On the “News” and the Ninth Commandment

I grimace at the “news” lately, when I actually take the time to read it. Most of said “news” is really no news at all but tantalizing exploitations of others’ faults and failures. There is no question that when public leaders (including Pastors and Presidents, etc.) have gone astray in public matters that affect the public, they should be held to account. That being said, it’s an entirely different matter to take a public person’s personal life (that does not affect the public in a large scale or substantial way), investigate and publicize their every pile of dirty laundry, and believe that everyone has the right, not only to know their transgressions, but to hammer down endlessly on said transgressors (for example the brouhaha of Tiger Woods alleged infidelities).

I am thankful for the framers of the Westminster Confession of Faith when, in the Westminster Larger Catechism, they lay down the tracks of the Ninth Commandment. This is the positive side of what they extrapolated for us from the Ninth (my emphases added):

Question 144: What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?

Answer: The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things: Whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requires; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of: Whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.

While we are not to deny the truth when a public person has been found in personal sin, neither are we to make it everyone else’s business, nor exploit everyone involved. Such foolishness only hampers the needed repentance of the offender and lessens the confidence of the offended toward the needed repentance the offender. The increasing sentiment among “journalists” that it’s some how noble to dig and dig and dig should be quite disconcerting to our sensibilities. Note that one part of keeping the Ninth is sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities!

Here is what the WCF Framers had to say concerning the negative side of the Ninth (my emphases added):

Question 145: What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?

Answer: The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence, suborning false witnesses, wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, outfacing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence, calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked; forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calls for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful and equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice;speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, tale bearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; flattering, vainglorious boasting, thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts and graces of God; aggravating smaller faults;hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession;unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense; evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any, endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt, fond admiration; breach of lawful promises; neglecting such things as are of good report, and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering: What we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.

This requires special alertness on our parts, no doubt. But these are our duties. It is disgusting to witness the display of “journalists” and “new” organizations’ so-called “stories” without any care at all for people’s families, friends, etc. For example, I have not read through the countless articles detailing all of Tiger Woods’ alleged affairs (nor do I intend to, neither should you), but the heartlessness of the media is found in that they couldn’t care any less as to the effect this incurs on his wife and child(ren?). Far be it from Christians to help perpetuate the mess by lusting after yet more gossipy info (whether it’s true or not). There is such a thing as speaking the truth unseasonably and I believe this whole mess with Woods is a shining example of that. Should Tiger Woods be held to account? Sure. Has he sinned against all the people that are taking in every bit of juicy-gossipy-goodness they read? No.

May we, in our endeavors to keep the Ninth Commandment, do so in full view of what the Scriptures teach concerning lying, telling the truth, and upholding the good name of our neighbors. When our neighbors are caught “red-handed” in their sins may their transgressions not be exploited maliciously and with mal-intent. Rather, would that we’d echo echo the Psalmist (119:136) when he says:

Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.

Josh Hicks

5 thoughts on “On the “News” and the Ninth Commandment

  1. Yes, I know I’ve struggled with this whole issue since hearing the news from a friend. Is is gossip? Is it helping anyone? I think that last on – “Is it helping anyone?” – is the most difficult for me right now. I don’t see how spreading the news is really helping anyone.

    But then from the other direction, is cutting the conversation off helping my friends in the conversation? Am I just being too picky?

    It’s a tricky situation for sure, but one I think you dealt with rather well here in this post. Thank you for highlighting this (the desire to “talk”) issue.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.


  2. Thanks for giving biblical guidance as to our response to “Tiger-news” flooding the airways and newstands. I agree with you and personally try to avoid hearing more details to an already devastating story. Jesus had it right. God loves mercy rather than sacrifice (or God loves compassion rather than critically examining people’s behavior for every little offense). Compassion calls for godly, Holy Spirit response. Where should this come from, but from Christians?
    – Jane Rhoades


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