I’ve been comparing notes with some friends who also write and teach in a public way. And we all agree that something is in the air. Recently, we have been receiving some of the most bizarre, strange, odd, whacked-out letters and emails wherein we are all left scratching our heads in befuddlement.
It seems … people are angry. They are hostile. They aren’t themselves.
Not all, of course. Not even most.
But some. Enough to be noticed. And they are coming out of the woodwork it seems.
Perhaps it’s the economy? Or something spiritual is afoot (?).
What follows can be tucked under “Being a Follower of Jesus 101″ … and most of my readers will no doubt think, “Duh … of course. Hello. Tell me something I don’t know.”
The problem is that for many who claim to be Christians in our day, this is “new teaching” … it’s “new revelation” … either that, or they are knowingly ignoring it.
Never Presume to Read Another’s Mind
One of the very first things the Lord taught me when I became a follower of Jesus was to never, ever, never, ever, never presume to know what another Christian is thinking.
It was to nevah, evah, never, ever, nevah judge the motives of their hearts.
To nevah, evah, evah, never, ever, nevah impute evil motives to them.
To do so is to skate on invisible ice.
It’s to climb up on the throne of God and “play” God.
Not to mention, the consequences aren’t pretty as Jesus taught (Matt. 7:-1-4).
Paul wrote that “love thinks no evil” … meaning, love always thinks the best of others and their intentions (1 Cor. 13).
So to judge another person’s motivations is to walk out of love. It’s to walk in the flesh.
Jesus said to His followers to treat others as we would have them treat us. Anyone in the room like their motives misjudged and to be thought the worst of … lift up your hand please?
Judging Motives Is Exposing Your Own Heart
But more than that, to judge the heart motives of another person is to expose what’s in our own hearts.
The little piece of saw dust that we see in our brother’s eye is actually a chip off the telephone pole in our own.
Consequently, if I judge your motivation and accuse of you being proud, for example, and I do that based on nothing more than what I have “read into” what you’ve written or said, then I’m merely exposing the fact that I’m full of pride.
If I judge you to be a liar based on something you’ve said that I have a hard time believing, then I’m exposing the fact that I’m a liar. Thus I see that motivation in you.
When we judge the motives of other people we project onto them what’s in our own hearts.
This is Basic Christianity 101 … I know. But perhaps this isn’t getting taught today. I’m not really sure.
The Internet has opened a whole new universe in this regard. People will say things to their fellow Christian sisters and brothers through emails that they would NEVER say to them in person.
What Does It Look Like?
Okay, so let’s say that someone writes something you don’t like. Be it a book, an article, an email, whatever.
It’s one thing to say in response, “what you are saying comes across as ….”
It’s another thing to say, “you are a xxxx person.”
It’s one thing to say, “I disagree with what you have written and here’s why…”
It’s another to say, “only a xxx person would say such a thing.”
Juding people’s motives sounds like this …
“Peggy Sue said thus and so because … ” Now the “because” is ascribing a motivation behind the words.
I have a friend who told a joke in public not long ago. It was funny. Self-depricating even. The crowd belly-ed over in laughter. A spectator accused my friend of being proud.
Hu? He told a joke and so that makes him proud?
“Joe made that joke because … he’s proud or arrogant or whatever.”
That’s a judgement of motivation.
Love Always Thinks the Best
Does that mean that a Christian can never know if another believer is proud or is lying or is whatever?
But it’s only when it’s as clear as day, and it cannot be denied. Rather than something imputed to one’s heart based on a personal interpretation or “read-in.”
For example, a number of years ago I heard a Christian author make this statement, and I quote verbatim:
“I’m the most important person on the earth today. No one is doing what I’m doing …”
[Cough!] This person has made other similar statements, boasting that what he is doing and saying has never before been said or done by anyone in all of human history.
“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” It’s fair to say from such statements that this person is an egomaniac as well as delusional.
Lying is a bit more tricky. Sometimes I wondered if someone was lying to me, only to find that their memory was foggy or I misunderstand what they were telling me, or my memory didn’t rehearse what they said accurately.
Lying is INTENTION to deceive.
So thinking the best is always the best course of action. (On the other hand, I’ve had the displeasure of knowing at least two pathological liars. Both professing Christians.)
Either way, we do well to *always* think the best of others and give them the benefit of the doubt.
