Valid Opinions

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…

James 1:19

Sometimes we say things that are well-meaning but untrue. We say these things without much thought or reflection because in the moment we’re trying to care for people’s hearts. Yet, when I hear some of these statements, the lack of truth becomes glaring. Just like some people’s skin gets irritated by wool sweaters, my brain gets itchy and irritated when people say well-meaning cliches that aren’t true.

For instance, we like to say things like, “There is no bad question” to help students overcome their insecurities about asking questions. But every teacher knows that statement isn’t true. There are bad questions. Like, right after you give students the syllabus for the class and then someone asks a question that is answered in the first few lines of the syllabus. Bad question. 

Similarly, it’s common in our society to hear someone say, “Everyone’s opinion is valid.” But what do people really mean by that? What do they mean by the word valid? Sure, everyone has a right to their own opinion, but does that make every opinion equally valid? Is your neighbor’s opinion about that growth on your skin just as valid as the dermatologist’s? I don’t think so. Not everyone’s opinion should carry the same weight. 

When people want their opinion “validated” they usually just mean they want to be respected enough to be listened to. And that’s a good thing. Mostly people want to be validated as a person. They want to know that they themselves are valuable, regardless of what their opinion is. And, again, that’s a good thing. But to me, validating the worth of a person is different than calling all opinions valid.

Here’s what valid actually means: having a sound basis in logic or fact; reasonable or cogent. With that definition in mind, it’s clear to me that not every opinion has a sound basis in fact. Not every opinion is equally informed or cogent.

This is why, for me, not every opinion is equally valid. Uninformed and weakly formed opinions are everywhere, but they are not as valid as an informed opinion that took time to develop. I like how leadership guru Carey Nieuwhof said it: 

“…a little bit of knowledge is dangerous. We live in an age of strongly held, weakly formed opinions. Too many people’s worldviews are three questions away from collapsing. So learn broadly and be slow to draw conclusions. Wisdom takes time and input.”

Carey Nieuwhof

And we could rightly add that valid opinions take time and input. Valid opinions are well-thought-out, well-researched, informed opinions. Forming a strong, valid opinion is like smoking meat. There is no short cut. It has to be “low and slow” or it’s going to lack truth and wisdom. 

So, no, everyone’s opinion is not valid. You have to earn the right to have a valid opinion about a subject and that means doing your homework*. It means doing more than just listening to one podcast, Googling it, or reading WebMD. People want their weakly formed and uninformed opinions validated, but we need to stop doing this for people. It plays into a kind of deception that pretends all opinions are weighted equally, and they’re not. 

I have lots of uninformed opinions about a lot of things, but humility dictates that I pay deference to those who have spent more time formulating their opinions on a subject. Humility says that I need to listen to people with informed opinions when mine is uninformed. If I demand that my uninformed or weakly formed opinion be validated, then it usually means I’m operating out of insecurity or arrogance rather than humility.

*Note: I do believe there is at least one exception to this truth (if not more). In situations where a team might be brainstorming, innovating, creating, or experimenting with something new, sometimes the most helpful opinions are the least informed opinions. During times of innovation, sometimes people with well-informed opinions about a subject can get stuck in what they already know. This makes it difficult for them to think creatively. So, during times of experimentation or innovation, validating the weakly formed or uninformed opinions in the room might be necessary. 

What you hear

“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 

Mark 4:24

Jesus had just gotten accused of being possessed by a demon by the Pharisees. He was casting out demons everywhere He went, and they didn’t want to admit that this was from God. So their assumption was that Jesus’s power was coming from a demonic spirit rather than the Holy Spirit.

When His own family members saw the large crowds following Jesus, even they said, “He is out of His mind!”(Mark 3:21) They still saw Jesus as their brother, a carpenter from a small town, and struggled to understand what was happening with so many people getting healed of disease and delivered from demons.

