Don’t Mess With Me!
When I was new to the position of Captain there was this older more senior firefighter on the same shift. He hadn’t made Captain yet, and he liked to take shots at me. I handled it either by ignoring him or by simply taking his digs good-naturedly. Until one day, a well meaning supervisor shared that he was concerned I didn’t realize this older firefighter was putting me down.
Man, did that ever mess with my head.
Instead of giving the older firefighter the benefit of the doubt, I began to read things into every word, every facial expression, of not just the older firefighter, but of several other fire department members as well. For the next few years after my supervisor’s comment, my relationship with the older firefighter, and a few others, was a bit wobbly.
How Jesus Loved People–Jesus and Judas
I’ve noticed in Jesus’ relationships with his disciples he was never like that. He always assumed the best in others, he always gave the benefit of the doubt, he always trusted. Peter was somewhat of a bumbler and a stumbler, yet Jesus seemed to trust him anyway. When Peter was asked if he and his master paid the temple tax, Peter had no idea what the answer to that question was–but he answered anyway, incorrectly. Jesus responded with grace that amazes me. And after this little incident, and a few other gaffes by Peter, Jesus continued to trust him, even giving him the responsibility to feed his sheep. (See previous post, Grace for a Trespass, Matthew 17:24-27, see also John 21:15-17)
Even more amazing is how Jesus treated Judas. Like most people, I think Jesus knew all along Judas would betray him. Yet even at the very moment Judas’ knife was penetrating Jesus’ back, so to speak, Jesus calls him friend. (Matthew 26:50) I wonder what was going on inside Judas’ head during the time leading up to his betrayal. Regardless of what was going on with Judas, we see that Jesus loved him, even to the very end.
Do you know someone who you suspect has bad feelings toward you? Do you ever imagine what’s going on inside that person’s head?
In Genesis chapter 12 we see Abraham imagining what’s going on inside the head of Pharaoh and the Egyptian leadership. In this story we see Abraham, the father of faith, speculating that Pharaoh and other Egyptians had bad intentions, intentions of killing Abraham and taking Sarah, Abraham’s wife, because she was so beautiful.
So Abraham concocts this plan based on his imaginings, to save his own skin: The plan is for he and Sarah to lie to Pharaoh, and tell him Sarah is Abraham’s sister.
So Pharaoh, thinking Sarah is available, takes her into his palace. But just as soon as that happens, before Pharaoh has a chance to physically touch Sarah, the Lord afflicts Pharaoh and his family with disease. Then Pharaoh finds out Abraham lied, and he calls Abraham into the palace and lambastes him for it. In the end Abraham and his household are kicked out of Egypt.
So here’s the thing, how much better off would Abraham have been if he gave Pharaoh the benefit of the doubt. For one thing, he wouldn’t have sinned by lying. Our imaginations about what other’s are thinking are very often the root cause of our sins. Abraham imagined the Egyptians would kill him and take his wife. A man imagines his coworker will throw him under the bus to advance his career. A woman imagines her husband’s mother thinks she’s not good enough for her son.
These imaginings result in all kinds of destructive thinking and behavior. And here’s a surprising element of this dynamic: Imaginings such as these result in destructive thinking and behavior–even when they’re accurate! Even if Abraham was correct in his assumption that the Egyptians would attempt to kill him and take Sarah, that wouldn’t have changed the fact that Abraham lied, and put his wife Sarah in an unthinkably vulnerable position. Whether his imaginings were accurate or not, Abraham would have been better off honoring God by telling the truth. If Abraham’s imaginings were accurate, would not God have intervened and rescued Abraham, the father of faith, and his wife Sarah anyway?
Watch and see. In your life, and in the lives of others, where there are assumptions and imaginings about what others are thinking and feeling, you’ll see love quenched, squashed, and extinguished. When she’s sure her close friend is trying to put her down because she’s jealous, when he thinks he has insight that his boss is giving him a garbage assignment to marginalize him, when she just knows her husband thinks she looks fat in that dress, the love God desires us to show these people becomes smothered in our thoughts and imaginings of the possible ill will those others may be feeling.
And think this through with me: If my assumption is wrong, and there is no ill will, then I’m outside of God’s will by not loving that person. Because Jesus told us to “love our neighbor.” (Matthew 22:37-40) He told us to “love one another.” (John 13:34)
So give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume the best in others through their good days and their bad, through thick and thin, and watch what happens to your interpersonal dynamics. I think you’ll find you will experience the following four changes in your relationships if you become intentional about assuming the best in others:
- You’ll find them drawing a little closer to you. It’s natural for people to become a bit defensive when they sense that you’re harboring suspicions. By assuming the best in a person you’re adding value to that person—people are attracted to those who add value to them. By assuming the best in people you’ll become more approachable.
- You’ll draw out the best in that person. The famous German writer Johann Goethe once said, “Treat a man as he appears to be and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he already were what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be.” By assuming the best in a person you’ll give them something to live up to.
- You’ll experience an increased level of joy. If you want to live your life in an emotional basement, play the “what if” game. That’s what we’re doing when we make assumptions about what others are thinking. “What if he’s thinking this about me?” or “What if she’s feeling that about me?” Conversely, when we assume the best in people our minds are focused according to the instruction of God’s word in Philippians 4:8: …whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy. (see previous post on Philippians 4:8-9) The result is a happier, more peaceful, more joyful outlook! Who doesn’t want that?
- You provide an example. A final blessing that comes from assuming the best in people can be the spread of the practice of assuming the best. Who knows, that person you’re interacting with may be inspired to assume the best in the people they encounter. That’s the spread of God’s grace. That’s multiplying fruit for God’s kingdom!
Love Like Jesus
In the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, we’re told, love always trusts. And we see Jesus loved like that, even when he knew about Peter’s faults and mistakes, even when he knew about Judas’ bad intentions. (1 Corinthians 13:7)
So to love like Jesus, assume the best in people, give them the benefit of the doubt, trust them. I can’t tell you how much better off I would have been had I assumed the best in that older firefighter, the one who liked to mess with me. When I trust people, even people who are perhaps unworthy of trust, I’m the one who benefits the most.
If you’re a person who desires to love like Jesus, if you’re a person who desires to reflect the nature of Jesus, trust people, give them the benefit of the doubt, assume the best in them.
You can too.
[You might also like Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? and Grace for a Trespass]