"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." Exodus 20:16 (KJV)
In studying the 9th commandment there are a number of call-outs in regard to how one may knowingly bear false witness against another person. Here are a few:
- Slander - or speaking something false about another person
- Libel - or publishing something false about another person
- Perjury - or providing false testimony, under oath, about another person
Anyone who has spent any amount of time online on a social networking site knows how easy it can be to say something and have it spread like wildfire across that site as well as others. There have been infamous instances of the young people who were cyber-bullied so much they ended up committing suicide.
The 9th commandment speaks to both making direct and indirect false statements. Although, gossip is primarily considered to be done in idle conversation there is another form of it that is quite a bit more troubling and may be overlooked by many Christians. That is including false statements about one or more individuals in the guise of a, seemingly innocent or innocuous, prayer request.
The purpose of a prayer request is to garner support and encouragement from fellow Christians and to open a dialogue with God through more people to convey praise, thanksgiving, needs, wants, etc. What it is not is an opportunity to indirectly air someone's dirty laundry or spread false rumors.
Really, the best way to approach prayer for a fellow Christian when it comes to negative reports about their reputation or character is to pray for guidance and divine intervention for that individual. God already knows what is going on in their life and does not need details.
Also, as mentioned in the catechism questions below, we should be ready to defend our fellow Christian, as well as admonish anyone who is willing to speak ill of them.
Once again it all comes down to how you would want to be treated no matter if any negative reports are true or not.
Questions 143 through 145 from the Westminster Larger Catechism:
Q. 143. Which is the ninth commandment?
A. The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Q. 144. What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?
A. The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of the 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 judgement 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 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 requireth; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.
Q. 145. What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?
A. 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 calleth 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, talebearing, 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.