Tag Archive: reputation


In Exodus 20, we read: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (v. 16) This is the Ninth Commandment. It has to do with the communication and establishment of truth. The Hebrew word translated “witness” (ayd) refers to giving testimony or providing evidence. The term rendered “false” (shehker) has a range of translations, such as, lie, false, vain, wrongful, deceitful, and fraud. One thing is immediately clear: that which is prohibited by this Commandment is a deliberate act. This Law is broken when we choose to lie, distort, deceive, or otherwise obscure what we know to be the truth.

Like the other Commandments, this one is grounded in the nature of God who is truth and whose word, therefore, is always truthful. Consequently, to lie is to act contrary to the nature of God and is an affront against Him, regardless of the context. Although we may lie to another person, which is a sin against them, of course, the ultimate offense is against God who has established the concept of truth-telling.

The seriousness of this issue is reflected in the Bible’s rule for judging truthful testimony. A man accused of murder, for example, could not be convicted on the word of a single witness. Two or three witnesses had to come forward before the offender could be judged guilty. The same requirements applied in the case of idolatry (cf. Deut. 17:2-6; 19:15). A liar is described as “treacherous” in Pro. 14:25 and such a person is said to represent the threat of a club, sword, and sharp arrow in Pro. 25:18. A lie, therefore, is capable of much harm and destruction. Reputations can be destroyed by lies; a man’s livelihood can be taken away as a result of lies. Because of the incredibly damaging potential represented in a lie, truth is not to be treated lightly and should never be twisted, omitted, or contradicted.

These requirements for ascertaining truth are a much-needed safeguard against false accusations. As fallen creatures, we are capable of lying about others. We are capable of making deceitful claims. We may be motivated by revenge, self-promotion, or personal gain. We may lie about one thing because we think a person should be punished for something else that has gone undetected.

I believe that misrepresenting truth, by various means, is a common sin in the modern Church. Christians lie when they state something as fact that they know is not true. But they also lie when they “shade” the truth or tell a partial truth. They sin when they allow a wrongful statement or a misleading impression to go unchecked. Any behavior that obscures truth, once again, is a violation of the Ninth Commandment.

Gossip is a dangerous activity when it comes to breaking this Law. If we pass along critical opinions shared by one person regarding another, we may very well be participating in the transmission of lies. We may not know with certainty that what we’ve been told is true (even if it is true, of course, the Bible’s teaching regarding protecting the good name of another comes into play, so it’s best never to join in this kind of conduct).

In my experience as a pastor and counselor, one of the most frequently used excuses for lying is “the greater good.” In the Church, I’ve encountered situations in which one man lied about another and attempted to justify his transgression by saying it was for the honor of Christ or the good of the Body. This is not an acceptable defense according to the Word, however. God does not allow us to violate His Law because we conclude that some good will result.

Before closing, I want to address the question of what should be done when an accusation is proven false. If I accuse another of some sin, but then my charge is not substantiated, what is my obligation? Suppose you have been accused of sin and the matter has been investigated by the appropriate authorities. And suppose further that they determined that the accusations were groundless. Once this judgment was made known, did those who made the allegations have any specific duty to fulfill? Should you expect them to make amends when those in authority dismissed their allegations? It seems to me that, in the very least, those whose accusations are determined to be false should apologize. In fact, I believe they should ask forgiveness for the harm they caused. Are they not in sin if they fail to rectify their untruthful charges?

And what if your accusers made their opinions public even before a judgment was reached? Is it not likely that the damage done to your reputation cannot be undone, especially when those with whom the charge originated refuse to acknowledge their offense or make any attempt to repair the disruption for which they are responsible?

We can acknowledge that it is certainly possible for a man to make a mistake when he alleges sin on the part of another. But as soon as that mistake is revealed or, in this case, as soon as a charge is dismissed, his priority should be the rectification of his error. And this is what you would expect to see unless the motivation behind the accusation was something other than helping a brother see and resolve his transgression. What other explanation could be given when a charge is deemed unwarranted, but the accuser remains silent?

Truth in every circumstance is our mandate. This obligation is emphasized when something we have alleged against another is shown to be false. Our love for the Word of God should cause us to take every precaution when it comes to charging another with wrongdoing. And if it turns out that we are in error, our devotion to reflecting God’s holy nature in everything we say and do should compel us to make immediate corrections.