After telling the Parable of the Sower, Jesus then says, “Consider carefully what you hear.” We might expect Him to say instead, “Be careful what you say.” But He doesn’t say that. He wants people to guard what they hear. He wants them to know what they consume, with their ears and eyes, will affect them.

Based on the follow-up statement about measuring others, Jesus is saying there is a direct connection between what we listen to and how we will judge others. If we listen to gossip, we will measure people incorrectly, just as the Pharisees and Jesus’s own family did with Him. If we listen to bad news all the time, we will measure the world incorrectly. What we allow in our ears matters.

One of the strategies of the enemy is to manipulate what we hear. He is a master linguist who loves to manipulate language. He’s a master at propaganda and slogans that change the meaning of words to fit his evil schemes. We see this characteristic reveal itself in political powers that have committed genocide and horrible atrocities throughout history. One thing that is true of almost all of them is that they were good at manipulating people through propaganda, slogans, and the redefinition of words.

It’s happening now in our own culture over the definition of love. The enemy is trying to get our entire society to embrace a selfish kind of “love” focused on self-fulfillment rather than the self-sacrificing kind of agape love of scripture.

I saw the same thing happen in the church as this slogan became popular, “It’s okay to have doubts.” This was a reaction against fundamentalism’s obsession with certainty. And, originally, “doubt” meant “uncertainty.” So, originally, the idea was that it is okay to be uncertain about things. Being uncertain about some things is not contrary to a life of faith. I agree with this whole-heartedly.

However, what started to happen was a slight-of-hand with the definition of “doubt.” Soon, doubt no loner meant “uncertainty” and started to mean “unbelief.” Yet, people used the same slogan, “It’s okay to have doubts.” But now this slogan meant that it was okay to embrace unbelief. I couldn’t disagree more. Unbelief is antithetical to a life of faith. Unbelief became welcomed and accepted in the church through the Trojan-horse word “doubt” all by simply manipulating its definition.

Can you see how it works? Can you see the enemy’s scheme with language and definitions? Can you see why Jesus said, “Consider carefully what you hear.

The same kind of manipulation of language is happening now around discussions of gender identity and racism. Words that used to mean one thing now mean another. Old definitions are thrown out and manipulative new definitions are added.

We saw the same thing happen in the abortion debate. The murder of children became “a woman’s choice.” Who in their right mind would be against something labeled simply as a “choice.” And who in their right mind would be against “re-education” if we label it correctly. Again, you can see the enemy’s schemes clearly once they are exposed.

Language matters. Correct definitions matter. Truth matters. What we actually allow ourselves to listen to, what we allow our children to listen to, matters. We need the Holy Spirit to give us discernment to see through the nonsense that is out there in our culture right now.

Consider carefully what you hear.

Religions of the World

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

1 John 4:1-3

Do all roads lead to God? Do all religions lead to salvation?

John answers this question clearly and emphatically in 1 John 4. Not every spirit out in the world is from God. Some spirits are from the evil one and are meant to deceive. Some spirits are influencing false teachers and false prophets as a way to lead people astray from the Spirit of God.

So the answer is, “No. All religions don’t lead to salvation. All roads don’t lead to God.” There are not many pathways to God. There is one way to the Father and His name is Jesus (John 14:6).

So how do we know which spirit is which?

John gives us a clear test of discernment. If the spirit acknowledges that Jesus is who He said He is, that Jesus came as God in the flesh, then that spirit is from God. If the spirit does not acknowledge Jesus then it is not from God. When religions of the world reject Jesus for who He really is, they are being influenced and deceived by the spirit of the antichrist (a.k.a. the demonic kingdom of darkness).

That doesn’t mean there isn’t some truth found in the religions of the world that reject Jesus. General revelation is the theological term for how God has revealed Himself through the natural world, through the everyday things of life. Many religions pick up on these sorts of truths. But what makes deception powerful is when it is truth mixed with error. And that is what we see in the religions of the world.

