"She 'unfriended' me because I offended her."
"She didn't respond to me because she's avoiding me."
"That car cut me off because he thinks I'm driving too slowly."
"He said that to make himself look good."
Do you see a theme here? Keep on reading.
I think one of the biggest problems among Christian brothers and sisters today is in the area of judgement. We judge where we shouldn't and don't judge where we should. There is very little spiritual accountability today, as feelings are paramount to spiritual exhortation. What a bunch of spiritual wusses we are! I could write an entire book on this whole topic and have probably done so many times in my head.
But what I want to address at the moment has to do with the basic problem in the above judgements...and that is our knee-jerk judgements of motives. We seem to have a keen ability to know exactly a person's circumstances, motives, and thoughts...or so we think. How quick we are to assume we know a person's heart! This is an area of my life I have worked very hard on and am still working on. I'm sure I will be working on it until I die! Particularly, I have a hard time when it relates to a person I know well. It is easier to give the benefit of the doubt when I have no history to refer to. But when it's my husband or my son or my daughter, I have many past experiences from which to draw. I know them well, and it is easy to assume I also know their heart intentions.
But how does one really become sanctified in this area of judging motives? How do you give the benefit of the doubt? This is one of those phrases that we hear, but don't really think about. We don't ask ourselves how we can actually put it into practice. Let's look at 1 Corinthians 13:7 for the answers: "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
First, you must "bear all things." That is, you will put up with all kinds of insults and injury from others without letting it get to you. I struggle myself with oversensitivity. It is a gift to be sensitive, as we can sympathize with and encourage others more easily. But when we are so fragile with our own feelings that we are constantly expressing our hurt, then we are not showing love for others and the shortcomings that are natural to humanity. We are not giving grace. Feeling hurt is one thing, but wallowing in it and expressing it is another. At that point, we are being controlled not by the Holy Spirit, but by the actions of others and how they make us feel.
If someone "unfriends" you on Facebook, for example, and you feel the impulse to start accusing in your mind, "bear all things" by praying. Pray for that person, as we are told to
pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44). It is much easier to put up with perceived
slights when we pray for the person who acted against us. Pray for
them to have a good day. Pray for them to grow in Christ, if they
believers, or to find Jesus if they are not. Pray for them to have grace and to "cover" any sins you may have done against them (1 Peter 4:8), and likewise for yourself to be able to do the same for them. Pray that God will protect you from pride in your "spiritual response" to their actions. Pray
for whatever God lays on your heart...just pray!
Secondly, you will "believe all things." You will take the reasons and seeming excuses at face value rather than judging the heart. When your friend says, "I was just too busy to call you back for the past month," you will believe her instead of accusing her, either mentally or verbally, of making excuses or trying to avoid you. You will not dream up some elaborate scenario in which you are the afflicted victim of her cruel and inconsiderate ways. You will simply accept her reasons as true rather than as excuses...and move on.
Third, love will compel you to "hope all things." When that car cuts you off, you probably won't experience the driver pulling up to you at the next stop light to explain his rude actions. But the Bible tells you to "hope all things." This is where we get the idea of "giving the benefit of the doubt." Literally, start making excuses for him in your own mind. Don't assume he was making some point and was out to "get" you. Hope that he simply didn't see you. Maybe he is late for a very important meeting or his wife is in labor? Maybe he is distracted by some horrible news he just received? Maybe he actually did do it intentionally, but is taking out his aggression on you because he is going through deep grief? Hoping all things involves faith to believe what we cannot see or what seems to contradict what we do see.
And last, but not at all least, if you have love you will "endure all things." You will put up with that guy at work who seems to be constantly saying things to make himself look better, while you end up looking worse. Love will endure it. Love will give the benefit of the doubt...over and over and over again. Endurance has the idea of a continued practice, and if you love you will continually practice praying, believing, and hoping for the one who repeatedly wrongs you. You will continually find legitimate reasons in your own mind for his seemingly wrong behavior. Perhaps he is going through a difficult time at home being seen as the leader of his family? Maybe he has desperate financial need to be promoted? Maybe he simply doesn't realize he has the habit of saying such things or that they come across in such a way? We can never fully understand a heart.
Finally, think about all these examples. What are they? Accusations. And who is the biggest accuser of all? Satan. He is referred to in Revelation 12:10 as the "accuser of our brethren" and his very name means "accuser." So, when we start to judge the motives and heart attitudes of others, we are actually following in the steps of Satan, hurling accusations at others. And we do so in such ignorance! Jesus, on the other hand, looked down from the cross and said, "Father, forgive them; For they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). Jesus had the advantage of seeing the heart and he knew that, while those who crucified Him did know they were doing wrong by crucifying an innocent man, they also did not fully understand Who He was or the implications of their actions. They were so blinded by their pride and sin, and Jesus, despite being wronged in the worst extreme, took pity on them!
It all comes down to
love. Do you have love for your brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you
have love for unbelievers? If you do, you must understand that you will
demonstrate that love by your actions, regardless of your feelings (and don't even get me started on how we idolize our feelings in this culture). You will "bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things." You will not follow in the footsteps of Satan, the accuser, but rather in the footsteps of Jesus who forgave those who spit in His face, beat Him mercilessly, and nailed Him to a cross to die in excruciating pain. If you love as Christ, you will excuse rather than accuse!