Passage: Proverbs 18:1-17
“The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” (Vs.17)
Just one week ago newspapers worldwide featured the story of Troy Davis, a man who was in the death row and seeking to delay his execution for the second time. After spending 22 years in jail and unable to prove his innocence, he was executed for the 1989 murder of a Georgia police officer. Davis died swearing he was innocent and initiated a debate across the borders which included several dignitaries who believed his innocence. The controversy surrounding his case was not a matter of pro- or anti- death penalty, but rather whether the justice system sentenced the wrong man to death. Although I frankly have not followed the case close enough to form an opinion one way or the other, this story reminded me of the importance of unbiased judgment to obtain a fair verdict.
Proverbs 18 is filled with words of wisdom regarding the disgrace and grief that a hasty judgment can bring to one’s life. This somber proverb of Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, is a reminder on how slow we should be to talk and how careful we should be to listen before we ever repeat anything we hear.
The Bible is clear in regards to the danger of forming an opinion when you hear only one side of the story: “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” (Vs.17 – NASB). In other words – there are always two sides to the same story. I was only twelve years old when I learned the pain of being unfairly judged.
My friends and I were sitting during recess and some of the girls started speculating about the private lives of the nuns who ran and lived in the school I attended. I don’t remember much of what was being discussed, but I do remember a very serious accusation that one of the girls made in regards to the relationship between two of the nuns in the school. I remember being shocked at the accusation. I did not say a thing. So, you can imagine my dismay when I was called into the Principal’s office, accused to have initiated the terrible gossip that the girl sitting across from me started. Someone had blown the whistle about our little recess talk and she quickly blamed me for something I never said. Let me put it this way: I don’t remember much about middle school, but I will never forget that situation.
“Equal Justice Under the Law”
The symbol for the judiciary in the western world is “Lady Justice.” Blind Justice is the theory that law should be viewed objectively with the determination of innocence or guilt made without bias or prejudice and it is the idea behind the United States Supreme Court motto “Equal Justice Under Law.”
During a court hearing, the attorney who pleads his case first before the judge and the jury seems for a moment to have justice on his side. However, it is not until the second attorney takes the stand, sifts and scrutinizes the statements that were already given, argues them to be wrong or weakens the evidences that seemed to support the first attorney’s case, it’s not until then, that the judge and the jury has fair and balanced material to reach a verdict.
Judgment of anyone’s actions without the presence of evidence is a dangerous thing. Many people suffer terrible consequences every day for being judged incorrectly. As children of God, we must realize the danger of spreading gossip and judging people without hearing both sides of a story. What may seem to be a truthful story to you may be totally different from the facts. These are some of the reasons we must hear the entire story before issuing our opinion:
1) We cannot expect absolute accuracy when someone states his own case!
“Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts.” Proverbs 21:2
Just because someone tells you something it does not mean that it is the absolute truth. Sometimes people will intentionally misrepresent their case; however sometimes it is not intentional. We are always biased when we represent ourselves, therefore no wise man or woman should expect his neighbor to state their case without adding, omitting or enhancing parts of the story to his/her own benefit. Hence the importance of being discerning and careful as you hear one side of a story.
2) Some are better attorneys than others!
My dad is an attorney and I have always loved to watch the deliberations in courts of justice. Some of my favorite movies were based on novels written by a retired criminal attorney, Mr. John Grisham. I have always been fascinated to watch attorneys plead their case before the jury and their eloquence (or lack of) during deliberations.
The same set of skills may make or break a person’s defense when accused. Some people can make a very lame cause sound like a good one; but some on the other hand, cannot give to a good cause the justice that it is due. Unfortunately, more often than not, truth yields to eloquence.
3) Always hear the other side.
“Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” John 7:24 (NLT)
If we are to be just and fair, we must seek to hear both sides of the story. More importantly, we must never repeat a story until we hear both sides. If we do, we may commit the injustice of giving a person credibility to which he is not morally entitled to and at the same time accuse an innocent person without hearing all the facts.
Slow to Speak
“But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” James 1:19 (NASB)
I often cringe at some stories I hear repeated. I do even more so when it comes from people within the church. Not long ago I lost sleep over something that I heard about someone I know. I could not believe how carelessly the words were spoken as a very serious accusation that could cost someone great loss. That stirred up in my heart the desire to write about the dangers of repeating accusations. I believe we must search our hearts and ask ourselves what our real motives are when we repeat a story that we heard. Why do we do it? Does it profit the person we are talking to or talking about? Or are we repeating just to have something to say? Have we verified the facts? Or could it be that within our hearts we have feelings such as pride and envy that are only satisfied when we slander someone. If our facts are verified and our purpose is to warn someone of a danger they may face, we absolutely must do so, however we must know for a fact that what we are saying is the truth. In the first chapter of James, the apostle cautions God’s people that we must be quick to hear, but slow to speak. I hear many things but don’t need to repeat them. I may go to my husband or a trusted friend for advice, but I will not spread a rumor that could irreparably cost someone his or her reputation.
“Those who plant injustice will harvest disaster, and their reign of terror will come to an end.” Proverbs 22:8 (NLT)
May we be careful with our words! May we remember that we are all WIP (works in progress,) imperfect children of the Almighty and none of us is above the other: “As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one.” Romans 3:10 (NASB.) We must offer people around us the mercy and grace that we have been given at the foot of the cross, where we all meet under the same condition. May we offer people around us the respect to hear their side of the story, lest we hurt innocent people and harvest disaster (Proverbs 22:8.)
Things that God Hates
Finally, this book full of wisdom from God is one of the places in the Bible where you can find a list of things that God HATES. These verses are known to most believers, but really! They should be engraved in our minds so we don’t live lives that look good on the outside, but are despised by our Maker:
“There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16-19 – NASB – emphasis added)
Over half of the things God absolutely hates have to do with gossip and slander! I believe we must indeed memorize these verses. Don’t shoot the messenger. To repeat my Pastor Dr. Charles Stanley: “I did not say it. God did.”
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
Lord, I praise You for although we often fail in our walk, your Word is a lamp always ready to shed light into our darkness. I pray that You will search our hearts and show us the true motives behind our words, that we may repent and conduct lives that honor You. Help us to be careful not to judge and condemn innocent people and help us always be slow to speak and quick to hear. May you guide Your people to walk in righteousness, that we may live separated indeed to be salt and light in a dark world. Give us a burning desire to despise the things that You hate. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.