Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all. 1 Thessolonians 5:20-21
“Fake news!” This could well be two of the most politically-charged words in recent weeks in Singapore, as the debate over a proposed law to fight fake news continues. The government believes such a law is needed to curb falsehoods and disinformation, while critics worry over how it might be used and whether it undermines the freedom of speech.
Christians may also be divided over the issue, as there are many nuances, not to mention personal political persuasions, that could affect each person’s view of the issue.
What I find interesting¬, however, is a question that I believe lies at the heart of the issue: Why is it so hard to tell what’s true or not?
It’s a question that comes up not only when we are reading an article or post shared on social media, but also when we hear a “Christian” teaching. Indeed, there are common challenges we face in determining what is true, in both contexts.
One, there’s too much information, which adds to the confusion and makes it even harder to sort out the wheat from the chaff.
Two, there’s deception. Long before there were digitally-manipulated photos and videos, the Bible was already warning that “false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24).
Three, there’re people who are simply misinformed. Not all falsehoods are intentional; some wrong teachings are delivered with the best intentions. Sincerity is no measure of accuracy.
What all this means is that we should do our due diligence in examining what we hear from Bible teacher or any other “godly” source. In fact, the Bible encourages us to put what we are told to the test. Acts 17:10-11, for example, commended the Bereans for checking up on what Paul taught them: “The Berean Jews… received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
As Christians, we are never called to rely on blind faith, but to base our faith on godly knowledge and understanding, which is why God gave us His wisdom, the powers of logic and reasoning, as well as the wonderful privilege to read, check, and discuss His Word openly. In The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, Christian historian Robert Louis Wilken notes that early Christian apologists were happy to debate with philosophers, for “the Bible was a book to be argued from, not simply an authority to brandish when arguments failed”.
I believe that God is never offended when we question what we read and hear about Him, if we are doing it with an honest attitude of seeking to understand Him fully.
But what if we can’t find specific answers in the Bible? I find in 1 Thessolonians 5:20-21 a hint on the position we can take when something remains uncertain: “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all.”
Perhaps in such times, we have to consider what we learn with care, neither dismissing it entirely nor believing it wholesale. Until we can be sure, I believe we can try putting it “on hold”.
As we grow in spiritual maturity, we will gain the godly wisdom and discernment that enables us to distinguish fake news from godly truth. But we can always be sure of this one truth, the only one that really matters: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). —Leslie Koh
Father, help me grow in wisdom and discernment
to know what is Your truth and what is false,
that I may teach, inspire, and encourage others
with this same truth.