This is a continuation of a series with Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 preceding.
The Catechism continues:
… a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them;
Just as a salesman promotes his product, and is very happy to hear of more sales, so we who are required to promote our neighbor’s good name will be very happy to hear good news about them. Scripture states that charity “Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things,” (1 Corinthians 13:6-7). Are we happy to hear evil of our neighbor? If so, we are not walking in love. Thus, we are to be unwilling to receive an evil report concerning him. Proverbs 25:23 states that “The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue.” To backbite is “to censure, slander, reproach, or speak evil of the absent,” (American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, 1828, entry for “backbite”). If we are honest with ourselves, it is much easier to listen to the juicy details of the evil report about our neighbor than to make the angry countenance that God requires. We must neither be willing to take up such a report, nor to listen to such foul-mouthed fools who spew them.
The Catechism continues:
… discouraging tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers;
This is a continuing thought from what preceded. If we are unwilling to receive evil reports about our neighbor because we rejoice in their good name, we will take all steps in our power to discourage tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers. When we discourage someone, we take the wind out of their sails. We make such rogues doubt themselves, and question whether or not they should repeat such matters to others, or at least to us. Taking a soft approach to tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers does not discourage them, but only slightly checks them. The hard-line approach of Proverbs 25:23 is more appropriate, and those with power to do something about it, whether in church, family, or state, are required by God to do so: “Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer,” (Psalm 101:5). Tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers are divisive, and their end is destructive. If their mouths are not silenced and discouraged by those with the power to do so, their deadly poison will bring destruction and misery.
Although it may be hard to see how flatterers ruin the good name of others, since they seem to inflate it, we must look to the heart and soul of flattery rather than to the external appearance: “He that hateth dissembleth with his lips, and layeth up deceit within him; When he speaketh fair, believe him not: for there are seven abominations in his heart,” (Proverbs 26:24-25). Though flattery could be justified in someone’s mind, even by the requirements of the Ninth Commandment to promote the good name of others, we may illustrate such vanity by the salesman analogy. While every salesman rejoices in making a sale, we may have known an unethical salesman in our life. Such a person will lie about the condition of the car they’ll sell you, or about the output of their product, or about the ability of their tool to complete a specific task. Such is the flatterer: the good name he sells is not one rooted in sober judgment, but one he puts forth in order to trap you into doing what he would like you to do. “A man that flattereth his neighbor spreadeth a net for his feet,” (Proverbs 29:5).
A tale-bearer is “A person who officiously tells tales; one who impertinently communicates intelligence or anecdotes, and makes mischief in society by his officiousness,” (American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, 1828, entry for “talebearer”). Officiousness means “Eagerness to serve; usually, an excess of zeal to serve others, or improper forwardness, interposing in affairs without being desired, or with a disposition to meddle with the concerns of others,” (American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, 1828, entry for “officiousness”). Such tales as are spun by tale-bearers are such as corrupt children, destroy marriages, divide brethren, ruin nations, and bring in all sorts of chaos and evil. Is it any wonder that the Ninth Commandment requires that we discourage such well-meaning folly?
In summary, the Ninth Commandment requires much more than merely refraining from lying in court. Rather, the Ninth Commandment provides a context for human communication that is truthful, charitable, and edifying, while also avoiding the excesses of flattery (exaggeration of the truth to pump up someone’s good name), as well as tale-bearing (trying to “tell the truth” with excessive zeal by relating tales and anecdotes).
In our next set of installments, we will review the sins forbidden by the Ninth Commandment, paying special attention to such aspects as are neglected in our modern use of the tongue. However, this first part is enough for me to be convinced of how very needy I am of the grace of Jesus Christ to pardon my sins of the tongue, as well as my need for the grace of the Spirit of God to “set a guard over my mouth,” and help me to love my neighbor’s good name as I love my own.