"Whatever Things Are Of Good Report"
It is hard work and it is daily work -- to guard our hearts and watch our speech. Yet we can and we must assume this work. God has defined the highest standards of thought: "...whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever thinks are pure, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy - meditate on these things," (Phil. 4:8).
If we are not exceedingly careful to guard our hearts, the devil will assist us in developing an attraction for bad news and beyond that, an interests in spreading it. If we let this happen, word of some scandal can stimulate us and hold our attention. You can almost always draw a crowd by simply walking up to a group and saying, "did you hear what happened?" Or, draw a larger crowd by saying, "did you hear what happened to ______ (name of someone known to the group)?" (See Prov. 26:22).
The medium of communication cannot be blamed; that's not the location of the real problem. Since the invention of the telephone, it has been used to spread shocking stories and false reports. Before that, the printed page was used for the same purpose, and remains an instrument to the same end today. Cell phones, fax machines and e-mail connections are constantly humming with suspicions, hearsay and rumors to the full extent of human imagination. The problem is not the method. The problem lies in the immature, impulsive motivations, the poor judgment and the ungodly interests that prompts such talk.
While modern e-mail is not the problem, it certainly illustrates the problem. I am staggered by the lack of judgment people use in forwarding e-mail, with apparently little thought to content, evidence, origin or effect. My fear is, this lack of good judgment is not limited to pressing the forward button in an email program. To supplement this problem, as stories, hoaxes and scams circulate, they evolve far beyond the original false report.
There seem to be four levels to the problem:
Originating a report with faulty or incomplete information. Whatever motivation is claimed, there is never any justification for exaggerating to advance your case, and never any reason to just make something up. The Bible offers no argument for any lie! The truth is, "...all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death," (Rev. 21:8). No exemption is offered to any liars in this verse or anywhere else in the Scriptures. Originating a false report is wrong. "An ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on his lips like a burning fire," (Prov. 16:27; see also Prov. 17:20).
Transmitting (forwarding) a false report to others is likewise to be classified as a sin (Prov. 19:5). When repeating what we have heard, we ought to exercise the greatest caution (Prov. 11:13; 18:13). Is the report accurate? Has it been altered or enhanced? What purpose does it serve? Who do we really need to tell? Honesty before God and man should be the aim of every child of God (see 2 Cor. 8:21; Prov. 13:17; Prov. 17:4). It is our duty to think carefully and speak carefully. "The simple believes every word, but the prudent considers well his steps," (Prov. 14:15). T. Doy Moyer wrote a good piece about the righteous attitude of Joseph toward Mary (Matt. 1:18-25). He addressed the matter well and said: "Christians need to be careful about taking news about others 'public.' Even if that 'news' is true, is it necessary to tell others, especially if it will end up needlessly hurting that person's reputation? Before taking any action, even secretly, we need to make sure we have the facts, and that they are in proper context. Perhaps a few reputations might have been spared had that basic principle been followed," (Focus Magazine, Feb. 1999).
Altering an account is wrong. Let us never entertain the thought that defending the truth of God requires that we tell a lie or alter the truth (Rom. 3:7). Carnal, subjective thinking may suggest that slightly altering a report will serve some good purpose - in getting someone's attention or in stressing some danger. But God has given no instructions to do such a thing. Whatever "cause" or "case" we believe needs a hearing, God still says: "Do not lie," (Col. 3:9).
Resisting Correction is a sign of a sinful stubborn heart. It is a repeated theme in the book of Proverbs (Prov. 12:1). When hearers respond to our reports with truth that challenges what we have said/written/forwarded - we need to listen with humility and be ready to offer corrections or retractions. To continue telling a story after hearing truth that alters our "version," is stubborn, juvenile, destructive and ungodly. "And whoever spreads slander is a fool," (Prov. 10:18).
We should resolve to have no part in any level of falsehood: Origin, transmission, alteration or resisting correction. "Commit your works to the Lord, and your thoughts will be established," (Prov. 16:3).
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 9.2; February 2002