In the Old Testament law, everything was to be confirmed by the mouth of two or three witnesses (Dt. 17:6). Paul says in the New Covenant that we must not receive an accusation against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses (1 Tim. 5:19). The same standard applies to church discipline cases (Mt. 18:16). If there is only one witness, that is not sufficient to convict someone of wrong doing (Dt. 19:15). One witness, even a very loud, persistent witness is not sufficient to convict someone. However, let us admit that in some instances there will only be one witness of a sin/crime. In those situations, the one true witness does not have a gag order. We are not saying that they must pretend all is well, but the witness must also submit themselves to the providence of God and await His justice. No amount of pleading or yelling your solo-testimony can get the criminal convicted. If you succeed in getting the criminal convicted or the pastor defrocked or the member excommunicated on your say-so alone, you have just incited mob justice. This is a bad deal for everyone because even though in one case the perpetrator really was guilty, what’s to stop somebody else from bringing false accusations against you? In the name of justice, you have overturned justice. Do we really want to live in a world where a lone voice pleading and yelling long enough can incite a mob to go lynch someone? Unfortunately, we are fast approaching such a world.
In addition to this good requirement of two or three witnesses, the Bible also requires that a false witness be held accountable for their words of testimony, such that they are held liable for whatever the results of a (false) conviction might have been. “The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Dt. 19:18-21, emphasis mine).
This is striking because Moses knows that it is often easy to pity the wrong person. Moses assumes that we will be tempted to pity false witnesses, people who lie about other people. We will be tempted to go to their defense. We will be tempted to explain away their false accusations as the result of trauma or abuse or misunderstanding, or we’ll worry that this harshness really makes it difficult to work with them or perhaps it will discourage true witnesses from coming forward. But God says that isn’t true. God insists that we must not pity any false testimony. In fact, the exact opposite is the case: when we are hard on false testimony as God requires, all true testimony is encouraged, and true witnesses are assured that it will be easier for them because all they have to do is tell the truth.
Now, how does this Old Testament law square with the compassion of Jesus for sinners? Aren’t we to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, and forgive as we have been forgiven in Christ? Yes, absolutely. All day, every day. But aren’t our enemies often making false accusations against us? Aren’t we supposed to forgive them, love them, do good to them, and seek to win them to Christ? Yes, absolutely. But we must not pity their lies.
This is because the love of God in Christ does not pity our lies. This is the difference between biblical justice and all humanistic aping of justice. Humanism pretends to care about justice, but humanism actually systematically miscarries justice because it pities the lies we tell. And when lies are pitied, justice (by definition) cannot be done. But God in His justice did not pity our lies; He condemned our lies in the flesh of His Son Jesus (Rom. 8:3). Why did He do that? He did it because He loves us, because He knows what our lies do and will do to us and those around us. Yes, it is true that God in His mercy does not bring up every last sin we’ve ever committed. In His mercy, God does not confront us with the complete, exhaustive list. But that’s not because He just winks at some of our sins. It’s not because He just sweeps it under the cosmic carpet. The reason God can cover our sin with His love is because His love sent His Son to the cross to suffer and die for every. single. one. of them. The reason God does not confront us with the complete, exhaustive list is because He already confronted His beloved Son Jesus with that complete, exhaustive list on the cross. God covers our sin with His love because He purchased our entire salvation with the blood of Jesus. God does not bring up every single sin, but only if He has dealt with every single sin, only if the truth has been told about every single one. Everyone will one day give an account before the throne of God, and the only defense that will stand will be the blood of Christ (Mt. 12:36, 2 Cor. 5:10).
In other words, the love of God doesn’t ignore the things that destroy us. And the love of God preeminently confronts the lies that would destroy us. The love of God confronts what would destroy us first in the cross, and then by the Spirit applying the cross to our lives. This means that there is room for patience and grace for all of us. But we don’t get to define which sins may be covered and which ones need immediate address. We don’t get to instruct God on how He administers His grace to us. We are the sick; we are the diseased. He is the Healer, the Great Physician. If He says that false accusations must not be pitied, then He must be trusted. If He says to give your enemies drinks of water when they are thirsty, then He must be trusted. He is God. He is the Lord. He is our Savior.