C. J. Mahaney
The ninth commandment confronts our use of words when it says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). The Heidelberg Catechism explains:
“Q. What is God’s will for us in the ninth commandment?
A. God’s will is that I never give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause. Rather, in court and everywhere else, I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind; these are devices the devil himself uses, and they would call down on me God’s intense anger. I should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it. And I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.”
The Bible has a lot to say about how we use words, because God himself uses words. He is careful with his words; we tend not to grasp how significant our words are. That’s why the Bible says, for starters:
You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people. Leviticus 19:16
O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? . . . He who does not take up a reproach against his friend. Psalm 15:1, 3
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life. Proverbs 10:11
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18
An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue. Proverbs 17:4
Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends. Proverbs 17:9
Death and life are in the power of the tongue. Proverbs 18:21
God gave them up to a debased mind . . . . They are gossips. Romans 1:28-29
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. James 4:11
One of my commentaries on the book of Proverbs lists around 90 proverbs counseling us in our use of words. Proverbs has more to say about our words than about money or family or even death. Not surprisingly. I recently read that the average American speaks about 700 times per day. That number sounds high to me. If we cut it in half to 350 times per day, then cut it in half again to 175 times a day, still, there are few things we do 175 times a day. The Bible says, “Glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20). That starts with our tongues.
We Americans have the right of free speech. In our political culture we have the right – if it’s a right, nobody can stop us – to blurt out whatever we feel. But when we become Christians, we moderate our use of that right in order to build a new culture of grace. So we bring our words under the judgment of God’s Word. We bring our blogs and tweets and emails under his judgment. We want to embody together the beauty of the gospel, especially in how we speak to and about one another.
It’s easy to justify spreading a negative report about someone, if we believe it to be true. But even if it is true – not an opinion, not an accusation, not a rumor, but a properly established fact – that does not justify passing it along. The Bible says, “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back” (Proverbs 29:11). The Bible says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Whatever we might feel like saying or posting, however intensely we might feel it, the gospel simply changes the subject. Three times the risen Jesus greeted his disciples this way: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19, 21, 26). If we will bring our tongues under the control of his peace, our churches will be safe places where more people can meet Christ. And no grievance is worth disturbing that blood-bought peace.
A pastor’s high visibility makes him especially vulnerable to destructive talk. We pastors have no coercive power, and we don’t want any. We want winsome influence, as we preach the message of Christ and bear the image of Christ. But to serve people effectively in that way, all we pastors have going for us is our reputations, our public acceptability. That is why it is a sin of special seriousness to injure the reputation of a gospel-preaching, godly pastor. He is not the only one who suffers. The cause of Christ suffers.
I have grieved for C. J. Mahaney in recent months, as he has been openly spoken against. I have never in my life witnessed a campaign of slander on such a scale as that aimed at C. J. This behavior is clearly unbiblical and therefore self-discrediting. To those few criticisms which rightly struck home to C. J.’s conscience, he has responded humbly. He has taken those accusations before the Lord, in community with other responsible men, and has received them as he believes is right in the Lord’s sight, with repeated attempts to reconcile with his accusers. No one could reasonably ask for more. Personally, it appears to me that C. J. has even over-confessed to his critics.
Many others, like me, distant in location but close in sympathy, hope that C. J. will return to his full ministry soon. We will rejoice to see it. In the meantime, and at all times, every one of us can only benefit from Jonathan Edwards’ wise counsel:
“Spiritual pride is very apt to suspect others, whereas a humble saint is most jealous of himself. He is so suspicious of nothing in the world as he is of his own heart. The spiritually proud person is apt to find fault with other saints . . . and to be quick to discern and take note of their deficiencies. But the eminently humble Christian has so much to do at home, and sees so much evil in his own heart, and is so concerned about it, that he is not apt to be very busy with others’ hearts.”