I am not great at being positive. I’m a little bit of a Debbie Downer. My default mode is to feel everything is bad and there’s nothing I can do to make it better. Some people will say this is a good thing—to recognize that, apart from Christ, nothing is good, everything leads to death (morbid I know, but true). But this is not 100 percent true for all things. When it comes to people—our neighbors, family members, friends—we are to act in a different way. The Eighth Commandment tells us, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). As Luther describes in his Small Catechism, we are to “explain everything in the kindest way” when it comes to our neighbors.
If you’re anything like me, this is hard. Or maybe it’s not you who struggles with this problem but one of your friends, acquaintances, or children. Breaking the Eighth can easily happen in everyday life. It can come out as gossip, assumptions, or criticism. When we apply the Eighth Commandment to outreach and evangelism, we must ask, How can I be sharing Good News if I am continually making comments and displaying criticism toward others?
Practically, here are some ways to combat breaking the Eighth.
Switch Up Your Thinking
I know that this is easier said than done. Whenever I lean on the negative side of things, my husband always tells me, “You don’t know it’s bad.” He reminds me that even though signs may be pointing to bad, God works all for good (Romans 8:28). He reminds me not only that God is working for good but also that I’m making an assumption about whoever else is involved. That I’m assuming that there is malice somewhere. That doesn’t seem like I’m putting the best construction on it, does it?
So, what do I do practically? I tell myself no. When I start to imagine that everything is bad, I try and stop. I remind myself that “I don’t know it’s bad.” I remind myself of Romans 8:28, and I ask myself, “What is the best that could be true?” And then focus on that.
Watch Your Mouth
Holding my tongue is not my strong suit. I tend to speak too much and sometimes speak before I think. I’ve had to learn to stop myself and redirect my words. Instead of pointing out a negative about a situation, I try to speak out loud a positive (even if my brain is telling me that this is bad and I should talk about it as such to everyone).
For example, at the beginning of the pandemic (and currently, if we’re being honest) everything felt new and foreign and bad. All of our lives were turned upside down, and I was having none of it. I found myself scared and anxious. As we were on stay-at-home orders, my parents decided to cancel their trip to see us (for the first time since we moved). When they told us over the phone, I wanted to break the Eighth and say something quickly and harshly about the situation. Instead, I stopped myself, thought a second, and said, “It’s a bummer, but we’ve been really busy lately, and we probably need to rest.”
I could have easily said something that broke the Eighth, but viewing my life as a witness to Christ stopped me.
Test against Scripture
In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul writes, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” When I am struggling to keep the Eighth Commandment and I voice an opinion that goes against how God’s Word tells us to behave/speak, I try to remember to bring every thought to Christ. And where can I find Jesus? Where He says I can—in Scripture. The Lutheran Study Bible notes on this verse that the disciples should “bring their understanding into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
Ask yourself these questions: “Is my response to this situation in line with Scripture? Is this a situation where I don’t know the outcome? Would it hurt my witness to Christ to speak in that way with that tone?” Having a firm understanding and foundation of Scripture helps us to answer these questions.
Rest in Christ’s Forgiveness
We all make mistakes. I know that I probably broke the Eighth Commandment 1,500 times or more while writing this post. But we have forgiveness found in Christ. I am not perfect at being positive during situations, and even though I try, I will never be. And the same goes for you. But we can rest in the forgiveness found at the foot of the cross, knowing that the Holy Spirit works in you to point you towards truth and grace.
The next time you’re tempted to explain something in not the kindest way, remember to take every thought captive and know that as a child of God, your life is a witness to Christ’s forgiveness.
Scripture: ESV®. Catechism: © 1986 CPH. TLSB: © 2009 CPH.