The Wrong Idea
Imagine yourself in one of these scenarios:
1) Somebody criticizes what you have done, but you know he has no understanding
of the situation, and if he did, you are certain he would have a different
2) A report comes back to you that represents your actions in a manner which
makes you look like a fool, or reckless, or even criminal and you know the
facts have been twisted into a false and misrepresentative scenario.
3) Someone challenges your theology and its practical application, and he is so
far away from at least understanding your perspective let alone qualified to
criticize it that you have no idea where to begin with him.
4) Someone makes fun or even denounces your principled stand for something, but
it has become plain to you that he himself never stands for any principle — he
himself has no principles and he ridicules or opposes everyone who does.
Ignorant criticism, fabricated reports, outrageous challenges, and unprincipled
mockery or denunciation — what is the common element in these scenarios?
Somebody has the wrong idea about you. Nobody likes to be in that position.
Now maybe you think I’m going to talk about how to respond to such situations.
Nope. I’m going to talk about how you ought not to find yourself in the role of
the antagonist in such situations.
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.
That’s right. If you wouldn’t want anybody to do it to you, and nobody does,
then you’d better not do it to anybody else — and there are no acceptable
There really isn’t a lot that needs to be said about the subject. Everybody
understands unjust judgements and hasty conclusions when it happens to them. So
they should be able to understand how not to do it to others. But that’s not
exactly how it works, is it?
2:1 Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest:
for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that
judgest doest the same things.
A false report might ruin somebody’s life. It’s happened more than once. In
fact, it happens all the time. How would you like to answer at the last
judgement for some idle word which you spoke which falsely ruined someone’s
reputation and destroyed their ability to make a living and brought him and his
family to a generation of poverty and shame for something he never in truth
did, but yet he could never shake.
12:36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they
shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
Consider the case of Mephibosheth as an example.
16:1 And when David was a little past the top of the hill, behold, Ziba the
servant of Mephibosheth met him . . .
. . .
16:3 And the king said, And where is [Mephibosheth,] thy masters son? And
Ziba said unto the king, Behold, he abideth at Jerusalem: for he [Mephibosheth]
said, Today shall the house of Israel restore me the kingdom of my father.
16:4 Then said the king to Ziba, Behold, thine are all that pertained unto
Mephibosheth. And Ziba said, I humbly beseech thee that I may find grace in thy
sight, my lord, O king.
. . .
19:24 And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king, and had
neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from
the day the king departed until the day he came again in peace.
19:25 And it came to pass, when he was come to Jerusalem to meet the king,
that the king said unto him, Wherefore wentest not thou with me, Mephibosheth?
19:26 And he answered, My lord, O king, my servant deceived me: for thy
servant said, I will saddle me an ass, that I may ride thereon, and go to the
king; because thy servant is lame.
19:27 And he hath slandered thy servant unto my lord the king; but my
lord the king is as an angel of God: do therefore what is good in thine eyes.
19:28 For all of my fathers house were but dead men before my lord the king:
yet didst thou set thy servant among them that did eat at thine own table. What
right therefore have I yet to cry any more unto the king?
19:29 And the king said unto him, Why speakest thou any more of thy matters? I
have said, Thou and Ziba divide the land.
19:30 And Mephibosheth said unto the king, Yea, let him take all, forasmuch as
my lord the king is come again in peace unto his own house.
David had acted rashly in giving Mephibosheths land to his servant Ziba before
he had heard Mephibosheth’s explanation as to why he did not leave with David.
If the story had ended here, Mephibosheth would have been ruined. In the grace
of God, David finally heard the other side of the story. But because David
could not now determine the truth, he proposed splitting the land between Ziba,
and Mephibosheth. The story may end here, with Mephibosheth having only half of
his property restored.
There is another possible explanation of the end of this story. Solomon
conducted a trial of loyalties between two mothers. (First Kings 3:16-28) He
proposed dividing a child in half in order to test who the true mother was.
Perhaps David performed a similar test. Ziba may have already agreed to the
terms of dividing the land, but Mephibosheth was now willing to let Ziba have
all in order to prove his loyalty to David. If this is a valid conclusion, then
David would have restored all of the land to Mephibosheth. So it may have
turned out well for Mephibosheth.
It does not turn out so well for many others who have been slandered. Don’t act
rashly, like David. Your actions may not be reversible. For example, it did not
turn out quite so well for the nation Israel after the Exodus.
