“He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him” (Proverbs 18:13).
“The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17).
These verses are cautioning one not to rush to judgment. Both sides should be heard in a controversy before passing a judgment on a matter. Aesop is credited with saying, “One story sounds good until another is told” (Aesop, The Man and the Lion). Thomas L. Seals comments, “A cross-examination often puts the plaintiff’s case in a different light. We note here also that truth is many-sided. Even if one person may be right, it is highly possible that his fellow man, who rebuttals against him, may not be entirely wrong. It is imperative, therefore, that caution be utilized in all courtroom decisions. Sometimes our narrowness prevents us from seeing various facets of truth. In all controversies we must learn to openly listen to both sides as we strive to bracket, or set aside, all preconceived ideas” (Thomas L. Seals, Proverbs: Wisdom For All Ages, p. 101).
The application goes beyond the courthouse. (1) News and World Events – If one listens to only one viewpoint, then one might not get a complete and accurate representation of the facts. Some news sources offer up little more than partisan talking points. At times, I have found that I can find more news about what is going on in my own country, and less politics from foreign news sources. I have at times consulted multiple news sources, and even foreign news sources on a matter. I believe that there is wisdom in this. (2) Religious Controversies – If one is trying to understand a religious controversy it is best to hear the evidence from both sides, and not just one side. Intentionally or unintentionally, sometimes one side will misrepresent the other side. For example, some have taught that we, in the church of Christ, believe in a works based, and not grace based, salvation because we believe that we must be baptized. This is a misunderstanding and/or misrepresentation. If we want to study with others, we should first seek to accurately understand their position. Reading denominational material may be helpful. Note of Caution: I only recommend this to those already mature and well-grounded in scripture. Reading or watching debates is a great way to see both sides. I believe that it is one of the best ways to truly see both sides under the light of cross-examination. I try to watch, listen to, or read one short (one day debate) religious debate each week, or a longer debate (multiple days debate) each month. I find this very helpful in understanding the thinking and arguments of others. It is my experience that the more one accurately understands the doctrine position and terminology of others, the easier it is to have productive studies with them. Note of caution: Again, I only recommend this after one has a firm grasp of the scriptures.
(3) Relationships With Others – It happens all the time. Someone whispers or openly circulates an accusation against another. We should not be quick to believe such. Sometimes misunderstandings occur. The children of Israel almost went to war over a misunderstanding (Joshua 22). Eli misunderstood Hannah (1 Samuel 1). Sometimes people lie. Potiphar’s wife lied about Joseph (Genesis 39). Naboth was put to death on false accusations (1 Kings 21). Nehemiah was lied about (Nehemiah 6:5-ff). Some lied about Jesus (Mark 14:57-58; Matthew 26:60b-61 cf. John 2:19-21). Paul was misrepresented (Acts 17:6-7; 21:20-21; cf. 16:1-3; 21:28). Elders and preachers are often misrepresented, sometimes unintentionally, and sometimes intentionally. This has been my experience. We should make sure that we have all the facts.
[A preacher’s rant: The preacher’s biblical duty is to “Preach the word.” It has been said that job of a preacher is to comfort the afflicted (i.e., provide comfort for those hurting emotionally, or spiritually) and to afflict the comforted (i.e., make those comfortable in sin uncomfortable with their sin, and challenge those comfortable in their complacency to do more). While I do not believe that this saying fully sums up the role of a preacher, it does contain some truth. However, I have found that some do not want to be challenged. Some seem to believe that the role of the preacher is to comfort the afflicted and to keep the comforted comfortable. When this is not done, sometimes there is a storm of controversy, and some even resort misrepresentation, or have an ear for misunderstanding]
Paul wrote, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19). Those in public positions and/or leadership positions are often magnets for criticisms and accusations. The passage is warning against rushing to judgment without adequate evidence [Note: Evidence Can Serve as a Witness (John 5:31-36; 1 John 5:9; 2 Peter 1:18-19)].
What if after nearing the evidence, one still is unsure of the truth? One does not have to decide every matter. God will. “Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some follow later. Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden” (1 Timothy 5:24-25 cf. Ecclesiastes 12:14; Romans 2:16).
Many problems could be avoided if we would practice The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). Consider the poem, Before You Gossip (from J.J. Turner’s commentary on James) –
“If you have heard a bit of gossip I tell you what to do;
That before you tell another, Just suppose it had been you.
Just suppose that the latest scandal had been on your love or you
And only half the details, Really had been partly true.
Circumstances strange and new, All conspiring to mix-up…
Just suppose, my friend, ‘twas you. Would you wish folks to repeat it…?
So, before you tell another, Just suppose it had been you”
By Edith Dahliby