I was doing a study recently on the word ‘discernment’ for an article I was working on.
As I searched the Bible and looked up synonyms I inevitably found myself in the book of Proverbs.
Proverbs is full of juxtaposing the characteristics of the wise, understanding, insightful, etc. with their opposites. And although I’ve read through this book more times than I can count (and is arguably my favorite of the 66), there was one of these opposites that had never really popped out at me until that day:
I quickly digressed from my study of discernment as the word ‘simple’ sped into the Blue Letter Bible search bar. I’ve been mulling over my findings ever since.
What Does it Mean to be Simple?
Here’s a sampling of the passages I found that contain the word ‘simple.’
“The law of the LORD is perfect,Psalm 19:7
reviving the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple.”
“Leave your simple ways, and live,Proverbs 9:6
and walk in the way of insight.”
“The simple believes everything,Proverbs 14:15
but the prudent gives thought to his steps.”
The Hebrew definition of this particular word translated as simple means:
“Naivete, foolish, open-minded”*
Does this resonate with you as much as it does with me in light of the current happenings in our world?
We’re living in a time when polarization in all things is at an all-time high, whether it’s political, religious, ethnic, or social views. Even within the church there is division over so many issues, and the call to “open-mindedness” is everywhere. But what has particularly struck me is the seeming inability to have productive, loving, truth-based conversations or discussions surrounding these sensitive topics. When someone mentions a thought or concern about any given subject (or even one aspect of a subject) there is a visceral reaction that creates division where there might not actually have been much—if any—division in the first place. Not only does this create unnecessary conflict, but it also removes the ability to grow in understanding and correct nuance on a subject where there is true disagreement.
Here’s a hypothetical example:
Person 1: I think we consume too much sugar as a society.
Person 2: So you’re saying everyone should stop eating sugar?
Person 1: No, I’m just saying in general our food contains far too much sugar, and we should be thoughtful about how much we’re consuming due to the bad effects it can have on our health.
Person 2: So you’re saying anyone who eats sugar has an unhealthy obsession with it? Are you saying we’re all dumb, and can’t use our brains? Who made you the sugar judge of society? You know what, I’m gonna eat all the sweets I want just to prove you’re not the boss of me. You’re a people-shamer, and I hope harm comes to you.
Or we could switch it around and have it go the other direction just as easily:
Person 2: I love ice cream.
Person 1: But it has so much sugar in it. Are you saying you love being unhealthy?
Person 2: No, I just said I love ice cream. I try to eat it in moderation.
Person 1: But by saying you love it, it makes me assume that you eat it all the time, and if others assume the same thing you’re being a bad example. Someone might think your love of ice cream gives them permission to eat as much sugar as they want. Then they’ll develop diabetes and ruin their health forever. And it’ll be all your fault. You’re toxic to this world.
I know these are somewhat exaggerated illustrations, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who could replace “sugar” or “ice cream” with some other topic, and this example wouldn’t be too far off the mark. These extreme stances and subsequent relational fissures are everywhere, and our inability to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (James 1:19) just drives us further and further apart.
It might take the form of:
- Everyone is being abused (especially in the church), or it’s all just overreacting.
- Every wrong in our culture is a result of racism, or racism doesn’t exist at all anymore.
- Everyone is going to die of a “certain virus,” or it’s all just a bogus political scheme.
- Every policeman is corrupt, or they’re all perfectly upright.
- All republicans are white supremicists, or all democrats are deranged.
My side is completely right, your side is completely wrong.
In short, we make these things far too simple. And we’re often too prideful to hear others out, grow, and modify our opinions if necessary. So we cling to whatever we think is right or best regardless of what is actually true. We take one individual circumstance or narrative and use it to define everything, losing our ability to acknowledge where facts might actually differ in other stories and scenarios. All-too-often we care more about saving face and keeping an iron-like grip on our “truth” than we do about having actual truth-based understanding.
But hope is not lost! We can return to and grow in a biblical way of thinking and interacting. We can learn to engage with our brothers and sisters in Christ “in all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3) We can also learn to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders,” and use speech that is always “gracious, seasoned with salt so that [we] might know how [we] ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:5-6)
So, where do we start?