The apostle Paul did not look kindly on the religions of the Roman world in his own day. As he looked at the pagan worship of false gods and false idols, he could see the demonic forces behind it. He said:

Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 

1 Corinthians 10:19-21

Paul was clear. The Roman worship of Jupiter was not just their form of worshiping God the Father. The Roman worship of Mars was not a replacement for Jesus or the worship of Juno the substitute Holy Spirit. No, their sacrifices to their false gods and false idols were offerings made to demonic powers. While the stone, wooden or golden statues that they called idols were nothing but decoration, Paul understood that there was a demonic power that stood behind each one.

Paul did not go to Athens and say, “I see that some of you grew up worshipping pagan gods. That’s okay. All faiths lead to God.” Here is what he did say. First, he called out their ignorance.

People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

Acts 17:22-23

Then he implored them to turn away from their religion, which was false, and to Jesus, who is the Truth.

we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.

Acts 17:29-31

In Paul’s mind, proof has been given to “everyone” that Jesus is the way to the Father by His resurrection from the dead. The only proper response is to repent. Repentance is a “command” to “all people everywhere.” The fact that many of Paul’s listeners then scoffed at him did not change his mind about Jesus’s resurrection being the ultimate “proof” of the truth of the gospel.

Deceiving spirits

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 

1 Timothy 4:1

One of the primary roles of demons is not just to tempt but also to deceive. The goal is to first lead people away from orthodoxy and then away from faith in Jesus altogether.

But how does it happen?

Just as we can “hear” the Holy Spirit whisper to us in our own thought-life, so too do demons inject their thoughts into our own. If we don’t know the truth of scripture and if we have little spiritual discernment, we can’t tell the difference between the whispers of demonic deception and our own thoughts. Sometimes demons over-play their hand and the thoughts are so jarring that we wonder, “Where did that thought come from?” Many times, that thought didn’t come from us at all but from a deceiver.

But the goal for a spirit of deception is not to get noticed. So the lies have to be just subtle enough–just believable enough–to make us think they are our own thoughts. Once we get led down this road, full-scale strongholds of deception start to get built. Even when people speak truth to us, the words bounce right off the walls of the stronghold–walls meant to protect the deception within.

Another tactic of the enemy is to spread a spirit of offense. Have you noticed how easily people are offended at each other these days? Ever wonder why the politically correct police get more and more oppressive with their ever growing list of things that can be considered offensive? All of this is a strategy of the enemy.

Demons pluck nerves. If you have a hurt or wound in a particular area of your life, and someone says something anywhere in the general vicinity of that wound, demons then pluck that nerve. It doesn’t matter that the person didn’t say anything offensive. It only matters that what was said could be misconstrued to be offensive. That’s enough for the demon to get a foothold, misconstrue what was said, and whisper lies of offense.

Have you ever had someone get offended at something you never said? Instead, the offense was at what they thought you said or what they thought you implied? Again, this is part of the strategy of the enemy. Satan has created a playground for himself out of our culture that is constantly living in offense and perpetually in a victim mentality. In a culture where the most offended person wins the argument, which is pretty much the case today, the enemy has full reign to plant seeds of offense, self-righteousness, pride and self-pity.

The purpose of a spirit of offense is the same as a spirit of deception. If I am offended by the truth, I certainly don’t have to listen to it. Truth is inherently life-giving and has the capacity to bring freedom to all who embrace it. But if the truth offends me, I now have an emotional barrier that keeps me from having to face it. If I live with the constant truth-repellent of “offense” then I will never be free.

We see this most clearly with the Pharisees. Jesus would do the most incredible miracles, but they would get offended that He broke a sabbath law in order to do it (Luke 6:6-11; Matthew 15:12). They couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Rather than celebrate the incredible miracle, they got offended and angry at Jesus. That’s what a spirit of offense does. It distracts people with a minor offense so that they can’t see the major work of God right in front of them.