread secrets to others, for you damage their reputation, which can be like murder (Pr 18:8,21; 26:22). What some call gossip – the Bible condemns as sins of backbiting, talebearing, and whispering.
If you know private information about a person, keep it to yourself. Private things you know about others are secrets. Talebearers go around revealing secrets, but faithful men conceal them (Pr 11:13; 20:19). Are you a talebearer or faithful? Talebearers are very destructive (Pr 18:8; 26:20,22). God hates them and their sin (Pr 6:16-19; Lev 19:16).
This sin of talebearing, or tattling (I Tim 5:13), which some call gossip, is backbiting in the Bible. It is backbiting, for you bite a person in the back when you tell secrets about them in their absence (Pr 25:23; Rom 1:30; II Cor 12:20). Faithful men protect those not present by avoiding critical or negative speech about them (Ps 15:3; Pr 25:23).
Talking about others is also called whispering in the Bible, for it is the private sharing of secrets with others through hushed conversation or insinuation (Rom 1:29; II Cor 12:20). Whispering is destructive, as it turns men’s minds against even their friends (Pr 16:28; 17:9). Faithful men are protective and kind – they hate whispering and choose praise instead. They love their neighbors, which is the second greatest commandment of all.
Thus far, the lesson forbids speaking against your neighbor without a good reason. Even true events should be kept secret unless you must reveal them for a righteous cause (Matt 5:22). Telling the truth that hurts a reputation is talebearing, backbiting, and whispering. Though such sins are ignored due to the moral decline everywhere, you can despise them.
But the proverb here also condemns deceiving speech. This is slander – telling lies to get another person in trouble or to damage their character. This is bearing false witness, for you deceive and lie to injure him. Fools slander others (Pr 10:18; 25:18). God will punish false witnesses (Pr 19:5,9; 21:28). Good men will not slander (Pr 14:5; I Tim 3:11).
As the next proverb indicates (Pr 24:29), revenge should never be part of conversation about others. You must not reveal secrets about them or slander them by lies, even if they have mistreated you in the past. God will repay them, if they have wronged you, and He commands you to leave the matter to Him (Lev 19:18; Rom 12:17-21). He will repay.
Though not included here directly, flattery is also sinful speech that harms others, for it feigns and pretends either affection or praise for deceitful purposes. Whores use it to seduce young men (Pr 2:16; 5:3; 6:24; 7:5). It also is destructive (Pr 20:19; 26:28; 29:5). It is another form of lying and bearing false witness, for the praise is not sincere at all.
Consider the proverb’s wisdom! Your tongue – your words – can cut and hurt others, or they can be health and joy (Pr 12:18; 10:20-21; 16:24). God hears or reads your every word, knowing all the intents of your heart, so beware (Ps 139:4; Pr 18:21). It has been well said, if you cannot say something nice about another person, then say nothing at all!
Since men sin so many ways with their mouths, what will you do to stop talkers from injuring others? You should get angry against backbiters and cut them off from their violent game (Pr 25:23). Since men often lie to either injure or seduce, do not be affected by everything you hear, whether against you (Eccl 7:21-22) or for you (Pr 26:24-25).
Words come from the heart, so think only kindly about others, and then only kind words will pass your lips (Luke 6:45). Keep your heart diligently toward this goal (Pr 4:23). Always tell the truth (Pr 12:19,22). Only be critical when necessary for those in authority or for the profit of the hearer or the named (Pr 21:28; 29:24; 9:8; II Tim 4:14-15).
There is one witness always faithful and true and named accordingly (Rev 1:5; 3:14; 19:11). In a day very soon, Jesus Christ will be the only advocate or mediator before God the Judge of all (I Tim 2:5; Rev 20:11-15). He will tell the truth – fully and honestly. He will condemn the wicked (Matt 7:21-23). He will justify the righteous (Heb 2:10-13). Do you know Him? Or much more importantly, does He know you (Gal 4:9; II Tim 2:19)?