The movie Catch Me If You Can, starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio, tells the story of Frank Abagnale Jr., who defrauded people and organizations for years. He posed as everything from an airline pilot to an attorney. Abagnale was able to succeed in his deception because he knew how to make people assume that he was what he said he was. He learned some of the phrases. He put on a convincing show.
While we may not be out to defraud people, we all assume things about others and try to present a side of ourselves so that people will assume certain things about us. The gospel has a lot to say about how we interpret others’ actions and motives. In 1 Corinthians 13:7, Paul writes, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” God’s Word gives an outline in this verse for how to assume the best about others.
Love That Bears and Believes
The longer I walk with Jesus, the more I am thankful for His patience with me. He bears with our sins, failures, complaints, and foolishness. Paul has Jesus in mind as the One who bore the cross on our behalf. It was the Father’s love that gave our Lord the cross to shoulder, and it is Christ’s love by the Spirit that bears with us continually. Therefore, God sustains us not because He is like some frustrated parent, simply putting up with us. No, divine love bears with us because it is bearing us along.
Accordingly, if we are secure in the Savior’s long-suffering love, we will not simply put up with our fellow believers. That’s not what Paul has in mind. Instead, he envisions our making others look good by our love toward them when they are at their worst. The Westminster Larger Catechism, outlining the duties prescribed by the ninth commandment, tells us what this looks like. It is “a charitable esteem of our neighbors” that involves “covering of their infirmities” (WLC 144). Imagine what covering our neighbors’ infirmities would do for our daily lives (see 1 Peter 4:8).
But love not only bears with others; it believes the best about others. With this clause, God’s Word focuses our attention on our attitudes toward others. Because of our sin, we tend to think the best about ourselves and the worst about others. When we do this, we open the door to slander, gossip, and a host of other evils. Our pride rises up in sinful pleasure when we hear about the moral failure of a fellow believer.
As usual, the gospel turns our expectations upside down. It teaches us to assume the worst about ourselves all the time and the best about others all the time. When we do this, something wonderful happens. We begin to celebrate God’s triumphs in others. Instead of rejoicing when they fail, we hurt along with them. We turn from envy to empathy. We choose to see others as God sees them: struggling fellow pilgrims.