“When anyone replies to a matter before he hears the facts, it is foolish and humiliating.”—PROV. 18:13.
1, 2. (a) What important ability do we need to cultivate, and why? (b) What will we consider in this article?
AS TRUE Christians, we need to develop the ability to evaluate information and reach accurate conclusions. (Prov. 3:21-23; 8:4, 5) If we do not cultivate this ability, we will be far more vulnerable to the efforts of Satan and his world to distort our thinking. (Eph. 5:6; Col. 2:8) Of course, only if we have the facts can we reach right conclusions. As Proverbs 18:13 says, “when anyone replies to a matter before he hears the facts, it is foolish and humiliating.”
2 In this article, we will consider several challenges associated with obtaining the facts and reaching proper conclusions. In addition, we will consider practical Bible principles and examples that can help us improve our ability to evaluate information accurately.
DO NOT BELIEVE “EVERY WORD”
3. Why do we need to apply the Bible principle found at Proverbs 14:15? (See opening picture.)
3 Today, people are bombarded with information. Internet websites, television, and other mass media present a seemingly unending array of ideas. Many people are also flooded with e-mails, text messages, and reports from well-meaning friends and acquaintances. Since the deliberate spreading of wrong information and the distorting of facts are common, we have good reason to be cautious and to evaluate carefully what we hear. What Bible principle can help us? Proverbs 14:15 says: “The naive person believes every word, but the shrewd one ponders each step.”
4 To make good decisions, we need solid facts. Therefore, we need to be highly selective and to choose carefully what information we will read. (Read Philippians 4:8, 9.) We should not waste our time viewing questionable Internet news sites or reading unsubstantiated reports circulated via e-mail. It is especially important to avoid websites promoted by apostates. Their whole purpose is to tear down God’s people and to distort the truth. Poor quality information will lead to poor decisions. Never underestimate the powerful effect that misleading information can have on your mind and heart.—1 Tim. 6:20, 21.
5. What false report did the Israelites hear, and how were they affected?
5 Believing a false report can be disastrous. For example, consider what happened in Moses’ time when 10 of the 12 spies who were sent to explore the Promised Land brought back a bad report. (Num. 13:25-33) Their exaggerated and outrageous account completely disheartened Jehovah’s people. (Num. 14:1-4) Why did the people react this way? Perhaps they thought that since the majority of the spies brought a bad report, their account must be true. They refused to listen to the good report brought by the trustworthy men Joshua and Caleb. (Num. 14:6-10) Instead of getting the facts and showing confidence in Jehovah, they chose to believe the bad report. How foolish!
6. Why should we not be shocked if we hear outrageous reports about Jehovah’s people?
6 We need to be especially cautious when we come across reports regarding Jehovah’s people. Never forget that Satan is the accuser of God’s faithful servants. (Rev. 12:10) Therefore, Jesus warned that opposers would “lyingly say every sort of wicked thing” against us. (Matt. 5:11) If we take that warning seriously, we will not be shocked when we hear outrageous statements about Jehovah’s people.
7. Before sending e-mails or text messages, what do we need to consider?
7 Are you the kind of person who enjoys sending e-mails and text messages to your friends and acquaintances? If so, when you see a newly published story in the news media or hear an experience, you might feel like a news reporter who wants to be the first to break an exciting story. However, before you send that text message or e-mail, ask yourself: ‘Am I certain that the information I am about to spread is true? Do I really have the facts?’ If you are not certain, you could unwittingly circulate false information among our brotherhood. If in doubt, hit the delete key, not the send button.
8. What have opposers in some lands done, and how could we inadvertently cooperate with them?
8 There is another danger in quickly forwarding e-mails and text messages. In some lands, our work is under restriction or outright ban. Our opposers in such lands may purposely circulate reports designed to instill fear or to cause us to distrust one another. Consider what happened in the former Soviet Union. The secret police, known as the KGB, spread rumors that various prominent brothers had betrayed Jehovah’s people.* Many put confidence in such false reports, and as a result, they separated themselves from Jehovah’s organization. How sad! Thankfully, many later returned, but some never did. Their faith was shipwrecked. (1 Tim. 1:19) How can we avoid such a disastrous outcome? Refuse to circulate negative or unsubstantiated reports. Do not be naive, or gullible. Be sure you have the facts.
9. What is another challenge to obtaining accurate information?
9 Reports that contain half-truths or incomplete information are another challenge to reaching accurate conclusions. A story that is only 10 percent true is 100 percent misleading. How can we avoid being misled by deceptive stories that may contain some elements of truth?—Eph. 4:14.
10. How did the Israelites nearly come to war against their brothers, and how was that avoided?
10 Consider what happened to the Israelites dwelling on the western side of the Jordan River in the days of Joshua. (Josh. 22:9-34) They received a report that the Israelites living on the eastern side of the Jordan (the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh) had constructed a large, impressive altar near the Jordan. That portion of the report was true. Based on this incomplete information, those on the western side concluded that their brothers had rebelled against Jehovah, so the Israelites living on the western side assembled to wage war against those living on the eastern side. (Read Joshua 22:9-12.) Thankfully, before attacking, they sent a delegation of trustworthy men to get all the facts. What did the men learn? The Israelites from the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh had built the altar, not for sacrifices, but as a memorial. It was built so that in the future all would know that they too were faithful servants of Jehovah. How thankful those Israelites must have been that they did not massacre their brothers based on incomplete information but took the time to get the facts!
