The Ten Commandments: Applications for Authors, Part 2

If you missed Part 1, see it here.

  1. “Thou shalt not kill.”

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue:  and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.”  [Proverbs 18:21]

Godly words can help to bring life—encouraging or edifying brothers and sisters in the Lord, telling a story to illustrate a Scriptural truth (think of the many parables Jesus shared), defending the sanctity of life, or leading a lost soul to find eternal hope in Christ.  On the other hand, wicked words can bring death—disheartening others, leading them astray, spreading malice that will cause the death of the innocent, or drawing someone else into “the depths of Satan” (Revelation 2:24).

Let me consider the differences between Whitcomb and Morris’s The Genesis Flood and Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, between Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place and Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf.  Where are the respective authors of these books today?  On what paths do these written legacies help set their audiences?  Have these works wrought blessing or wreaked devastation?

What about my writing?  Does it draw readers closer to God, with whom “is the fountain of life” (Psalm 36:9), or does it entice them to stray from God’s path and wander in the ways of death?  Wisdom informs us in Proverbs 8:35-36, “For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the LORD.  But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul:  all they that hate me love death.”  Jesus promised in John 7:38 concerning the Holy Spirit, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”  Do living waters flow out from my mouth, my pen, and my computer keyboard?  Is my writing something the Holy Spirit can use to bless others’ lives and mine, or would He convict Christ’s disciples to avoid reading my work?

  1. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

“The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD:  but the words of the pure are pleasant words.”  [Proverbs 15:26]

Philippians 4:8 lists the types of things God wants me to think on (which, obviously, are also parameters for my speech and writing).  Included in this list are “whatsoever things are pure.”  God does not want my writing to defile the reader.  Are His moral standards lifted up in my work?

If and when unfaithfulness must be dealt with (for example, writing an accurate biography may include referencing a situation in which one or both spouses broke the marriage vows), is it addressed delicately and discreetly to avoid sullying my own mind or the reader’s?  As a related consideration, is the content of a book or article appropriate to the age of its intended audience?  Do I protect the innocence of children?  Even books for adults, however, must be pure, not defiling.

As mentioned in the section on the third commandment, God’s Word is pure, and that must be my standard and example.  The Bible deals with some weighty sins (for example, the failings of Judah and Tamar, of David and Bathsheba).  But passages such as these are not always read verbatim to young children.  And immorality, though addressed, is never condoned in Scripture.  Such sins are brought up either to explicitly forbid them or to show the awful consequences of falling into them.  Ungodliness must not be condoned in my work either.

  1. “Thou shalt not steal.”

“But we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.”  [I Thessalonians 4:10b-12]

Plagiarism is not acceptable to God.  Do I guard against it?  It is wrong to use another’s words without giving him credit.  It is also wrong to rewrite all someone else’s material and lead the reader to believe it is my own.

Some false prophets of Jeremiah’s day simply parroted what they heard from others or even fabricated messages, claiming a revelation, and God’s response in Jeremiah 23:30 is unequivocal:  “Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour.”  Do I wait on the Lord and share the message He gives me rather than just recycling a message that He gave someone else and pretending it’s new?  I’m in no way saying that my writing is inspired by God in the same way as the Scriptures are; only the Bible is infallible and completely God-breathed.  But the Lord definitely teaches those who will listen to Him, and He will guide new pilgrims in the old paths (see Psalm 25:8-9; Jeremiah 6:16).

Avoiding plagiarism doesn’t mean that I can’t stand on the shoulders of godly predecessors or even that I can’t quote them directly.  (I’m quoting or referencing the works of others multiple times in this very article!)  But there are upright ways of doing this.  Depending on the circumstances, quotation marks, footnotes, credit lines, acknowledgments, and bibliographies are all ways of honestly honoring those from whom I have learned.  Sometimes I may need to write for permission and pay to use an extended quotation if a given work is not in the public domain.

Do I follow copyright laws?  They are put in place for authors’ and artists’ benefit, and respect of others’ work is in accordance with the Golden Rule, which states in Matthew 7:12, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them:  for this is the law and the prophets.”  Would I want another person to take my poem or article or book and market it as his own?  Obviously not, so I should treat him and his writing with equal courtesy.

