It’s my experience that one of the most kind and useful things we can do to facilitate edifying relationships with other believers is to assume they have good motives. When I don’t recognize that a fellow Christian is sincere in what I perceive to be his error, it is far too easy to dismiss him or demonize him. Too often, I’ve treated a brother in error as if he is a brother wanting to be in error. The truth is that there is no other kind of brother but a brother in error while we are in this human body, and few of us want to remain in error.
My human instinct is to want to shout to the world how wrong a person is, rather than go to him alone and gain a brother–or simply keep my disagreement to myself, if the situation warrants. If he demonizes me, or attributes bad motives to me, I am certainly not likely to learn much from his advice or wisdom–which might otherwise be quite beneficial to me. I ought to apply the Golden Rule and treat him with the same good assumptions about his intent to do what is right.
This is one of the things that went terribly wrong in Christian circles during the 1900s. There was a great religious awakening in America during the 1800s, but people turned their guns on their brethren and fought amongst themselves. I have a large stack of various religious newsletters from the 60s and 70s, and many of them contain serious personal attacks on the motivations of fellow believers. I don’t attribute bad motives to these editors and writers. I know they were doing what they thought was right, and perhaps they grew out of their ways later in life. I know I would hate to be judged by things I said and did years ago.
But it’s amazing how much we can accomplish in shining the light of Christ and edifying one another by simply acknowledging the fact that the Lord judges the heart of man so that we don’t have to.
- 1 Corinthians 4:5 – Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God. (NKJV)
Only when we impute good motives to our brother will we be able to have a relationship with him, and relationships are the key to edifying one another in love. We can’t encourage someone whom we attribute bad motives to, nor can we be spurred on to love and good works by him. We humans have a way of judging by outward appearances, but we can thank God that He alone judges the heart. We ought to always think the best of someone, knowing we would want them to do the same of us.