1. Know and Stand on the firm Foundation
One key way that we grow out of simple-mindedness is by first being grounded in the categorical “black and whites” of Scripture. I’ve noticed that along with oversimplifying many issues, simple-minded people often tend to over-complicate and muddy the waters of foundational truths that are quite clear in Scripture in order to make it say what they want it to say to support their point. Then, all other issues become warped because of this lack of core, biblical grounding. In short, their foundation is off. Because we as Christians believe that God is the way, the truth, and the life, this means that understanding His Word correctly gives us a solid, unshakeable framework from which to reason and view all areas of life. When we know what is absolutely true about God and about how He created us and intends for us to live in His world, then we will be able to determine which issues are straightforward and which require a greater level of nuance and discernment.
For example, everyone marveled at the wisdom of Solomon. He was able to determine right from wrong in incredibly difficult situations that seemed impossible to sort out, and people came to see and hear him from all over the world (See 1 Kings 3-4). But where did this mind-blowing wisdom come from? It came from God. Solomon knew he needed what God alone could give to rule over his people.
So, we first need to know what we believe according to the unshakeable truths of the Bible. Along with studying Scripture for ourselves, we can consult solid resources that help us understand the core truths of God’s Word that are essential for a faithful walk with the Lord. We should be plugged into a local church that holds fast to sound doctrine, and allow ourselves to be sharpened by pastors and other brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. Mine for wisdom
“Yes, if you call out for insightProverbs 2:3-5
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.”
We live in a microwave meal, Amazon Prime culture (at least, most of those who’ll read this probably do). We want what we want now with as little work as possible. However, if we’re bent on obtaining the treasures of wisdom and insight we have to be committed to the effort it will take to unearth them. Because these treasures are found in God alone, this means seeking after Him with all of our hearts (Jeremiah 29:13), searching His Word, calling out to Him in prayer, and posturing our hearts to patiently wait on Him to give the wisdom and insight He alone can bestow. This not only takes effort, but also time, and requires relinquishing our timeframe. God might give supernatural insight on any given topic after days, weeks, or months off diligently pursuing Him. But we can be sure that as we commit to pursuing Him He will faithfully replace our simplemindedness with the wisdom and discernment we desperately need.
Unless we’re actively moving toward the Lord, we’ll be passively moving away from Him. So we need to make this a priority in our day. Consider going through a Bible study with a friend or two if you need more accountability. Ask God to show you what it looks like in this season for you to seek Him with all your heart, and He will help you do so.
James 1:5 says,
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
3. be quick to hear and slow to speak
“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?Proverbs 29:20
There is more hope for a fool than for him.”
It doesn’t take long perusing platforms like Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook to realize that hasty words are one of the banes of our society. I’ve read story after story of people’s lives being ruined due to their own thoughtless words or the words of another through these social media means. Speaking before we think can get us into a world of trouble that could’ve been prevented if we’d just spent even a few extra minutes thinking through the outcome they might produce. But we get so caught up in proving a point, being witty, or getting revenge that we forsake the wisdom of being slow to speak.
Often it’s anger that drives the hasty words we hear or read (or say ourselves). Why? Because when someone says something we disagree with or that contradicts our stance on a subject the instinctive reaction is to get upset. It stings our pride, seems uninformed, or might simply be ridiculous, so we lash out in anger to “put them in their place”
Because I’m not an exception to this, I’ve made James 1:19-20 a rule of thumb that I repeat often to myself when I’m tempted to use my words without thinking:
“Know this, my beloved brothers; let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
No matter how true my words might be, if they are spoken in anger they won’t bring forth the ultimate desired result: righteousness.
When we determine to listen carefully and wait to speak until we know we have both heard and understood the other person, our words will be far more tactful. When someone feels listened to they also feel loved, and when we truly listen we gain a more well-rounded perspective and learn from it ourselves (even if our stance doesn’t change). These sorts of conversations are ones that have the potential to foster greater love and insight between our brothers and sisters in Christ. And if this marks our interactions with unbelievers, we demonstrate the dignity and love that comes with godly character.
