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.