11. (a) How did Mephibosheth become a victim of injustice? (b) How could David have avoided this injustice?
11 As individuals, we may also become victims of injustice because half-truths or incomplete information is circulated about us. Consider the example of King David and Mephibosheth. David showed generosity and kindness to Mephibosheth, returning to him all the land of his grandfather Saul. (2 Sam. 9:6, 7) Later, however, David received a negative report about Mephibosheth. Without verifying the information, David decided to strip Mephibosheth of all his property. (2 Sam. 16:1-4) When David finally spoke with him, David recognized his error and restored to Mephibosheth a share of the property. (2 Sam. 19:24-29) But this injustice could have been avoided had David taken the time to get the facts instead of rashly acting on incomplete information.
12, 13. (a) How did Jesus deal with slanderous reports? (b) What can we do if someone spreads a false report about us?
12 What, though, if you are a victim of a slanderous accusation? Jesus and John the Baptizer experienced such a challenge. (Read Matthew 11:18, 19.) How did Jesus deal with false information? He did not spend all his time and energy defending himself. Instead he encouraged people to look at the facts—what he did and what he taught. As Jesus said, “wisdom is vindicated by its works.”—Matt. 11:19; ftn.
13 There is a valuable lesson here that we do well to learn. At times, people may say unfair or critical things about us. We may long for justice and wish that we could do something to undo the damage to our reputation. Yet, there is something we can do. If someone spreads a lie about us, we can live in such a way that no one will believe that lie. Indeed, as Jesus’ example shows, our personal record of upright Christian conduct can wipe out half-truths and false accusations.
HOW DO YOU SEE YOURSELF?
14, 15. How can leaning on our own understanding become a snare?
14 Obtaining reliable facts is only one challenge to reaching good conclusions. Our human imperfection poses another major challenge. What if we have been serving Jehovah faithfully for decades? We may have developed fine thinking ability and discernment. We may be highly respected for our sound judgment. Nonetheless, can this also be a snare?
15 Yes, leaning too heavily on our own understanding can become a snare. Our emotions and personal ideas could begin to govern our thinking. We may begin to feel that we can look at a situation and understand it even though we do not have all the facts. How dangerous! The Bible clearly warns us not to lean on our own understanding.—Prov. 3:5, 6; 28:26.
16. In this imaginary scenario, what happened in a restaurant, and what conclusions did Tom quickly draw?
16 Consider this imaginary scenario. While in a restaurant one evening, an experienced elder named Tom was shocked to see a fellow elder, John, sitting at another table with a woman who was not his wife. Tom observed the couple laughing, thoroughly enjoying each other’s association, and sharing an affectionate embrace. Tom became more and more disturbed. Would this lead to divorce? What would happen to John’s wife? What about John’s children? Tom had seen such heartbreaking situations before. How would you have felt if you had witnessed this scene?
17. In this imaginary scenario, what did Tom later learn, and what lesson does this teach us?
17 But wait. Although Tom quickly concluded that John had been unfaithful to his wife, did he really have the facts? Later that evening, Tom telephoned John. Can you imagine how relieved Tom felt when he learned that the woman was John’s fleshly sister, who was visiting from out of town. The two had not seen each other for many years. Because she was just passing through for a few hours, John was only able to meet her for a meal in the restaurant. His wife was unable to join them. Thankfully, Tom had not spread his wrong conclusions to others. The lesson for us? No matter how much experience we may have in Christian living, experience alone is never a substitute for the facts.
18. How might our judgment be clouded by personality conflicts?
18 Another challenge to evaluating matters accurately may be faced when we have a personality conflict with a brother in the congregation. If we constantly dwell on our differences, we may begin to look at our brother with a measure of suspicion. Thus, if we hear a negative report about this brother, we may be eager to believe it. What is the lesson? Harboring ill feelings toward our brothers can lead to distorted judgments that are not based on the facts. (1 Tim. 6:4, 5) We can prevent our judgment from becoming clouded by refusing to allow envy and jealousy to take root in our hearts. Instead of giving in to such bad feelings, may we recognize our obligation to love our brothers and freely forgive them from the heart.—Read Colossians 3:12-14.
BIBLE PRINCIPLES WILL SAFEGUARD US
19, 20. (a) What Bible principles will help us to evaluate information accurately? (b) What will we examine in the next article?
19 Obtaining the facts and evaluating them accurately present a challenge today because of the abundance of low-quality information, reports filled with half-truths, and our own imperfection. What will help us with this challenging task? We must know and apply Bible principles. One such principle is that it is foolish and humiliating to reply to a matter before hearing the facts. (Prov. 18:13) Another Bible principle reminds us not to accept every word without question. (Prov. 14:15) And finally, no matter how much experience we have in Christian living, we must be careful not to lean on our own understanding. (Prov. 3:5, 6) Bible principles will safeguard us if we are certain to use facts from reliable sources to draw good conclusions and to make wise decisions.
20 But an additional challenge remains. It is the tendency to judge matters based on the outward appearance. In the next article, we will examine some common pitfalls in this area and see what can help us to avoid them.