A few years ago, I received a phone call from our local newspaper. The reporter told me that she was writing an article about me that the paper would be running the following day, and she wanted some comments from me. She didn’t tell me exactly what was in the article, but she did let me know the names of two of the three people with whom she had spoken, and so I knew, generally, what to expect. But nothing could have prepared me for the shock of seeing the article in the newsstands the next morning – at the top of the front page! I suppose the editor had placed it “above the fold”, as they say, so as to attract as many buyers as possible with its spicy gossip.
When I read what the people in the article said about me, I could hardly believe such worthless gossip would be allowed in print. I knew that if I were an ordinary person reading that article, I probably would not believe all of it, but I would have to think that at least part of it was true. But there was no truth in it at all. And now that it was in the hands of tens of thousands of people, I was helpless to do anything about it. It was the worst day of my life.
Later in the day, I was on my face before God, asking Him how such things could be. Where was the sense of equity and balance that I had always assumed played a part in news reporting? I asked God how anyone could be so callous as to publish such false and humiliating material about somebody without first making sure those things were true. Did the editor of the paper have no feelings for my children or for the children of the wonderful, God-fearing parents associated with me? Those poor kids were now embarrassed to even show up at school. “God,” I pleaded, “How could one human do this to another human being?”
The Lord interrupted my prayer and said to me, kindly but firmly, “ How does it feel, son?”
I could not speak. I knew what the Lord meant. Just as those who would read the newspaper article that day would no doubt reach conclusions about me and the sweet and innocent people here, based on nothing but talk, so had I, in the past, judged others by the same measure. Even though He had just told me that I had done so, I cried out, “O God! Have I done that to others? Have I judged others based on nothing but talk?” Then, I earnestly repented for being influenced by talk, for forming opinions of others based on talk, for reaching conclusions about situations based on talk. It was an extremely humbling, but good, experience.
Still on my face before the Lord, I pleaded with him to help me never again let my heart be moved by talk. And I thanked him for having that slanderous newspaper article published so that I could feel the way I must have made others feel at times by making judgments without having real knowledge. I knew that God put that article in the paper to bring me to my face before Him. It felt at the time that I was reaping a thousandfold for my errors, but knowing the tenderness of God, He was probably being very merciful to limit it to just a few (there were a couple of others) degrading, lie-riddled articles.
But I received more than that from the experience.
When Jesus spoke to me, his words opened my heart to an understanding which I had never possessed. I saw how little anyone on earth really knows about anything, and how much the whole world is moved by talk. Talk-shows on TV, radio, or internet, are extremely influential with people, as are books, magazines, and the like – regardless of the veracity of their content. Men and women who have the ability to speak cleverly enough can earn millions over a lifetime with their mouth, regardless of what they are saying. Politicians who come up with clever, biting “zingers” against their opponents make the headlines, and those “zingers” are played and replayed on television because such crafty talk draws viewers. Eloquent talk sells. It may be that the policies of nations are formed more on the basis of talk than on genuine knowledge. Wars have been initiated on the basis of talk.
In response to this, I wondered to myself, “What does anyone know?” And the Lord showed me that no one knows anything unless the Spirit either reveals it to him or gives him the understanding of something he has seen or heard. No wonder Jesus warned us not to judge! We don’t know anything. Paul reminded his converts in Corinth and Thessalonica that when he came to them, he did not come to them with mere talk but with preaching that was with the power of the holy Ghost (1Cor. 1:4; 2Thess. 1:5). “For”, he told the Corinthians, “the kingdom of God is not in word but in power” (1Cor. 4:20).
The prophet Isaiah said that when Christ came, he would not judge anything by what he saw or heard with his physical eyes and ears (Isa. 11:3), and we are warned to follow Jesus’ example. This is why Paul taught that only those who are led by the Spirit are the sons of God (Rom. 8:14). Wisdom and knowledge come from God alone, and until He gives us understanding, we don’t even know ourselves, much less anyone else. Without God’s help, none of us understands anything we see and hear in this world, but Jesus suffered and died to make that help, the holy Spirit, available to us. The Spirit is a dependable guide for our feelings; it is the perfect judge, and it will save us from the foolishness of reaching conclusions based on talk.
It is a precious gift to have true knowledge, a right understanding, about anyone or anything. But such knowledge comes only from the Spirit, not from ourselves. Jesus is full of that Spirit of truth, and he will freely give it to us if we trust him. And if we walk in the knowledge that Christ gives by the Spirit, we will be among the very few on this earth who are not moved by talk.