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An astonishing biblical description of Christian believers is that “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). What can this mean? God knows all things. We do not. His knowledge is infinite. Ours is finite. His mind is incomprehensible. Ours is completely comprehended by our Creator. So when God’s people sing, “The LORD. . . knows the thoughts of man” (Ps. 94:11), we worship the One who knows what we do not.

But sometimes, we act as though we do know what God knows, especially with regard to the thoughts and intentions of others. We hear their words and witness their actions. We may even know something of their context. Even so, when we make assumptions about another person’s motivations, we have strayed off course by presumptuously prying into what is hidden from us. One helpful indicator is the word “because.” If I say, “He said that because . . . ,” then I have likely rendered rash judgment on my neighbor’s heart. When I have done that, then I have also borne false witness about someone made in God’s image.

Westminster Larger Catechism 143–45 reminds us that the ninth commandment forbids misconstruing the intentions, words, and actions of others, as well as raising false rumors, evil reports, or evil suspicions about them. God’s law requires that we charitably esteem our neighbors by believing the best about them and defending their innocence both in public and in private.

Isn’t it often the case that when we are most confident that we have rightly interpreted another’s intentions, we’ve really gotten it all wrong? The Bible records plenty of such examples. In Numbers 32, Moses misunderstood the motives of the people of Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. When they asked for the land of Gilead, Moses accused them of laziness, selfish opportunism, twisting Scripture to their own advantage, and bringing needless discouragement on Israel. But God justified their intentions. Moses was wrong.

Later, when these same tribes built a monument as a testimony to the Lord, Phinehas the high priest accused them of rebelling against God and sparking conflict (Josh. 22:9–34). Again, God defended the tribes, showing that their act of devotion was sincere. Phinehas was wrong.

Then there was God’s servant Job. Satan entered God’s heavenly tribunal bringing an accusation that Job served the Lord for no other reason than his health and wealth (Job 1:9–11; 2:4–5). Job’s friends rehearsed the same complaints. Through forty-two agonizing chapters, the Lord upheld Job and proved him to be blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. Satan was wrong. Job’s friends were too.

In earnest prayer, we need to seek the Lord and ask Him to transform our minds and renew our hearts.

That sort of religious judgmentalism was present in the scribes and Pharisees as well. Matthew’s gospel records that when Jesus healed a paralytic whose friends faithfully brought him to the Lord on a bed, the scribes immediately accused the man of intentionally perpetrating a fraud. In a stunning plot twist, Matthew tells us that Jesus knew their thoughts and unmasked their wicked suspicion (9:1–8). Religious pride very dangerously masquerades as righteous piety. Christian men and women need to be especially careful in this regard. If “for the sake of the gospel” or “in defense of the truth” we run roughshod over our believing brothers and sisters by casting judgment on their intentions and failing to give them the benefit of the doubt, we commit grievous harm against the kingdom. The Lord will stop us and confront us (Prov. 19:5).

That’s exactly what He did with His disciples. When they arrived in Capernaum, Jesus asked them what they had been heatedly discussing along the way. Of course, He already knew the answer to His own question, but Luke’s record reveals to us something wonderful about the Lord Jesus:

An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.” (Luke 9:46–48)

Jesus knew full well that selfish ambition drove the disciples’ discourse. But He asked the question to shine light on the sin and, at the same time, to reveal His magnanimous heart toward them. As the Twelve were embroiled in egocentric rivalry of a distinctively devoted sort, Jesus counted them as His friends. He demonstrated gracious compassion and named them children of the King. Likewise, the love of Christ is freely offered to those of us who realize that we, who far more often than we would like to admit, have protected and promoted ourselves rather than protecting and promoting the good name of our neighbor. Jesus draws near to help us.

Perhaps a Christlike mind first recognizes how unlike Christ our natural thoughts actually are. In earnest prayer, we need to seek the Lord and ask Him to transform our minds and renew our hearts, clothing us with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5). A Christlike mind is one so consciously suffused with the knowledge of God’s grace that it instinctively thinks generous thoughts of others. When someone speaks to us in a way with which we disagree or offends us personally, it is our solemn duty to either overlook the offense or to go to him open-handedly. If we are unable to resolve legitimate differences, then God calls us to believe and speak the very best about our neighbor at all times and in all places.

May God help us to know Christ and love others in this way, bearing all things and believing all things (1 Cor. 13:7).

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