14:36 And the men, which Moses sent to search the land, who returned, and made
all the congregation to murmur against him, by bringing up a slander upon the
14:37 Even those men that did bring up the evil report upon the land, died by
the plague before the LORD.
14:38 But Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of
the men that went to search the land, lived still.
14:39 And Moses told these sayings unto all the children of Israel: and the
people mourned greatly.
The slanderers had conspired to tell Israel that the Canaanites were cannibals,
they were giants, they dwelt in walled cities, and Israel could not subdue
them. (Numbers 13:28-33) God punished the entire nation for heeding the slander
of ten men in exaggerating the powers of the wicked, and rewarded the two men
who would not participate in the slander.
The apostle Paul had to deal with this problem of false report and slander.
3:8 And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that
we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.
Paul’s doctrine was caricatured as if he promoted the doing of evil in order
that good may come from it. This was not merely a slanderous report. Some
actually affirmed under oath that it was so. Paul taught no such thing. It was
the false philosophies of others which led them to speculate that Paul must
mean this by his doctrine. What should Paul’s accusers have done? They should
have asked him directly if this is what he meant to teach, then patiently
allowed him to explain his answer. Instead, they fell under the righteously
indignant curse of the Apostle Paul.
This was neither the first nor the last time Paul was slandered. Indeed, Paul
was constantly slandered. Here’s another example of Paul’s slanderers:
24:5 For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition
among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the
24:6 Who also hath gone about to profane the temple: whom we took, and would
have judged according to our law.
To which charges Paul responded:
24:12 And they neither found me in the temple disputing with any man, neither
raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city:
24:13 Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me.
We, as Christians, are wide open, like Paul, for this kind of slander.
5:11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall
say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
3:16 Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of
evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in
3:17 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well
doing, than for evil doing.
Old Covenant Law
Moses provided legislation regarding unfounded accusations, and these were
written for our profit.
20:16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
23:1 Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked
to be an unrighteous witness.
19:16 Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither
shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD.
How was Israel required to deal with reports of wickedness among them?
101:5 Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that
hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer.
13:12 If thou shalt hear say in one of thy cities, which the LORD thy God hath
given thee to dwell there, saying,
13:13 Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and
have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other
gods, which ye have not known;
13:14 Then shalt thou enquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and,
behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought
13:15 Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of
the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle
thereof, with the edge of the sword.
. . .
17:2 If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the LORD thy
God giveth thee, man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the
LORD thy God, in transgressing his covenant,
17:3 And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun,
or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded;
17:4 And it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it, and enquired diligently,
and, behold, it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is
wrought in Israel:
17:5 Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed
that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone
them with stones, till they die.
17:6 At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is
worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not
be put to death.
17:7 The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death,
and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from
These passages discuss what to do with a public wickedness, discovered within
the gates. Hearsay evidence was not enough to condemn anyone of such a crime.
Unverified information of any kind rumor, gossip, scuttlebutt, innuendo,
insinuation, supposition, idle talk and slanderous speculation all of these
amounted to nothing. They must enquire, and make search, and ask diligently,
in other words, conduct a full investigation. They were only to proceed if they
find the thing certain. If the report could not be substantiated or proven
beyond question, then it was stopped. But if the report was true, and the
persons are convicted by two or more witnesses, then the offenders were to be
stoned to death. If there was only one witness, the accusation was to be
dropped. Certainly, the report must not be repeated. As it was the witnesses
who put him to death by their testimony, so it was the witnesses who were first
to put him to death with stones.
What about false witnesses?
19:15 One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any
sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth
of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.
19:16 If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that
which is wrong;
19:17 Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before
the LORD, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days;
19:18 And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the
witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother;
19:19 Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his
brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you.
19:20 And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit
no more any such evil among you.
19:21 And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye,
tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
It was easier for one man to lie than for two or more to lie. Stories must
agree in substance, or the testimony cannot be relied upon somebody is lying.
But, if at all possible, that somebody who is lying must be found out and
punished. False witness or perjury was not a light matter. Whatever the penalty
would have been upon the one witnessed against, that penalty would fall upon
the false witness. May we apply a similar standard. When someone gives us a
false witness in order to say disregard a doctrine, then we ought to
disregard that person and his doctrine.
16:17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and
offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
16:18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own
belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
New Covenant Law
There is also some New Covenant legislation on the subject.
7:24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.
7:51 Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?
3:11 Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all
5:19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three
2:3 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness,
not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;
1:19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to
speak, slow to wrath:
The best policy is to hear a matter out in full before you either repeat it or
respond to it.
