A couple years ago, a longtime friend let me know that she was disgusted with me before she proceeded to cut off communication. She laid out the case for why she thought I was essentially a narrow-minded bigot, based on some assumptions she had made not about my actions, but about my motives for my actions. Since we lived far apart and rarely interacted, these assumptions weren’t rooted in a firsthand knowledge of my life but purely on what she had surmised from afar. Although I am guilty of many sins, I was innocent of the specific ones she was assuming. I was deeply hurt. How could she not, as an old friend, give me the benefit of the doubt?
Although this was a painful experience, it didn’t take hours of thorough introspection to acknowledge that I am frequently guilty of the same uncharitable behavior toward others. I may not express my assumptions aloud, but I often jump to conclusions about the motives of others. How easy it is to assume that my husband wanted to hurt me with that comment or that a friend doesn’t value me because she didn’t invite me to that event. I uncharitably assume the worst far too often.
We make assumptions all day, every day, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Our powers of reason, deduction, analysis, and conclusion are God-given and necessary to navigate the world in which we live. But when we deal with our brothers and sisters in the Lord—and everyone we encounter, for that matter—these powers must be mitigated by love. Assuming another person’s motives can lead to wrong conclusions and bitterness, and thus God calls believers to act charitably towards one another.
“Over all these virtues, put on love,” Colossians 3:14 tells us. And 1 Corinthians 13 describes love as protecting, trusting, hoping, and persevering. Together, these are encompassed in the idea of being charitable: choosing to believe the best about another when the circumstances make their motives unclear.
In a world intent on tallying up microagressions and cutting off “toxic” people, Scripture’s declaration that it is to a man’s glory to overlook an offense seems radically countercultural and even counterintuitive. And it is. Choosing to believe the best about someone when their motives are unclear goes against our nature. We tend to put entirely too much faith in our own ability to weigh the hearts of others. But who knows the hearts of men? Only God, according to Proverbs 21:2. We can and should judge actions as right or wrong, good or bad, but motives are not for us to assume.
Ultimately, when we choose to believe the best about another person, we honor the image of God in them by treating them as we would want to be treated. If we’ve been on the receiving end of uncharitable assumptions, we know how it stings, and we don’t want that pain for our fellow image-bearers. We honor God by trusting him with the task of weighing their hearts. And while it’s unnatural and uncomfortable at first, choosing to be charitable toward one another not only honors God and others, but is freeing for us as well. It frees us from being judge, jury, and executioner in our relationships. We don’t have to carry around the weight of assuming that others are trying to hurt, offend, or wrong us. We avoid the baggage of bitterness when we choose to be charitable toward others. In doing so, all we have to lose is offense and hurt feelings, and we gain something far greater as we grow in love for one another.
So as we walk alongside fellow sinners, often clumsily bumping into one another or stepping on each other’s toes, let’s remember the grace we have received and offer that same graciousness to others as an act of love to our merciful Savior.