4. Be like the Bereans
In Acts we read that when Paul went to Berea the Jews there were “more noble,” because not only did they receive the truth eagerly, but also searched Scripture “day and night to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:10-11).
We should take to heart the example of these Bereans. Not only should we rejoice over truth, but be willing to do the hard work of studying to be sure that truth really is truth. This should start with how we approach the Bible, then bleed out into every other sphere of life.
So, when we hear a piece of news we ought to take time to look into it if at all possible. This doesn’t mean we’re sceptical of everything, but it does mean that we shouldn’t believe everything just because, well, we heard it. I’ve been surprised on multiple occasions when doing a bit of research into “facts” that were relayed to me, that these were only partially true, or not really the facts at all. This isn’t because the people in every situation were maliciously trying to spread false information, but simply because they’d relayed it before researching it themselves. And I’ve been guilty of relaying faulty information, too, so I’m not letting myself off the hook here. All of us should seek to take the “more noble” approach of studying and researching as best we are able so we are not unknowingly leading others into falsehood.
Some helpful questions to ask when evaluating the information we hear are:
- Is this coming from a reliable/reputable source (i.e. do they hold themselves to truth, or are they known for twisting information)?
- Is this the whole story (i.e. is there a greater context to this video clip or article)?
- Is this a hypothesis or is it proven (i.e. are there still details that haven’t been discovered yet)?
I shared Proverbs 14:5 at the beginning, but it’s worth putting here again.
“The simple believes everything,
but the prudent gives thought to his steps.”
There are many times when we’re simply not able to look into information, stories, or news that we pick up along the way, whether that be a lack of time, resources, or expertise. And in these cases, we should be careful with our words. We should give correct caution and caveat when relaying un-looked-into information to others, and point them in the direction of those who have done faithful research and who also hold themselves accountable to truth.
5. be humble
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace,Proverbs 11:2
but with the humble is wisdom.”
It’s all-too-easy for us to be stiff-necked and prideful when it comes to our thoughts and opinions, even if it comes to light that something we believe isn’t true. None of us want to be wrong, do we? And it can sting a good deal to find out that we were incorrect (or partially incorrect), especially if it’s a topic that we’ve ardently championed. But we have two responses: We can pridefully continue to stand on our faulty opinions, or we can humble ourselves and conform to the truth.
As evidenced in the verse above, humility is a vital component in gaining wisdom. Not one person is all-knowing, and all of us have preconceived ideas that are in need of refining (or getting rid of all together). So we need to be continually humbling our hearts and asking the Lord to help us to a) have truth as our goal, and b) remain soft and teachable.
6. stay away from foolish arguments
“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone…”2 Timothy 2:23-24
Finally, part of being wise is knowing which discussions are going to be profitable, and which ones are foolish and ignorant and not worth our time and effort. One question to ask ourselves to discern whether a discussion is worth entering into is:
- Is engaging in this topic going to lead myself and others toward truth?
If the answer to that question is “no,” or even “I don’t know,” it’s probably best to stay away from it. If it’s a topic that is just going to go in circles then engaging in it isn’t going to do us or others any good. And, in fact, it might just cause harm to relationships.
One other helpful question to ask, if the topic does seem worth engaging in is:
- Is the person I’m interacting with going to be receptive to healthy discussion?
If the answer is “no,” it might be wiser not to engage. Whether we’re unsure or feeling quite sure one way or the other, it’s always wise to stop and ask God for wisdom (James 1:5). He will guide us in what route will be fitting for the occasion, and clarify our motives for either engaging or not engaging. Our first turn should always be toward the Lord when we’re considering how to use our words.
Psalm 119:130 says,
“The unfolding of your word gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.”
No matter how confusing, murky, and disillusioning this world gets, God will illuminate truth and give understanding to every single person who comes to Him and acknowledges their need for His wisdom. It doesn’t matter how simple-minded we start out: God’s insight is never-ending, and He delights to give it to us. We can be sure He will use us as vessels to display His grace and sufficiency to this world.
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