Our Catechism tells us that part of the duties of the ninth commandment are “the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbour…” (Westminster Larger Catechism 144). The world does not understand this commandment – especially the idea that we have a duty to preserve and promote the good name of our neighbor.
Several years ago an administrator of a small, Christian school in our community was accused of something she did not do. There was a grain of truth in the accusation but, when the full facts came out, it was clear that she had acted faithfully based on the information she had at the time. Unfortunately, our local newspaper published an article with our administrator’s picture on the front page of the paper. The headline and the accompanying article published the accusation without any of the nuance that would have made the report doubtful right from the beginning. It took her more than a year to “clear her name” with the local authorities, but she eventually did. However, the newspaper never went back and wrote a follow-up article explaining that they had over-simplified and misrepresented the situation. I remember being asked by this faithful Christian woman, “Where do I go to get my reputation back?” That was a perceptive question. Once a person’s name and reputation is damaged, it is very difficult to rehabilitate it. Sadly, we are living in an environment in which people delight to use social media and internet campaigns to destroy the reputations of others without ever giving it a second thought. As believers we need to be prepared for the likelihood that our reputations will be increasingly under attack from our culture in the days ahead.
What we are often not prepared for is the fact that fellow believers in the church can be very careless with regard to our good name and reputation. This is especially tempting in a situation in which an individual has sinned or is thought to have sinned. Paul tells the Galatians, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1, NKJ). Our duty is to come alongside a sinning brother or sister to help restore them in a spirit of gentleness. Paul implies that when we deal with a sinning Christian, temptation lurks. Pride is a great problem for us. So is thinking we know more than we do or that we are better than the one caught in sin.
One of the casualties in these situations is often the “good name” of our sinning brother. Sometimes this happens because we are careless with keeping confidences. Other times, belief in our own righteousness leads us to be cavalier with the reputations of those with whom we may disagree. Our obligation to protect the reputations of others is not limited to those who agree with us or who are not guilty of sin. It extends to all people; it extends especially to other believers. In the most extreme situations in which church discipline is involved, the reputation of the guilty party should still be a consideration. According to the RPCNA Book of Discipline, “Discipline should be exercised with prudence, discretion, humility, and in full dependence upon the guidance of the Spirit of God, with love for both the Lawgiver and the lawbreaker” (BoD, 1.5). It is incumbent on us to do our best to guard the reputations of others even when some form of discipline is involved. Surely, this concept challenges us to be more careful about what we say and what we reveal about our fellow believers.
Here we must turn in repentance to our Lord Jesus, who humbly bore our ninth commandment sins on the cross. He was the ultimate truth-teller, but he would not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. He always preserved and promoted the truth and yet was perfectly gentle and humble at the same time. May he help us to do and to be likewise.