Take Care How You Listen

by Cliff McManis

A few weeks ago a local pastor from Northern California contacted me, asking for wisdom and advice on a shepherding issue. He asked, “At our church during this shut-down we are finding that many of our saints are spending so much time online and connected with the news and social media all day long that they seem to be drowning in too much information, and as a result there is great confusion and anxiety among our people. What are your elders doing about this challenge?”

That is a great question and a universal problem right now. The priority for a Christian to grow and mature in Christ is “to think on truth.” Jesus said, “know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). There are three main challenges to thinking on truth. They are (1) not having enough information; (2) having too much information; and (3) being deceived or misled by the information you do have because it is wrong. The Bible has a corrective to all three common challenges.

Get the Whole Truth
As to the first issue, the Bible has much to say about having insufficient information on a topic. Being deficient on an issue can severely compromise, and even distort the truth. A half-truth or a partial truth is not truth. In a court of law, witnesses are reminded to swear to “the truth, the whole truth…”, meaning the witness may not give selective, partial answers, because that amounts to circumventing the real truth. It’s misleading and dangerous. It undermines justice. It distorts reality. Proverbs speaks to the importance of getting the whole truth before rendering a verdict: “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him” (18:17). In other words, don’t just listen to one side of the story. To do so is an assault on truth. Paul was committed to preaching the whole truth (unlike false teachers in his day), as he taught “the whole purpose of God” wherever he went (Acts 20:27). When it comes to depending on news outlets to inform your worldview on what’s going on out there, don’t limit your intake to just a few sources, especially when those sources are not biblical. That is dangerous. Get the whole truth. There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors (Prov 11:14), so be sure to get a healthy balance of input on every issue. 

Too Much Information
As to item number two: getting too much information. The world is experiencing this like never before—times ten. Good mothers for decades have warned their children, “You are watching too much television! It will numb your brain.” That was before the current shelter-in-place orders. Many brains are in jeopardy of going from numb to dead. Today it seems most folks have their media devices connected to their bodies like an I.V. connected to the vein—can’t live without it. And this amounts to too much information. Is it possible to have too much information? Absolutely! Just like you can have too much of anything, even good things. Did you know you can drown from drinking too much milk or even water, even though milk and water are good for you? We saw that recently on several college campuses as freshman students were dying from drinking gallons of water all at one time as a result of dorm hazing rites.

The Bible warns about doing things in excess. We are to have moderation in all things (1 Cor 6). This is also true with taking in information. Our finite, fallen brains and bodies were made to handle only so much. The greatest danger for the Christian of taking in too much information and data is that the truth gets smothered and drowned out to the point that we can’t even find the truth. Over-exposure of information puts every conceivable matter on the same level of importance. The frivolous and irrelevant compete with the serious and significant. And if everything is deemed important and a priority, then nothing is. Paul warns, “All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (1 Cor 10:23). 

The Christian, then, needs to be selective, and limit one’s information intake, doing so with a discerning vetting process through the grid of the Bible. Not every voice warrants a hearing. Not every random act of violence in some remote, obscure place on the other side of the world deserves a hearing from me. It is not healthy for me to entertain every human opinion coming down the information highway online. Gordon Sumner was right when he testified to the world, “There’s too much information going through my brain; too much information, driving me insane.”

Think on What is True and Good
Here Philippians 4:8 is helpful. Here the Holy Spirit commands Christians to “think on” only certain kinds of information. The word for “think” in this verse means to ruminate on or meditate deeply about, and it’s in the present tense which means we are to do it in a regular, ongoing, continuous manner. Deliberate biblical thinking is to be a habit and way of life. It’s a lifestyle. One thing the Christian is to regularly meditate on is “whatever is of good repute.” “Good repute” is actually just one Greek word and refers to things which warrant a hearing. In other words, some things should remain unspoken or unpublicized. Much that spews out of the TV and from the radio doesn’t warrant a hearing. We don’t need to be exposed to information, images, books, news stories, songs, conversation, classes, blogs, websites that are not of good repute or good reputation. This means we need to consciously say no to information overload.

Philippians 4:8 also helps in the battle against impediment number 3 mentioned above: being deceived with information that masquerades as the truth. That is how the verse begins: “Brethren, whatever is true…dwell on these things.” Thinking on truth is priority number one for the Christian. Truth is reality as God has defined it and revealed it to us. Christians have the ability to actually know truth in a way unbelievers can’t (1 Cor 2). All Christians have the Holy Spirit living in them and He is the “Spirit of truth” (John 16:13). Because we are finite and fallen it is easy for any Christian to be misled or deceived by wrong information. The world is filled with “fake news” and “wrong news.” 

As a result, we need to be dependent daily on God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit; for Scripture says all three are the truth. We need to depend on the Bible which is the truth (Ps 119:142; John 17:17). We need to listen to other wise believers who speak truth to us. We need to pray about all things as God makes truth known through that divine transaction. We need to be conscious of our enemy (1 Pet 5:8), the devil, who is real, powerful and who hates the truth and is hell-bent on trying to hide the truth from us daily (Matt 6:13).     

So what is God’s remedy to being inundated, and even smothered, in too much information? Be exposed to information in light of God’s parameters laid down in Philippians 4:8. If you do that on a regular basis then God promises to give you supernatural peace in your thought life and in your emotions (4:7, 9).

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