The outworking of Biblical commands is sometimes clouded by cultural differences and existential struggle. We may know in abstract what the commands of Scripture say, but how to apply them in any given situation may sometimes allude us without careful thought. We have, previously, explored Paul’s description of Biblical love. In particular, we focused on his language of “love believes all things” (1 Cor. 13:7), stating that this is best understood as love believes the best. So, what then does it look like to believe the best about others? Believing the best of others involves at least three key elements.
It starts with a level of humility towards others. Often we get into trouble in our interactions by making assumptions. We assume we have more information than we do. We assume we know the motives of others. We assume that only one possible explanation is logical in the face of information we have. Conversations can sharpen our understanding and nuance it in important ways. Asking questions of one another instead of making accusation, listening to one another, and seeking to understand one another are invaluable to relationships.
This is particular true in the current political climate in which we sit. Instead of assuming that because someone shared that article on Facebook, marched in that protest, or made that statement they must believe a certain way, it is worthwhile to ask questions. Currently, it’s helpful to note that many Christians support the value of black lives but do not support the organization known as Black Lives Matter. Asking questions to discern the difference gives one another the benefit of the doubt and offers an opportunity for clarifying conversations. Just because someone supports John MacArthur’s “protest” in California does not mean that they deny Coronavirus or that they are anti-government. Asking questions may allow you to see their concerns from a slightly different vantage point. We do not believe the best when we start calling brothers and sisters in Christ “Marxists.” Nor do we care for one another when we start guilt by association campaigns. Reading certain authors, or being friends with them does not mean you agree to everything they say and do. We are not all privy to the countless closed-door conversations that happen among friends where challenges and dialogues occur.
Believing the best of one another also means that we judge based on character. Judging someone based on what we know of their character, and not on behavior that seems out of step in the moment, is an act of kindness towards others. We all know that we are imperfect and we act in ways that are inconsistent and inconsiderate. We want others to remember who we really are when we do things that are out of character. Therefore, we ought to treat others as we want to be treated (Matt. 7:12). We want to give each other the benefit of the doubt and, again, ask questions to clarify our understanding. When someone does something that doesn’t seem like them I want to believe that it is genuinely out of character. I want to approach it with confusion, not assumption or accusation.
Finally, love believes all things, means that I trust what I am being told unless evidence concretely confirms to the contrary. One of the common troubles we run into with misunderstanding is we believe we are being deceived, tricked, manipulated, or otherwise lied to by others. When someone explains themselves I should trust them, I should accept their explanation. If they have a pattern of deception or the evidence simply doesn’t add up, then it is appropriate to corroborate facts, but in general we should trust one another. I do not have the right to define someone’s beliefs, motives, or attitudes based on the script in my head. Perhaps they are being inconsistent, or perhaps I am not seeing the whole story, or perhaps we are both biased with regard to some details, but I should not assume them dishonest when I have no reason to distrust. One of the major challenges occurring presently in our culture is the tendency to be more influenced by media then by meaningful relationships. Don’t allow Twitter, Facebook, Fox News, or CNN to tell you what your friends believe and who they are. Be more influenced by the relationships in your local church and neighborhood than by the Internet.
Believing the best is hard, but love “believes all things.” In my next post we will attempt to explore, in greater detail, why this is so hard for us. As you’ve read this, however, reflect on those with whom you are easily frustrated in the church. Are you willing to believe the best about them? Of the three specifics mentioned, where are you weakest? How can you grow in loving others as Paul descries in 1 Corinthians 13:7? Love believes all things; are you loving others?