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The Gift of a Good Reputation

Exodus 20:16

Pastor James F. Wright

Third Sunday in Lent
St John Lutheran Church  
Champaign, IL

Sun, Mar 3, 2002 

The Eighth Commandment

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

Every once in a while it is good to go over the basics of the Christian faith.  Today is a time that we would like to review one of the Ten Commandments so that we know the will of God for us and that we should seek God's forgiveness when we have strayed from him.

The 8th Commandment is about how we are to speak about other people.  The commandment says, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."

A good reputation is one of our most prized possessions.  Your reputation is the image that forms in people's minds when your name is mentioned.  How long does it take to develop a good reputation?  A lifetime.  Everything you do is watched by others, examined, and pondered, what you do and what you say, how you react to situations, how loving, generous and helpful you are to others, and what is most important to you in life.

It takes a lifetime to develop a good reputation, but only a moment to see it destroyed.  For instance, if I say so and so is a good person, you will observe that person to see if what I have said is correct.  But if I say so and so is a liar and cheats on his wife, you will be inclined to believe I am telling the truth about that person.  His reputation will be ruined, and you will be tempted to repeat what you have heard to other people who know him.  After all, it came from a reliable source right?  Me.

Your good reputation is God's gift to you.  God has blessed you with a life of good works patterned after the life of your savior, Jesus Christ.  You are responsible to maintain that reputation.  If you act foolishly or hurt others, they will have a lower opinion of you and will question your sincerity as a Christian.  If you confess your sins to them and ask their forgiveness, they will forgive you.  But your reputation will be damaged and you will have to work to rebuild trust in them.

God does not want your reputation to be stolen or destroyed by others.  This happens so easily when we aren't careful about we say about others.  That is why God gave the commandment, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."  This means we are to be very careful what we say about other people.  We are not to lie about them in a court of law or anywhere else.  We are not to withhold the truth from our neighbor when it would help him.

On this commandment the Catechism says: What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

This means God forbids us to say anything that will hurt the reputation of someone else.  When we hear someone complaining or running another person down, we are to take the opposite tack and defend him, speak well of him, and explain every circumstance in the kindest way.

What should we do when someone hurts us?  Jesus is very clear about how to deal with these situations.  He said in the gospel of Matthew: "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  "

All Christians are to be taught this commandment of the Lord.  It seems that few of us put it into practice.  We think that if someone has hurt or failed us, we have no responsibility to meet with them.  "They deserve what they get."  But Jesus commands us to do just the opposite: "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you."

Jesus is concerned about a sinner who has hurt another person.  He doesn't want anyone to continue in sin.  He loves that other person and wants them to stop doing things like that.  He wants you to be the one he uses to speak to him.  So we are obligated to show love for those who hurt us by confronting them.

You know as well as I do that this is uncomfortable business.  Few of us enjoy confrontation.  And then there are fears of retaliation.  " Will I get reprimanded or fired?  Will he hold it against me?  Will he make my life miserable because I stood up?  But we have no choice.  Christ calls us to do it.  He promises to be with us.  There is no situation where we are alone.  He will bless us when we obey his will.  The Bible says, "All things work together for good for those who love God.

The greatest temptation we have is to tell someone else what our brother has done.  We think we will feel better if we tell.  We think they deserve it.  We think it will help us to fight against the mistreatment.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  For when we tell another person without confronting our sinful brother, we become no better than him.  We retaliate, and murder his reputation.  We think we have won, he deserved what we said about him, but we have violated the will of Jesus for us.

Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  He said, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me, for great is your reward in heaven."

We have to trust that God is in control, and when we confront those who hurt us, he will watch over us.

What should we do when someone wants to give us some dirt about someone else?  Tell them to stop.  Or better yet, interrupt them and say something good about that other person.  That will let them know that you don't want to hear hurtful gossip about others.  Walk away; hang up if you have to.  In all cases, do not become one of those people who believe everything he or she hears.

I once had a pastor who learned a lesson about listening to gossip.  He was a good man who meant well.  One day he called up my mother and said he heard that one of my brothers was in trouble with the law and was in jail.  My mother asked, "Who did you hear that from?"

"One of the elders of the church," said the pastor.

"That's interesting," said mother.  "None of my children have ever been in jail.  Would you like to speak with them?"

The pastor was caught listening to gossip and believing everything he heard.  He meant well, but the devil was feeding him lies.  He learned a lesson that day, and so did I.

Last fall several people came to see me at different times with worried faces.  Their stories were similar.  "Pastor, I'm sorry you are leaving."

"What did you say?  I'm leaving?  Who told you that?"

Here I am some six months later.  Where this got started, I do not know.  I am sorry to have disappointed someone.  It was humorous in some ways, and sad that people would believe it.  But I am glad that they cared enough to check out the truth with me.

Even if we know something is true about someone, if it is damaging to his or her reputation, we are not to pass it along.  Instead, if we are the offended, we are to confront them in love and call them to repentance.  If we do not, we are to remain silent.

Gossip and slander are serious sins.  They will not be tolerated in the Christian congregation.  All of us need to repent and seek the forgiveness of sins that comes to us in Jesus Christ, who when he was falsely accused and crucified, prayed for his tormentors that they might be forgiven.

If you hear bad things about another person, don't assume that it's true.  Remember the grace of God, and be gracious to the reputation of others.  Ask the person who told you this if they actually witnessed the incident, and whether they have confronted the person who did it.  Encourage them to meet with the person, and above all else, don't repeat to anyone what was told to you.

Don't be afraid that evil will triumph.  The Bible says it is better for us to suffer for doing good than to suffer for doing evil.  Have faith.  God is in control.  He will see to it that His will is done.

Let us speak well of everyone, and protect the reputation of all of our neighbors, whether we like them or not.  This is the command of Jesus.

Amen.



Copyright 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.



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