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In the book of 2 Samuel, the story of Absalom’s rise to power is recorded. Rather than launch an attack against his father, David, Absalom exercised great patience and quietly secured a following that eventually joined him when he made his move against the king. Absalom’s tactic involved sowing seeds of discord among the king’s citizens. In 2 Sam. 15, we read some of the details: “Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way to the gate; and when any man had a suit to come to the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, ‘From what city are you?’ And he would say, ‘Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.’ Then Absalom would say to him, ‘See, your claims are good and right, but no man listens to you on the part of the king.’” (vv. 2, 3) Before the visitor had a chance to take his concerns before the king’s counselors, Absalom encouraged doubt regarding the fairness of the coming encounter. “Oh that one would appoint me judge in the land,” Absalom declared, “then every man who has any suit or cause could come to me and I would give him justice.” (v. 4)

Whenever someone “sides” with us in a dispute, we automatically have a favorable opinion of them. Absalom used flattery to gain the confidence of visitors. By that I mean that he agreed with the person immediately, indicating approval of their opinions, and made himself out to be an ally. And, admit it or not, we all like to be told our perspective is right, our cause just, and our input needed. Little by little, Absalom won over a sizeable group of supporters. The Bible summarizes Absalom’s accomplishment in this manner: “Absalom dealt with all Israel who came to the king for judgment; so Absalom stole away the hearts of the men of Israel.” (v. 6)

When the time seemed most advantageous, Absalom made final preparations for the overthrow of the throne. He sent spies throughout the kingdom with this message: “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then you shall say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron.’” (v. 10) Shortly thereafter, David learned of his son’s treachery; he chose to protect the lives of all who were with him and fled Jerusalem.

This is the story of how a wicked man undermined the integrity of a leader by putting thoughts of distrust in the minds of many people. Rather than challenge Absalom’s assertions, it appears that the majority accepted as fact whatever Absalom said and promised. David was represented as untrustworthy and unconcerned about the needs of his people. Although David had served with distinction for many years, Absalom managed to destroy the king’s reputation simply by speaking to people who foolishly and selfishly believed whatever they were told. They wanted to prevail in judgment and Absalom promised that, if he were in charge, they would certainly win their case. That sounded too good to be bothered with God’s commands regarding the establishment of truth and His warnings about the foolishness of deciding on a matter before hearing all available testimony (cf. Pro. 18:13, 17)

Two elements led to Absalom’s success. The first was Absalom’s own willingness to lie and defame. Since a lawful occupation of his father’s throne was highly unlikely, Absalom resorted to deception and manipulation. And that brings us to the second element, which was a willing audience. As I already noted, those who heard Absalom speak had the option of ignoring him or at least investigating his claims against David. Most chose to accept Absalom’s word without any proof. When you combine a man like Absalom, who is willing to do such things in order to achieve his goal of power, with people who readily set aside God’s commandments for the sake of personal gain, the outcome is all but certain. David’s kingdom was taken from him without him even perceiving a threat until the very end.

It is a disturbing fact that the behavior of Absalom can be observed in the struggles of contemporary churches. One man, with the determination and patience of Absalom, can create enough doubt about a pastor’s integrity to destroy his ministry. He will need a willing audience, of course, just like Absalom, but if he has that, the outcome, as I said before, is all but certain.

Jesus once said: “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” (Matt. 13:57) After nearly three decades of service as a minister, borrowing from the wisdom of the Savior, I would say: “A pastor is not without honor except in his own congregation.” David served as king for a very long time and you would assume that his faithfulness would have resulted in the people’s confidence and support. But that was not the case, as we know. Our fallen natures sometimes cause us to take secret satisfaction in the downfall of another even though he has done nothing wrong to us personally. This is a sign of our corruption as God’s creatures. We feel better about ourselves when we see another person being taken down, especially if that person occupies a position of leadership.

Although there is a great deal of blame to be placed on the shoulders of those people who hear an evil report and choose not to verify it or seek a response from the accused, such ecclesiastical coups would never take place without the mastermind—that man who desperately wants control and has convinced himself that his tactics are acceptable because of his self-determined righteous goal. For many months, even years, this man may toss out criticisms of the pastor—nothing scandalous, but assertions designed to entice willing souls and slowly alter the general perception of a congregation.

Eventually, these criticisms, distortions, and half-truths become “facts” in the minds of many. And, just like Absalom, when the time seems most advantageous and when sufficient preparation has been made, this man acts decisively by suddenly unleashing a barrage of accusations against his pastor in a short period of time. Those who have been groomed for months or years to think badly of their pastor react with unquestioning loyalty to their new leader; they even admire him for his courage. They seem blind to the fact of their own transgressions and the pastor, stunned by this development, has his ministry taken away and his reputation destroyed. In the end, evidence shows that the Absalom Initiative has been utilized perfectly.

Most of those reading this post will never be in the position of the instigator described above. But all of us, at one time or another, will be told damaging things about another. Even if what is said is mild, we have a duty at that very moment to respond Biblically. We can simply refuse to hear anything more outside the presence of the one being criticized. We can remind the one bringing the accusation of his Biblical obligation to take his opinion to the person himself, instead of speaking to others who have no business being involved. If more believers would just obey the simple commands of God, if more of us would commit ourselves to protecting the reputations of others with as much enthusiasm as we sometimes exhibit in the destruction of reputations, the Church would be a much more peaceful place and much more effective in accomplishing the mission given to us by the resurrected Savior.