Ronald H. Hanko is pastor of Trinity Protestant Reformed Church, Houston, Texas.

The ninth commandment is the second of the ten that deals with sins of the tongue. In distinction from the third commandment which forbids all evil-speaking against God,, especially in the misuse of His Name, the ninth commandment censures all evil-speaking among men and in the every-day relationships of life. Nevertheless, the fact’ that there are two such closely related commandments shows clearly what a great power either for good or evil the tongue can be. “Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God,” James says (James 3:9).

In that third chapter of his Epistle, James tells us why the tongue is such a great power for evil. It is, James reminds us first of all, a whole world of iniquity, that is, every sin that is in the world can be committed by the tongue. It is active in idolatry and all false teaching and worship, in blasphemy and sabbath desecration. Even in such heinous sins as murder, adultery, and robbery’ the tongue is no mean tool. It is able; therefore, to set on fire “the whole course of nature,” that is, the whole of man’s life, as is evident in the tremendous influence exerted upon the life of man by godless philosophy and teaching promoted by the media, by the schools, and by the godless pulpits of apostate churches. But at the very heart of the matter, says James, is the fact that the tongue is in direct contact with hell, so that it is not just humanistic philosophy and morality that are promoted in every area of society by the influence of the tongue, but the doctrines of devils, and the gross immorality which pleases the Prince of Darkness.

That the tongue, by the grace of God, is also a great power for good is well known to every one who has been blessed by the preaching of the Gospel, helped by the witness, admonitions, and comforting words of fellow believers, and nurtured by covenant instruction in home and school. It is imperative, therefore, for the well-being of home, school, and church that God’s children keep their tongues from evil and have their speech seasoned with the salt of God’s grace (Ps. 34:13,Col. 4:6).

Nonetheless, the chief reason why we must tame our unruly tongues, even in our relationships with others, is the glory of God. It is true that the ninth commandment forbids all lying and deceit and requires that we speak the truth in our dealings with other men, but this too must be done toward God and for His sake. As far as the ninth commandment is concerned, this simply means that the ninth commandment, like all the others, is grounded in God’s own perfection and glory, particularly in His glory as the God of truth. We must speak the truth because God is true, and hate the lie because we love God, Who is “a God of truth and without iniquity” (Deut. 32:4, cf. also Ps. 108:4, 117:2John 3:33,Rom. 3:4).

That God is a God of truth is part of His immutability. That He is true means especially that He is immutable or unchangeable in His Word, and that His Word is always in perfect harmony with His own holiness and purpose. In other words, His promises do not change from one age to another, as the dispensationalists teach, nor does He, to use another example, purpose only the salvation of His elect, and then “say” in the Gospel that He wants to save all men. That God is the same in His Word and revelation as He is in Himself has always been a fundamental principle of all Reformed, Biblical doctrine. It is also the basic principle of this ninth commandment, and therefore something very practical.

Because Gods “truthfulness” is so important for our hope of salvation, we must be very much concerned about obedience to the ninth commandment. That He is true means for us that He cannot deny Himself, and thus abides faithful, keeping His Word and doing what He has promised (II Tim. 2:13). Because He does not change, even in His Word, we are not consumed (Mal. 3:6). If that truthfulness of God means anything at all to us, then it means that we will keep the ninth commandment to the best of “our ability. In other words, our love for and hope in God’s truthfulness is measured by our obedience to this commandment, which is a very practical application of the truthfulness of God to our daily lives. Only those, therefore, who are thankful to God for the immutability of His promises and the surety of His Word can ever really be obedient to this ninth commandment.

From another viewpoint, all this means that only in that way of being “of the truth” (John 18:37) can there be any fellowship with God. In Psalm 15 David asks who will abide in God’s tabernacle and mentions especially those who keep themselves from the sins of the tongue forbidden by this commandment: “He that . . . speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue . . . nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor . . . . He that sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not” (Ps. 15:2-4): It is also for this reason that the spiritual growth of the church and the mutual edification of the members are tied so closely to their “speaking the truth in love” to one another. Only in that way does the church live in the fellowship of God and only in the fellowship of God is there any blessing (cf. Eph. 4:15, 16).

By the same token the wicked reveal their apostasy from God especially in the way of these sins. In all their turning away from God they “turn the truth of God into a lie” (Rom. 1:25). The truth of God referred to here is not the truth as it comes from God, but the truth that is God. In all their rebellion, then, it is the glory of God Himself as a God of truth that is denied and corrupted by ungodly men. God, therefore, hates all deceit not merely because it is disobedient, but because it is always an act of rebellion against God Himself. Certainly Satan’s speaking the lie to Adam and Eve in Paradise and their listening to his lie proves this. In fact Satan himself, as the great rebel against God and as the leader and Prince of all the rebellious powers of darkness is named “Liar” (Devil) and “Slanderer” (Satan). Likewise Paul, in describing the depravity of the world under sin and in revolt, speaks before anything else of the fact that “their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness” (Rom. 3:13, 14).

In turning away from God, therefore, the wicked turn to and practice the lie in everything they do, so that their religion is the lie of idolatry, their philosophy a godless deception, and their life a living, lying claim that they can have peace and hope without God. So much is this true that in the world the normal way of carrying on one’s business, even of governing the nations is the way of boasting, propaganda, and falsehood.

It all comes down to this, that a man’s spiritual character is most clearly revealed in his speech. As Jesus says in Matthew 12:33-37, it is “out of the abundance of the heart” that “the mouth speaketh” so that even on the judgment day a man will be justified or condemned by his speech. In the same way that the speech of the Ephraimites betrayed their family and origin (Judges 12:1-7) the speech of the ungodly betrays their spiritual descent from their father the Devil, who was a liar from the beginning (John 8:44). In the same way also, the speech of Christians must also “betray” their being born by regeneration and nurtured by the Spirit in the family and house of God.

Only by the grace of God is that possible. James says that though men at one time and another have tamed every creature of land and sea, no man has ever tamed his own tongue. God must do it. That we need the grace of God is powerfully brought home in the experience of raising children. They must be taught the truth, but not deceit and falsehood—that they know without any instruction, from the moment they begin to speak and even before. They are “of themselves liars, and more vain than vanity itself” (Belgic Confession, Article VII).

That grace which tames our tongues must be and is the grace of God in Christ. Christ teaches us the truth, not only by speaking the things that are true, but by delivering us from the slavery of the lie. He is the truth (John 14:6), not only because He reveals the truth, but because He reveals it in us, making us “of the truth” and causing us to hear His voice. He quenches the hellish fire that burns in our lips and tongues by fighting fire with fire, baptizing us with the fiery work of His Holy Spirit. He sets a guard to the door of our lips, sealing them to all but the Word of God. He changes our hearts by the regenerating work of His Spirit so that the abundance of the heart out of which our mouths speak is the abundant thanksgiving that redounds to the glory of God. By the gift of faith He binds us to Himself and cuts the connection between our tongues and hell. Even more, by speaking the truth in all His ministry, even when it brought upon Him the sentence of death and bitter hatred of His enemies, He substituted a perfect obedience for our disobedience and paid for the world of iniquity that is in our mouths. In His work, therefore, Christ is not only the truth, but also the way and the life, for in bringing us to the truth, He brings us to God, Whom to know is life eternal.

Keeping the ninth commandment, then, is our way of showing that we know and have received that grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and that we appreciate it. Obedience to the ninth commandment is the way in which we show that we have received the true testimony of Christ Himself and have set to our seal that God is true (John 3:33). For that grace we pray when we ask; “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Ps. 141:3).