Since we will gather for worship and to partake of Christ’s body and blood given and shed for the remission of our sins, it is indeed good and right that we examine ourselves in accord with 1 Cor. 11:28-29: “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”
We do so this week on the basis of God’s commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” Ex. 20:16
Luther explains the meaning of this commandment in his Small Catechism: “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, nor defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.”
And so, we ask ourselves: Have we given false testimony against our neighbor, spoken evil of our neighbor, listened to or spread gossip about our neighbor? Have we always been honest with our neighbor? And, have we defended our neighbor when others falsly accuse or spread lies and gossip about him? Have we assumed the worst about our neighbor, or do we assume the best?
The Bible warns us that “a false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall not escape” (Proverbs 19:5). It commands us: “Speak not evil one of another, brethren” (James 4:11). And, “A talebearer revealeth secrets; but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter” (Proverbs 11:13).
We ask ourselves if our thoughts, words and actions truly reflect loving our neighbor as we are commanded.
Again, we see our own sins and stand condemned by this commandment of the Lord God. If we have spoken evil of others, spread rumors and gossip or listened to it, failed to practice private admonition (Matt. 18:15ff.) before speaking to others about a neighbor’s sins or failings, we stand guilty and condemned by this commandment. We deserve God’s wrath and punishment.
Christ Jesus kept this commandment perfectly in our stead. Though He rebuked sin as sin and pointed out to people their erring ways, He did so in love and with the desire to bring all to repentance and faith in His name (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9). And then, in love for us sinners, He went to the cross to suffer our just punishment, all that we might repent of our sinful ways and be pardoned and forgiven through faith in Him and His sacrifice for the sins of all (Rom. 5:6-8).
The Bible also tells us (1 John 1:8-9; 2:1-2): “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness … If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Therefore, we who stand condemned by God’s Law flee to Christ and His atoning sacrifice upon the cross that we might receive pardon, forgiveness and life eternal through faith alone in His name.
I ask you before God: Do you acknowledge that you have sinned? Do you confess and agree with God that you are guilty and deserving of his wrath and punishment?
Do you trust that Christ Jesus has truly redeemed you from the curse of God’s law? That He fulfilled the law’s righteous demands and then took your sins upon Himself, along with the sins of the whole world, and suffered your just punishment when He died upon the cross?
Do you also believe Jesus, in the Sacrament, gives you to partake of His body and blood which was given and shed that your sins might be forgiven you?
As a fruit of your faith, do you truly desire and seek God’s help to amend your life and live it in accord with God’s Word, to love your neighbor, not speak evil of him and to defend his name and reputation whenever you can do so in keeping with the truth?
If you are truly sorry for your sins and look to Christ and His atoning sacrifice upon the cross for pardon and forgiveness, I announce unto you the grace of God and, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]