Jumping to Conclusions?
He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him…. The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18: 13,17, NKJV)
I don’t know about you, but I really hate it whenever I have failed to get “my day in court” with someone who has already “judged” me before knowing all the facts. Know what I mean?
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you have a decent relationship with someone we’ll call sister Suzie-Q. You two seem get along fine, and seem to have the beginning of a warm and growing friendship. Then along comes sister bucket-mouth and, unbeknownst to you, fills Suzie-Q’s ears with a bunch of half-truths and unsubstantiated garbage.
Thereafter, you begin to notice that ol’ Suzie-Q doesn’t return your phone calls. She no longer wants to chat with you in the church vestibule. Suddenly, she seems cold and distant, whereas just a week before she was very warm and friendly. It is only later that you discover what has happened, and even then you have a hard time convincing Suzie-Q that what she heard was wrong and/or misleading. Ever had something like that happen to you?
Moreover, have you done that towards someone else?
As a metaphor: In the United States, we have a system of justice that was originally based upon the biblical standard of “innocent until proven guilty” in a court of law. (Nowadays, I am not really sure what you would call our system—in a world where a customer can sue a dry cleaners for $67 million just for losing a pair of his pants…and the customer was a judge too! Thank God he lost his “suit”…pun intended.) The basic premise is that if someone accuses you of something, you get a chance to answer that allegation in a court, before a presiding judge—usually also with a jury of your peers. You get to hear the evidence against you, cross-examine the witnesses, and present your own defense. Even though in an actual court case you would probably have a lawyer handle this for you, the key thing is that all this is done on your behalf. You get your day in court. This is a biblical principle, which the Scripture quotations above clearly reveal.
However, I have noticed in my decade-and-a-half or so of Christian ministry that these principles are seldom practiced among believers. In fact, I would hazard to guess that about 99% of the time (or even more) you are “judged, convicted, and condemned” based on the “testimony” of the first person to speak about you, without really a chance to answer those charges directly. But Jesus Himself commanded us, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24, KJV) Jesus told us to judge people and situations, but to only do so righteously. And in this case, I think the Amplified translation is even clearer:
Be honest in your judgment and do not decide at a glance (superficially and by appearances); but judge fairly and righteously.
Again, the Bible passage at the top of this article says:
He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him. (v.13)
In other words, you should hear all the facts, do some homework, oftentimes ask the “accused” if the allegations made by someone else are true, (& etc.), before you make a judgment in the “case.” Otherwise, you are acting foolishly. In fact, when the passage above says “answer” the matter, it is not only applicable to what you say (to the person or another), but how you act as well. Make sure your speech and actions are based on sound information first. Then to continue this principle even further, keep in mind also:
The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him. (v.17, emphasis added)
The first one to talk to you about the situation is almost ALWAYS going to give you “their side” of the story, with very little regard for relevant facts that support the other person’s perspective.
In the many years I have done marriage counseling as a pastor and minister, I have learned that in every situation, there is “his” side, “her” side, (if kids are involved, “their” side), and then what really happened. This is why a good minister relies heavily on the Holy Spirit to help them decipher the situation. (And most of the time, the kids’ version is closer to the truth than the parents.) Nevertheless, you must ALWAYS get the “side” of the other spouse if you want to discover the real facts of the situation. No matter how convincing the first person is with “their” side of the story, you nearly always discover some omitted facts when the second person gets their chance to talk.
I am sure that, like me, you have had a time or two when you were unjustly “tried, judged, and condemned” before you even knew you were accused. However, if we want people to treat us fairly and to give us a chance to answer any accusation against us, we need to first be that way with others. Remember Jesus’ admonition to us, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” in Matthew 7:12? In other words, we set the standard for ourselves in how we are to be treated by demonstrating that conduct in our treatment of others. Another way to look at it, what we sow, that is what we will reap:
Do not be deceived and deluded and misled; God will not allow Himself to be sneered at (scorned, disdained, or mocked by mere pretensions or professions, or by His precepts being set aside.) [He inevitably deludes himself who attempts to delude God.] For whatever a man sows, that and that only is what he will reap. (Galatians 6:7, AMP)
Jesus taught us to “judge a tree by its fruit” (Matthew 7:16-20) and not what other people say about the tree. For that matter, we are not even to judge a tree by what is says about itself! (i.e. It is actually possible that people might lie about themselves. Really! It actually happens.) We need to check “fruit” by inspecting the facts.
