[Proverbs 25:6-9] Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence or stand in the place of the great, 7 for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble. What your eyes have seen 8do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame? 9 Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another's secret.
[Luke 14:7-11] Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Humility and the Eighth Commandment
The Old Testament and Gospel readings today give us a chance to talk about humility and the Eight Commandment. We’ll first ask two questions: (1) What is the Eighth Commandment – i.e. what does it mean? And (2) Whose seat are we taking when we break the Eight Commandment?
The Eight Commandment says, “Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Clearly everyone knows, even without God’s word, that we should not spread false information about our neighbor – that we shouldn’t lie. But what about spreading information about my neighbor that may well be true – that definitely is true – but it wasn’t my information to spread. Whose seat have I sat myself in?
To be a false witness isn’t just to be a witness to false information. To be a false witness is also to witness to information when it isn’t my place to do so – to tell a story that isn’t my story to tell – to speak about another as if I’ve been subpoenaed to the witness stand, but, in fact, I’m not in a court of law, and no authority has called me to witness about that person at all. True or not, the information is gossip. I’m being a false witness.
“Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another's secret.” That’s the Word of God – “Do not reveal another’s secret.” And, “What your eyes have seen do not hastily bring into court.” And our Lord Jesus says the same thing: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone”
Even speaking the truth of what you’ve seen can be false. How? Because there is so often more that you have not seen and do not know which would paint the picture differently. And, again, true or not, to tell what is not mine to tell is always no better than a lie.
To learn the Eight Commandment – and to learn better how we ought to love our neighbor as ourself in regards to what we should or shouldn’t say – we should commit to memory the words of our Small Catechism. Hear what our Small Catechism says:
What is the Eighth Commandment? “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” What does this mean? “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.”
At the center is, “Do not hurt your neighbor’s reputation.” Or, as our Lord said, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” [Matthew 7:12]. I have to ask myself, “As someone who also has sin, how do I want my neighbor – or my fellow Christian – to handle my sin?” I don’t want knowledge of my sins to be spread abroad. And I certainly don’t want my friends or my fellow church members complaining about my faults to one other. So, should I do that to others? Should you be doing it?
Brothers and sisters, there is a day coming when all that has been done in secret will be exposed openly – when all that was spoken in secret will be shouted from the housetop [Luke 12:1-3]. That One is coming who exposes the secrets of men’s hearts [Romans 2:16] – the One who comes to judge the living and the dead. It is His place to expose sin.
So, dear brother or sister, when you today decide to take it upon yourself to expose another’s secret – another’s sin – or to judge another’s faults – to whose seat have you exalted yourself? Haven’t you set yourself in the seat of the Judge? What did our readings say? “Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence or stand in the place of the great.” “Do not sit down in a place of honor.” Instead, “Sit in the lowest place.”
Every time I break the Eight Commandment by speaking of another’s faults, I have seated myself in a seat too high – the seat of God’s appointed Judge, Jesus Christ, who alone is fit to uncover sins. Only Jesus Christ is fit to Judge – He alone knows the hearts of men. Only Jesus Christ is fit to uncover sin. Why? Because Jesus Christ is also the One who has come to cover sin. The One sent to be our Judge was first sent to cover our sins by His atoning sacrifice on the cross.
Humility. Jesus Christ has taken the lower seat for you. Jesus, whose seat is heaven’s throne, came down and sat in the sinner’s seat. Your neighbors are guilty – you are guilty – but Jesus became the Guilty One for you all on the cross. Jesus sat and suffered divine wrath and judgment in each man’s place for each man’s sins to save us each from it. Jesus suffered to forgive and to cover sin. He alone is qualified to uncover it. “Do not reveal another's secret.” Jesus Christ alone holds that seat.
Those sins and faults of my neighbor that I know about, how do I deal with them now? I look at them only through the lens of what Jesus has done. Jesus has covered those sins by His blood. So, I count those sins as covered. I see them, but now I don’t see them. Instead I see Jesus’ death for them.
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered” [Romans 4:7]. God has covered my neighbor’s sins through Jesus – even the worst of them. Looking at my neighbor through this lens, now what do I do? I seek to protect my neighbor’s reputation and to keep him covered. I speak well of my neighbor; I defend him. Now, I make an effort, when I do need to discuss my neighbor – or when someone else brings up my neighbor – to explain everything in the kindest way. We put the best construction on anything in our neighbor that another might count as a sin. But we no longer count our neighbor’s sins – because sin is covered.
The high seat – the exalted place of authority – that allows one to deal with sins as Judge belongs to Jesus who has used His high seat for your salvation. You each sit in the seat of a forgiven person for whom Jesus has died. Let’s see each of our neighbor’s in that same seat. Let’s not speak of another’s faults but, instead, cover them. Amen.