Beware of Imputing Wrong Motives
A PROMINENT television evangelist issued a scathing denunciation of a fellow preacher for committing adultery. Within a year, however, the accusing evangelist was caught with a prostitute.
In another case, a leading world power sent out emissaries to bring warring factions to the peace table. Meanwhile, the same nation covertly dispatched its arms dealers to foreign nations to peddle billions of dollars’ worth of weapons.
Since blatant hypocrisy has become so common, is it any wonder that skepticism has largely displaced trust? For many, questioning the motives of others has become second nature.
As Christians, we must be careful not to allow such attitudes to affect our relationship with faithful fellow believers. Though Jesus Christ urged us to be “cautious as serpents” while among our enemies, he did not say that we should be suspicious of his true followers. (Matthew 10:16) So, then, what are the dangers of imputing wrong motives to others? In what areas must we be especially careful to avoid such an inclination? And how can we safeguard our precious relationship with fellow Christians?
A Lesson From the Past
Imputing wrong motives to others without just cause is tantamount to judging them. It is as though we are jumping to the conclusion that their words or deeds are merely a subterfuge hiding something devious and malicious. Often the real problem lies in a mistaken view of matters, as can be seen from the Bible account found in Joshua chapter 22.
The Israelites had completed their conquest of the Promised Land and had just received their tribal territories. The tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh built an altar “great in conspicuousness” by the Jordan River. The other tribes wrongly assumed that this was an act of apostasy. It was supposed that the three tribes were going to use this great structure for sacrifice instead of going to the tent of meeting in Shiloh, the appointed place for worship. At once, the accusing tribes made preparations for military action.—Joshua 22:10-12.
To their credit they communicated with their Israelite brothers by dispatching an official delegation headed by Phinehas. Upon hearing the charges of unfaithfulness, rebellion, and apostasy against Jehovah, the supposedly offending tribes explained their reason for this huge altar. Rather than being an altar for sacrifice, it was to “be a witness” to the unity of the tribes of Israel in worshiping Jehovah. (Joshua 22:26, 27) The delegation returned home satisfied that nothing was amiss with their brothers. Thus a civil war and terrible bloodshed were averted.
What a lesson for us never to be quick to impute wrong motives to others! Often what appears to be true from a mere cursory observation is found to be entirely different upon closer examination. This is true in many aspects of the life of a Christian.
Our View of the Elders
In discharging their responsibility “to shepherd the congregation of God,” at times elders find it necessary to counsel various individuals in the congregation. (Acts 20:28) For instance, how do we react if an elder speaks to us about our children on such matters as bad association or improper conduct with someone of the opposite sex? Do we assume that he has a hidden motive and say to ourselves, ‘He never did like our family’? If we allow such feelings to influence us, we could be sorry later. The spiritual welfare of our children may be in jeopardy, and we should appreciate helpful Scriptural counsel.—Proverbs 12:15.
When a congregation elder counsels us, let us not look for some veiled motive. Rather, let us ask ourselves if there is some way that we can benefit from his Bible-based counsel. The apostle Paul wrote: “True, no discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous; yet afterward to those who have been trained by it it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:11) So let us be grateful and think matters over objectively. Remember that it is often as hard for the elders to give us counsel as it is for us to receive it.
Feelings About Parents
When faced with certain parental restrictions, some young people question the motives of their parents. Some youths might say: ‘Why do my parents make so many rules? They must not want me to enjoy life.’ Instead of drawing such a conclusion, however, younger ones need to analyze the situation objectively.
Parents have spent years caring for their children. This has been done at great sacrifice materially and otherwise. Is there any reason to conclude that they are now determined to make the life of their teenage children miserable? Is it not more reasonable to think that love motivates these parents to protect their children and care for them? Would not the same love be prompting them to place certain restrictions on their children, who now face new challenges in life? How unkind and ungrateful it would be to impute wrong motives to loving parents!—Ephesians 6:1-3.
Our Attitude Toward Fellow Christians
Many tend to prejudge others and stereotype them. What if we ourselves have had such an attitude and have been somewhat suspicious of certain people? Could we be influenced by the world in this regard?
For example, suppose that one of our spiritual brothers has a fine home and an expensive automobile. Should we automatically conclude that he is a materialist who is not putting Kingdom interests first in life? Some Christians may be able to afford fine things, but that does not mean that they have bad motives or are not “seeking first the kingdom.” They may be very busy in spiritual activities, generously using their material assets to promote Kingdom interests, perhaps in an unobtrusive way.—Matthew 6:1-4, 33.
The first-century Christian congregation was made up of people of all types—rich and poor. (Acts 17:34; 1 Timothy 2:3, 4; 6:17; James 2:5) God does not evaluate people on the basis of their financial standing, and neither should we. We should love our proved and faithful fellow believers, “doing nothing according to a biased leaning.”—1 Timothy 5:21.
In this world that lies in Satan’s power, stereotyping and suspicion take various forms. For example, a person may be viewed as being violent or materialistic simply because of his background. As Christians, however, we must not fall victim to such attitudes. Jehovah’s organization is no place for bigotry and suspicion. All true Christians need to imitate Jehovah God, with whom “there is no unrighteousness or partiality.”—2 Chronicles 19:7; Acts 10:34, 35.
Be Motivated by Love
The Scriptures plainly say that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) So we need to view our fellow worshipers as those united with us in striving to render acceptable service to Jehovah. If we have allowed suspicion or other negative feelings to affect our relationship with a spiritual brother or sister, let us pray for God’s help to combat such an attitude so that we do not fall prey to Satan. (Matthew 6:13) He convinced Eve that Jehovah had bad motives, was not concerned about her welfare, and was withholding freedoms that would make her truly happy. (Genesis 3:1-5) Our imputing wrong motives to our brothers serves his ends.—2 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Peter 5:8.
If we find that we have a tendency to impute wrong motives to others, consider the example of Jesus Christ. Even though he was the perfect Son of God, he did not look for bad motives in his disciples. Instead, Jesus looked for the good in them. When his disciples were vying for a position of prominence, he did not assume that they had corrupt motives and replace them with 12 new apostles. (Mark 9:34, 35) Being imperfect, they may have been influenced in some way by the culture of apostate Judaism, with its emphasis on pride and class distinctions. Jesus knew that the basic motivation of his followers was love for Jehovah. For displaying such love and for sticking with Jesus, they were greatly rewarded.—Luke 22:28-30.
If we were to look at our faithful fellow believers suspiciously, this would be like looking at things through a distorted lens. Nothing would appear as it really is. Let us therefore look through the lens of love. There is plenty of evidence that loyal fellow Christians love us and deserve our kind consideration. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) So may we show them love and beware of imputing wrong motives.
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How do you view others who faithfully worship God?
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Trust and respect make Jehovah’s Witnesses one happy family