Nevertheless, as a general habit (especially in personal situations) we need to give other people the opportunity to answer allegations against them before we come to a “judgment” about the situation or take any action. I call this the “grain of salt” approach to any negative you hear about another person. Don’t take it very seriously (especially if it seems out of character with what you witnessed in that person’s behavior) until you have a chance to “hear the other side” of the story. Of course, if you have firsthand knowledge of the situation that is altogether different (and I’ll explain those variations a bit more shortly).
Furthermore, we also need to do a little investigating sometimes and verify things through other sources before “rendering a verdict” in their case. Even a person’s “defense” regarding their own actions or conduct sometimes does not hold water. Third-party sources can oftentimes help you figure out what is true and what is not.
Another note: When the Bible says every word is confirmed out of the mouth of two or three witnesses that means someone with direct firsthand knowledge…not a gossip or talebearer telling you what they “heard” from someone else. Of course, your firsthand knowledge makes you a witness yourself. Also, still photos, videos and/or audio evidence (and the like) can make you a “witness” to a situation after the fact regarding situations involving public figures, national and international issues, & etc. Let me give you a couple of examples:
In my blog entitled The TRUE Gospel I touched on the issue of Joel Osteen’s pseudo-gospel in the light of what the apostle Paul said in Scripture about such things. To make sure I knew what I was talking about, I reviewed Osteen’s interview with Larry King where he confessed his own error on CNN for the world to see. To make sure YOU knew things firsthand also, I then embedded the video into the article itself. Thus, by watching the video, you become a firsthand witness to the event also and are able to form your own conclusions in the matter in the light of abundant Scripture.
I did the same thing with regard to my public denunciation of someone I personally know and worked with regarding a past book project. We published on our website the relevant facts, supported by numerous videos, documentaries, many Internet links, and various other third-party confirmations. The reader had the man’s own testimony against himself, third-party testimony that exposed the truth even further, and then the applicable Bible passages that dealt with those situations. In fact, much of it all was on video. Thus, the reader/viewer becomes somewhat of a direct witness themselves, and is fully equipped to form their own conclusions. (If you want to know more about that particular situation, see my blog entry entitled “Comments About ‘Bonesman’ Stratton.“)
Now, what do you do when you have a situation where either you are being falsely accused by a real good liar and are having trouble clearing your name? Or perhaps a situation where you are having to expose an especially deceptive person who is causing problems in the church, your family, or perhaps your place of business?
Most of the time, you can walk away from that person and situation and just go on with your life. If you can, simply do that and let time have its reward. Jesus promised, “Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” (Matthew 10:26, NASB) So you do not need to worry. They will eventually slip up and expose themselves. I have seen it over and over again. Just keep your distance if you can (or even change churches if you must—and I really mean that) and give it some time. The truth will come out, and the Lord promises to vindicate His righteous servants:
May those who delight in my vindication shout for joy and gladness; may they always say, “The LORD be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant.” (Psalm 35:27, NIV)
No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, And their vindication is from Me,” declares the LORD. (Isaiah 54:17, NASB)
On the other hand, there are times when, after much prayer and patience, you might have to build a “case” against a person and either go to the leadership of your church (or company, etc.)…or even “go public” or semi-public with the issue. (And sometimes, this “public” approach will first follow a “separation” approach as mentioned above.) Paul explained:
Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them.For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says: ” Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:1-16, NKJV, emphasis added)
He also explained to Timothy:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron,…
Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear. I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality. Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure. (1 Timothy 4:1-2, 5:19-22, NKJV, emphasis added)
I have “been there, done that” as the saying goes. The fact is, sometimes the situation is just too serious to let go without confrontation…even public confrontation. Paul rebuked Peter publicly (Galatians 2:11-21), and sometimes so must we. Nevertheless, we should shun doing so as much as possible. When it is necessary and biblical to do so, make sure you have done your homework first (just as Paul admonished Timothy above). Do your best to ensure your facts are sound and as irrefutable as possible before bringing anything out into the public. Again, never accuse someone publicly without sound, solid facts. Firsthand experience is even better because you are the witness.
(By the way, these truly serious situations only happen rarely. So don’t get excited and go out “exposing” everyone you know with a personality flaw—because that would also have to include you. We all have areas we need to grow in, so we should not get too aggressive with others’ foibles and minor issues. I am pretty sure you would not want to be treated that way…remember our earlier teaching above?)
A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, But the simple pass on and are punished. (Proverbs 22:3, NKJV)