  1. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”

“Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things.  For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips.  All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them.”  [Proverbs 8:6-8]

A Christian’s writing must not be an outlet for slander, false propaganda, evolution, or rewritten history.  Jesus prayed for His disciples in John 17:17, “Sanctify them through thy truth:  thy word is truth.”  God’s Word, my standard, is infallible and therefore fully reliable.  Do my words reflect the truth to the best of my current understanding?  The psalmist prayed in Psalm 119, “I have chosen the way of truth:  thy judgments have I laid before me. . . .  And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in thy judgments.”

Do I pay attention to detail?  Do I fact-check, and do I ensure that any quotations are accurate?  For example, I am checking the Scripture verses in this article to make sure that both the references and the words themselves are the way they should be.  Human error is still possible; there could be an occasional typo, but I am attempting to be accurate.

Do I boldly stand up for the truth of God’s Word, yet “speaking the truth in love” (see Ephesians 4:15)?  Or do I “soften” the message to make it seem more comfortable and less convicting?

In John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian and Faithful meet a traveler named Talkative.  He is eager to talk about Christianity—or anything else, for that matter—but his life is ungodly.  With Christian’s encouragement Faithful asks Talkative pointed questions that force him to consider whether his religion is sincere.  Offended, Talkative leaves them, and Christian tells Faithful, “You did well to talk so plainly to him as you did.  There is but little of this faithful dealing with men nowadays, and that makes religion to be odious to many. . . .  I wish that all men would deal with such as you have done.  Then either the talkers should be made more conformable to religion or the company of saints would be too hot for them.”  Do I deal faithfully with my readers, striving—as Jesus said in Matthew 10:16—to be both “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves”?  [p. 97-98, John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Roots by the River, 2016, 2018]

  1. “Thou shalt not covet . . . any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”

“For the love of money is the root of all evil:  which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.  But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.”  [I Timothy 6:10-11]

Greed is an unacceptable purpose for writing.  Writing for money and fame is completely unlike writing for God.  It is a different process with different motives and will yield drastically different results.  If I write what I expect will sell well, what people in the world will want to buy and read, I probably am not writing God’s message.  Even if my ambition is to produce a bestseller in the Christian market, I still must beware of writing for men, watering down the truth, and falling prey to pride and self-confidence.

Do I write what will challenge, edify, or bless people’s souls and not what will simply tickle their fancies?  The readers’ eternal destinies and Christian walks are far more important than the money in my pocket.  Am I willing for my work to be a labor of love—primarily for my Lord and then for other people?  As God provides and enables, am I willing to give copies away?

I don’t believe it’s wrong to sell my work; Jesus affirmed in Luke 10:7b that “the labourer is worthy of his hire.”  But material wealth cannot be my main goal, for Christ also cautioned in Luke 12:15b, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness:  for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”  As a disclaimer, at this point in my life, I don’t depend on writing for a livelihood.  I realize that someone who has been called to write as the chief means of providing for his family would need to consider financial profits more while still keeping God’s principles at the forefront of his view.

If I do sell my books, how do I use the money I receive?  Do tithing, generosity, self-control, contentment, honesty in paying taxes, and careful recordkeeping characterize my stewardship?

Do I lay up any treasures in Heaven by my writing?  Does my work matter eternally, or is it twaddle?  Paul warned believers in I Corinthians 3:13-15, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest:  for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.  If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.  If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss:  but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”

How tragic it would be to see at the last day that what I had spent my life doing didn’t really matter at all!  God has given me a gift, an opportunity to build in His kingdom.  Am I squandering it and hiding it in the earth, or am I occupying till He comes, seeking to be “about my Father’s business” just as my Savior was (see Luke 19:13; 2:49)?

Let me conclude with Psalm 19:14, a prayer of the man after God’s own heart, who left a beautiful written legacy in many of the psalms:  “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.”

Copyright © 2018