143. Which is the ninth commandment?
The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
144. What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?
The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbour, as well as our own; ….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.
I was called out on my appearance a few months before I left my last job. I had worn torn pants (just around the cuffs) to an important political engagement. It was one of my lesser damaged pairs and I thought nothing of it. But my boss noticed.
I was incredulous at first. I thought, “All you care about is appearance? What about my work? What about results?” I had prided myself in not caring about appearance for appearance sake. My work should have been enough.
But then I cried.
I cried a lot. I realized that those torn pants represented the bad year I had been having. I was angry she had not questioned my home life. She had only assumed that I was a slob. She had assumed I was aloof and unkempt. It took me a month and a recitation on a Sunday morning to realize that she was somewhat correct.
According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, the ninth commandment requires the keeping of one’s good name. Further, among the sins forbidden are “all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbours, as well as our own… concealing the truth, ….and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves… such things as procure an ill name.”
We spend a lot of time telling our children not to “judge a book by its cover” and out the other side of our mouth telling them they must meet certain appearance standards to be acceptable in public.
Which is it?
The short answer is both. One of the other requirements of the ninth commandment is that we be unwilling to hear false or slanderous reports about others. When judged alone, apart from the whole person, one’s appearance can become a false report on his character or person.
But what about appearance standards? What was it about my torn pants that was giving a false report of my character?
One of the reasons I cried was that I realized that I had pridefully assumed I was not a slob. I had assumed that I was perfect in my work and that my clothing need not reflect that. But I had become a slob. With the distractions of life and my own vanity I had allowed myself to slip into slovenly appearance. I was not always a slob, but I had allowed myself to become one. At that time I was more upset that she didn’t question my descent and only questioned the symptom. As they say though, for every finger you point, there are three pointed back at you. My finger pointing at her faults revealed more of mine.
When I read that catechism question that one Sunday morning, I realized that I had both given a false report about myself (I am really not a slob, really) and had tried to cover up my new slobbishness with pride (just look at my results!).
Then I realized just how much of my appearance was lying about me. When I got home from church I was smacked in the face by a messy front yard, a leaf covered front porch, and a disgustingly dirty front door. This was the image of my family projected into the world. Immediately I set about remedying the front porch and the door (yes, I know, work on a Sunday, but I saw it as correcting a sin).
Appearance is not everything, and we should not be judging others for theirs. We should, however, be concerned about what our appearance says about us and about the God we serve. Our dress, our housekeeping, our demeanor, our speech, our habits, all of these things project our inward condition to the world. We are a reflection of God, having been made in His image. All of these things tell the world our opinions about our Image Maker.
Deeper still, I realized that what I was displaying was painfully accurate. I am a wretch. I am dirty. I am a slob and a wreck. The outward appearance is not completely inaccurate. I sometimes feel worthless and I project that in my image. Sometimes I am lazy, and it is easier to seek forgiveness from others than to put the right foot forward to begin with.
But I know that I am being sanctified. I know that I am being cleansed. And I need to work out my salvation with trembling and reflect that work in my appearance. I need to reflect the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification in my life. I need to display a love for God and for His image. I need to better steward my home and my possessions and not make a mess out of them.
I am grateful for the stinging words of a boss and the equally hard words of the Law.