18:13 He that answereth a matter [returneth a word] before he heareth it, it
is folly and shame unto him.
One who responds to a matter positively or negatively before he knows all
of the important facts and understands the reasons and applications of the
matter, it will forever be to his shame even if his response turns out to be
otherwise correct. Why is that? Because if he attempts to refute something
piecemeal, point by point, before the whole case has been presented, his
integrity has thereby been thoroughly impeached. His actions are neither just
nor fair nor noble.
17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received
the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether
those things were so.
Those in Thessalonica are forever recorded in history as ignoble. Nobody names
their church, Thessalonian…Church. Why? Because the Thessalonians answered
a matter before they searched the scriptures whether it was so, and it was
folly and shame to them. It is noble to search out a matter. It is ignoble to
dismiss it without consideration. That’s why we find Berean in the names of
churches and religious associations all over the world.
29:16 I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched
25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to
search out a matter.
We readily grant that there are some matters which require little searching
before they are plain. But that is only because of the nature of the evidence
and of the argument. Other matters require close examination, their merits must
be searched thoroughly and impartially until they finally appear plain. Such
matters must not be hurried over and a conclusion arrived at superficially.
Much more can be said about hasty conclusions, false judgements, false
witnesses and slanders. But why say it when we all know it? All that remains
for us to do is to make a few practical applications. So here are a few
1. Do not excuse false witnesses or hasty conclusions by giving them another
name, or casting them into a different framework.
I want to inform you:
a. Out of love for them so that you can pray better.
b. Out of love for you to protect you from possible harm.
These statements may actually be your motivation, but often they are only an
excuse. The fact is you want to inform them to satisfy your own ego in being
the one to tell them first, or tell them the most, or tell them the best, or
just to tell them at all.
2. Refuse false witness the minute you recognize what it is. Just say, No to
unsubstantiated words, because they are a drug which will hook you. Yes, it will
harm others. Yes, it will harm you. But most importantly, it is an abomination
to God, and you are forbidden to take part in it.
3. Don’t add your speculations to stories. Be careful about mentioning your
speculations to others. When you receive a report, go to the source and confirm
or deny it. And I mean the source. Sometimes a report can be factually true,
and you can confirm the facts, but they have been cast into a distorted form
which you cannot see beyond.
4. Don’t report what you don’t know. That’s a hard rule to live by. But it’s a
good rule. If you must pass on a report, be careful to give its source for
others to check out.
5. How do you recognize a talebearer?
a. The talebearer does not check his source. His information is often second or
third hand before it gets to you.
5:21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
b. You’ve heard more than one version, and the versions do not necessarily
agree in fact or interpretation.
13:1 . . .In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be
c. The story does not take things at face value, but adds speculative
explanations of facts and tries to make the speculations seem plausible, though
the facts may be explained many other ways.
38:12 They also that seek after my life lay snares for me: and they that seek
my hurt speak mischievous things, and imagine deceits all the day long.
d. After a while, some people become notable as talebearers. Don’t believe
anything they say without full corroboration.
7:20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
3:11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working
not at all, but are busybodies.
3:12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ,
that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.
6. Does this mean you cannot ever talk about others? Of course you can talk
about others. Can you talk about their faults? Of course you can. The question
is not whether you can do it, but only how you should do it.
Regarding the person, if you are personally and privately offended, you must
go to the offender first. If you seek another’s counsel before you go to the
offender, you must not identify the offender.
If it appears to be a public offense, you must make a fair and open inquiry. Do
not answer a matter before you hear it. Be swift to hear and slow to speak.
7. You must divide fact from opinion and plausibility from proof.
a. A fact is what certainly happened.
b. An opinion is what someone thinks surely must have happened though it may
c. Plausibility is if it seems likely something happened that way though it
may not have.
d. Proof is there is no possibility it didn’t happen that way.
You must not misrepresent opinions as facts or press conjectures as proofs.
Beware of idle tales.
24:11 And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them
17:21 (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time
in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
One Final Word
The Lord requires truth in our inward parts. (Psalm 51:6) Out of our mouth, our
heart speaks. (Matthew 12:34) Our word should be our oath. (Matthew 5:37) We
will be judged for every idle word we speak. (Matthew 12:36) We must judge the
righteous judgement (John 7:24) and prove all things (First Thessalonians
5:21). Keep these things in mind the next time you are urged to repeat an
unsubstantiated report without consulting the sources, or you are tempted to
reach a hasty conclusion without carefully considering the facts and allowing
both sides to be heard.