One of the things I don't like about the new translations of Luther's Small Catechism is that they have changed the language of my favorite part. I learned the meaning to the 8th Commandment as "We should fear and love God so that we we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything."
Now, the part that they changed was that last bit - that "put the best construction on everything". Now it's "explain everything in the kindest way"... which I guess is perhaps easier to understand, or less archaic a usage... but I like the old one better.
I am to defend my neighbor - to actively do so, to construct his defense, and do it well. Even my neighbor who disagrees with me, even my neighbor who is mean and cruel to me, even my neighbor who... sins against me.
WHAT? But if the man has sinned against you, how can you be about defending him!?
Because I am to speak words of love and kindness towards my neighbor. If someone sins against me, my hope ought to be to restore him and our relationship in love. Is this not defending him? Is this not protecting this man from the attacks and the assaults of the devil?
WHAT? But are we not to publicly call out sin for the wickedness it is!?
Sure. We call out sin. But we are to defend even the sinner, to be a balm, to pick him up when he is broken and wounded and carry him to safety, for he is our neighbor and we are to love him. We cannot let ourselves be swept up to where we forget that our neighbor is far more any sin he has done. Christ our Lord died to destroy sin, but to save the neighbor. Ought our words about our neighbor be any less?
WHAT? Are we not right in saying that you are an antinomian who just relaxes the law and let's people just skirt by!?
Haven't you heard the law in what I have said? Haven't you heard how harsh it is? It allows me no room for self-justification. It allows me no room to say, "See, I have done well." It allows me no rest, for I must always defend. It allows me no comparison that would say, "Behold that speck, what a lousy speck attracting eye my neighbor has." I must be about the business of building up my neighbor, of defending him, even when my flesh wants to revile and destroy.
Which is really nothing but a reminder of my own sin. Of course, this also serves as a reminder of who Christ Jesus is - He is my mighty fortress who defends me, the sinner. Who sheds His blood for me and tells Satan, the vile accuser "this one is not yours, he belongs to Me, and I see no sin on him, only My own righteousness."
As the Psalms sing: Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
2 O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
8 And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.
Should my voice plead only for myself, or shall I not cry out for mercy even for those who sin against me?
Shall I condemn, or shall I too cry out, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do"?
Shall I be about marking iniquities, for no one may stand when they are marked?
Shall I cast my enemy to the ground, or shall I plead with God to spare him, even to restore him?
With God there is forgiveness. With God there is steadfast love, love that wavers not even when we sin against Him. With God, we see redemption from all iniquity.
Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me -- one that defends even my enemies, one that is zealous to cover them with the best construction, one that is eager to be kind in every way -- as you have done it unto me.