Think Straight—Act Wisely
IMAGINE this scene: Jesus Christ is explaining that religious enemies in Jerusalem will cause him great pain and then kill him. His close friend the apostle Peter cannot believe it. In fact, he takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. Peter’s sincerity and genuine concern are beyond doubt. But how does Jesus assess Peter’s thinking? “Get behind me, Satan!” says Jesus. “You are a stumbling block to me, because you think, not God’s thoughts, but those of men.”—Matthew 16:21-23.
What a shock that must have been to Peter! Instead of being a help and support, he was in this case “a stumbling block” to his beloved Master. How did this happen? Peter may have fallen prey to a common flaw in human thinking—believing only what he wanted to believe.
Do Not Be Overconfident
A threat to our ability to think straight is a tendency to be overconfident. The apostle Paul warned fellow Christians in ancient Corinth: “Let him that thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12) Why did Paul say this? Apparently because he knew how easy it is for human thinking to become distorted—even for the minds of Christians to be “corrupted away from the sincerity and the chastity that are due the Christ.”—2 Corinthians 11:3.
This had happened to a whole generation of Paul’s ancestors. At the time, Jehovah told them: “The thoughts of you people are not my thoughts, nor are my ways your ways.” (Isaiah 55:8) They had become “wise in their own eyes,” with calamitous results. (Isaiah 5:21) Surely, then, it makes sense to examine how we can keep our own thinking straight and thus avoid similar calamity.
Beware of Fleshly Thinking
Some in Corinth were badly affected by fleshly thinking. (1 Corinthians 3:1-3) They put more emphasis on human philosophies than on God’s Word. No doubt the Greek thinkers of the day were very clever men. In God’s eyes, however, they were foolish. Said Paul: “It is written: ‘I will make the wisdom of the wise men perish, and the intelligence of the intellectual men I will shove aside.’ Where is the wise man? Where the scribe? Where the debater of this system of things? Did not God make the wisdom of the world foolish?” (1 Corinthians 1:19, 20) Such intellectuals were governed by “the spirit of the world” rather than by the spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:12) Their philosophies and ideas were out of harmony with Jehovah’s thinking.
The ultimate source of such fleshly thinking is Satan the Devil, who used the serpent to seduce Eve. (Genesis 3:1-6; 2 Corinthians 11:3) Is he still a danger to us? Yes! According to God’s Word, Satan “has blinded the minds” of people to such an extent that he is now “misleading the entire inhabited earth.” (2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 12:9) How important it is to be alert to his designs!—2 Corinthians 2:11.
Look Out for “the Trickery of Men”
The apostle Paul also warned against “the trickery of men.” (Ephesians 4:14) He encountered “deceitful workers” who pretended to present the truth but who actually distorted it. (2 Corinthians 11:12-15) To attain their objectives, such men may resort to a selective use of evidence, emotionally loaded language, misleading half-truths, devious innuendo, and even outright lies.
Propagandists often use a word like “sect” to stigmatize others. In a recommendation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a suggestion was made that authorities who investigate new religious groups “would be well advised to forgo using this term.” Why? It was felt that the word “cult” had an excessively negative connotation. In a similar way, Greek intellectuals wrongly charged that the apostle Paul was a “chatterer,” or “seed picker.” This was to imply that he was nothing more than an idle babbler, someone who picked up and repeated only scraps of knowledge. Actually, Paul “was declaring the good news of Jesus and the resurrection.”—Acts 17:18; footnote.
Do the techniques of propagandists work? Yes. They have been a major factor in creating ethnic and religious hatreds by distorting people’s perceptions of other nations or religions. Many have used them to marginalize unpopular minorities. Adolf Hitler used such methods effectively when he portrayed the Jews and others as “degenerate,” “evil,” and a “threat” to the State. Never allow this kind of trickery to poison your thinking.—Acts 28:19-22.
Do Not Deceive Yourself
It is also easy to deceive ourselves. In fact, it may be very difficult to give up or even question deeply cherished opinions. Why? Because we become emotionally attached to our views. Then we may deceive ourselves by rationalizing—by manufacturing reasons to justify what are really mistaken and misleading beliefs.
This happened to some first-century Christians. They knew God’s Word, but they did not let it govern their thinking. They ended up “deceiving [themselves] with false reasoning.” (James 1:22, 26) One indication that we may have fallen prey to this kind of self-deception is if we find ourselves becoming angry when our beliefs are challenged. Instead of getting angry, it is wise to keep an open mind and carefully listen to what others have to say—even when we feel sure that our opinion is right.—Proverbs 18:17.
Dig for “the Very Knowledge of God”
What can we do to keep our thinking straight? There is much help available, but we must be willing to work for it. Wise King Solomon said: “My son, if you will receive my sayings and treasure up my own commandments with yourself, so as to pay attention to wisdom with your ear, that you may incline your heart to discernment; if, moreover, you call out for understanding itself and you give forth your voice for discernment itself, if you keep seeking for it as for silver, and as for hid treasures you keep searching for it, in that case you will understand the fear of Jehovah, and you will find the very knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:1-5) Yes, if we personally make the effort to fill our mind and heart with the truths of God’s Word, we will gain real wisdom, insight, and discernment. In effect, we will be digging for things of far greater value than silver or any other material treasure.—Proverbs 3:13-15.
Wisdom and knowledge certainly are vital factors in straight thinking. “When wisdom enters into your heart and knowledge itself becomes pleasant to your very soul,” says God’s Word, “thinking ability itself will keep guard over you, discernment itself will safeguard you, to deliver you from the bad way, from the man speaking perverse things, from those leaving the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness.”—Proverbs 2:10-13.
It is especially important to let God’s thoughts guide our thinking in times of stress or danger. Strong emotions like anger or fear can make it difficult to think straight. “Oppression may make a wise one act crazy,” says Solomon. (Ecclesiastes 7:7) It is even possible to become “enraged against Jehovah himself.” (Proverbs 19:3) How? By blaming God for our problems and using them to justify doing things that are out of harmony with his laws and principles. Instead of thinking that we always know best, may we humbly listen to wise counselors who seek to help us by using the Scriptures. And if necessary, let us be prepared to abandon even strongly held points of view when it becomes evident that they are mistaken.—Proverbs 1:1-5; 15:22.
“Keep On Asking God”
We live in confusing and dangerous times. Regular prayer for Jehovah’s direction is essential if we are to exercise good judgment and act wisely. “Do not be anxious over anything,” writes Paul, “but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God; and the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6, 7) If we lack the wisdom to handle perplexing problems or trials, we need to “keep on asking God, for he gives generously to all and without reproaching.”—James 1:5-8.
Aware that fellow Christians needed to exercise wisdom, the apostle Peter sought to ‘arouse their clear thinking faculties.’ He wanted them to “remember the sayings previously spoken by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior,” Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:1, 2) If we do this and keep our mind aligned with Jehovah’s Word, we will think straight and act wisely.
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Early Christians let godly wisdom, not philosophical reasoning, shape their thinking
Philosophers left to right: Epicurus: Photograph taken by courtesy of the British Museum; Cicero: Reproduced from The Lives of the Twelve Caesars; Plato: Roma, Musei Capitolini
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Prayer and study of God’s Word are essential