That is the way the life of Jesus Christ moves within us. That’s the way of love, which is Christ Himself.
Imputing evil motives to another is always sinful and ugly. And again, it reveals what’s in our own hearts more than anything else.
(About this moment someone is thinking of Peter reading the heart of Simon. Yes, “perceiveing” what’s in someone’s heart by the Holy Spirit is another thing altogether. I’ve seen that happen rarely over the last 30 years, but most of the time the person who claims to being doing this is reading what’s his or her own heart into another.)
So the next time you read or hear something you don’t like, think the best of the person who wrote or said it. Never pretend that you own a mind-reading cap and now you’re going presume to know what’s in someone else’s mind or heart.
Follow your Lord and do not judge their intentions or motivations.
A Higher Way
I tell you: this is one of the main reasons why unbelievers don’t like Christians. They have so often told me, “Frank, I don’t like Christians because of the way they treat one another. They are constantly judging us and judging people in their own religion, and it’s irritating. For a people who are supposed to love one another, this is a joke.”
What would happen if beginning today, every believer would give their fellow brethren the benefit of the doubt?
Whenever they blogged or talked about another Christian, they never judged their motives on any point; but instead, they simply grappled with the actual substance and content of what they said? The same when they wrote or spoke to them.
If they read something that they didn’t understand, their response would be:
“You know, this doesn’t make sense to me, can you help me out?”
Or “I’m not really following you here, can you explain?”
Or “it seems that you are saying thus and so, can you shed light it?”
Or, it sounds like you’re saying thus and so, am I right?”
Instead of … “your answer/explanation is a bunch of bull” (which means “you are lying.”) Or, “I don’t believe you,” or (you fill in the sentence).
In dialogue, we should learn to ASK QUESTIONS, and not MAKE ACCUSATIONS.
That’s the difference between civil Christian discourse and unChristlike conversation.
Standing With Your Friends
The other thing related to this is that I find it incredible how a Christian can watch another Christian personally attack, accuse, impute evil motives, judge another believer in a public venue, and say absolutely nothing about it.
Could this speak to the fact that we are so desensitized to this sort of unChristlike treatment of others that we think it’s normal? I sure hope that’s not the case, but I wonder.
I’ve lost a few readers because they were slamming some of my friends who write books to me in private emails. And I took up for them, calling a spade a spade. I essentially said, “You are judging this man’s motivations. Have you gone to him asking questions rather than making accusations? You shouldn’t be coming to me with this personal attack. That’s what the Bible calls slander. I know him personally and I’m afraid you are wrong. We have not so learned Jesus Christ to treat our fellow brethren in this way.”
Well, in some cases, the person apologized and repented. In others, they started attacking me personally for taking up for my friend.
Those who know me well know this about me. If I’m your friend, and someone is gunning for you, I’ve got your back. I’ll throw my body in front of the bus if I have to. If I love you, that’s what I’ll do. That’s what love does.
It doesn’t cowardly remain silent in the face of such ugliness.
I won’t defend myself, but I’ll always defend my friends.
What Martin Luther King Jr. said rings so true: “It’s not the words of our enemies that we remember most; it’s the silence of our friends.”
Will this post change anything (written in February 2009)?
Probably not. But if at least one person evaluates what’s said here in the light of Jesus Christ and it causes them to see things a bit differently, then it was well worth the time.
A Word About Commenting
Oh, just a note about comments.
The blog manager tells me that a few folks (one in particular) were out of line a few days ago and so she had to shut the comments down. That’s a first on this blog since we opened up comments.
I have a few friends who don’t allow comments on their blogs because of this sort of thing.
I’ve said that allowing comments open on this blog is an experiment. So I hope this doesn’t happen again to be honest.
All told: If you place a comment here, please use discernment and check your heart first. If a person even comes close to attacking someone personally, it won’t be posted (so says the blog manager).
If you have a personal question or comment you would like to pass by me, please send me a personal email instead of posting it on this forum. The blog manager usually forwards those kinds of emails to me, but it’s a hassle for her to do that.
Finally, if it’s your first time posting, use the word FROG.
I guess in reaction to this post, I’d like to know one or both of the following:
1. have you ever had someone judge your motives incorrectly and later repent and apologize to you? Such stories are edifying.
2. name some bloggers who are authors and do not allow comments. Brian McLaren, John Eldredge, John Piper, Greg Boyd come to mind. Who are some others?