Cynicism and suspicion. Those were the two lenses through which I was viewing our friends when we drove past them gathered outside for a cookout to which we weren’t invited.
Immediately, my heart sank. “Why weren’t we invited? Did I do something wrong? No, I don’t think I did anything wrong, they’re just being inconsiderate and cliquey.” And not long after came feelings of hurt, forgottenness, and ultimately disdain towards them.
As I processed with Adam later on, he encouraged me to think through some of the other possible reasons they hadn’t invited us. He pointed out that we had just gotten back from a vacation earlier that day and maybe they hadn’t realized we were home yet. Or maybe since all their kids are similar ages they were having a little get-together for their school-age kids. Or maybe it was a last-minute plan without time for any proactive invites. Or maybe it just isn’t feasible to invite everyone to everything, and they weren’t being neglectful at all, just living within their limits.
As I considered these other feasible possibilities, I felt my heart begin to soften towards them. “Hmm, maybe they weren’t being intentionally unloving after all. I guess I’ve done the same thing before too. Okay, maybe there is another reason we weren’t invited and it’s okay.”
I never found out the reason why we weren’t invited, nor did I ever ask. But something significant happened: my love towards my friends was renewed when my mindset about them changed. When I assumed the worst about their motives it was easy for me to turn inward and judge. However, when I considered other possible motivations and chose to believe the best, it was easier to love my neighbor.
Choosing to believe the best cultivates love for others in a way that choosing the opposite can never do. I’m convinced that in our current age of cynicism, examples are everywhere: in our interpersonal relationships, on social media, or with the stranger you just met.
Defining “Believing the Best”
So what does it biblically mean to believe the best? We find our most direct answer in 1 Corinthians 13. And while this chapter is most often recited during wedding ceremonies as an idealistic love song, it’s best understood as a charge to the church to love one another in the face of pride and disunity.
The Corinthian church was plagued with factions and pride. They were divided over teachers (1 Cor. 1:10-17), they were rejoicing in wrongdoing (5:1-2), they sued one another in court (6:1-11), they were self-serving and gluttonous at the Lord’s supper (11:17-22), and they envied one another’s spiritual gifts (12:12-31).
It’s here that Paul gives us insight into our question by exhorting this unruly church with “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (13:7)
“Believing all things”, or believing the best, is choosing to see the actions and motivations of another as neutral or positive. It is to act, rather than react, to give them the benefit of the doubt. We are summoned to scrutinize our own sinful motives and yet be quick to extend grace towards the motives of others.
This is not easy, however. The risk of this sort of love is great. It’s a risk to our pride and to potential hurt.
- Risk to Pride – Pride falsely assumes everything is a personal affront against us. It filters everyone’s actions through how they impact us. And when someone’s actions challenge our comfort, security, or beliefs, pride makes us the judge of whether or not they were in the right. Pride says, “How could they do that? They lack wisdom and character and probably don’t deserve my love.” Believing the best (or humility) says, “Their actions are questionable but they’re probably doing the best they can and I’m sure I don’t see the full picture. What are other possible motives? How is God working?”
- Risk of Hurt – Believing the best risks personal hurt because we might ultimately be proved wrong. Sometimes you believe the best only to find out someone actually did mean to do harm. It hurts and feels unfair, and we wonder why we even show grace in the first place. But grace isn’t fair, and it’s good news that God didn’t give us what we truly deserve.
Does believing the best mean we ignore sin? Should we wear rose colored glasses and pretend all is perfect? No, we are called to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves (Matthew 10:16). Believing the best according to scripture is a call to filter actions through the lens of grace. Biblical love acknowledges possible hurt but still decides to bear, believe, hope, and endure all things.
Why does it matter?
This is of infinite importance because believing the best increases our capacity to genuinely care about others. It stops making the relationship about us and puts the focus back on God and His calling to love others indiscriminately.
The Bible also tells us that love does unto others as we would have them do to us. And in the case of believing the best, would we not want others to believe the best about us?
Love fleshed out
So what does this practically look like?
Love looks like when your friend hasn’t responded to your text from a few days ago, and you choose to believe that maybe she didn’t see your message or maybe she’s overwhelmed and hasn’t had time, rather than taking it as a personal attack.
Love looks like when you see that mom on Instagram post yet another picture of her perfectly decorated home and you choose to believe that she’s using it as a platform to inspire creativity in others instead of a space to boast in her talent.
Love looks like when someone in your small group tweets something politically opposing to your beliefs and you choose to believe that they have done their research and didn’t flippantly land on their position.
Love looks like when your friend makes a sarcastic joke about you and you choose to believe that they weren’t aiming to be malicious in their words, they were just lacking a little prudence or didn’t know it would be hurtful.
Love looks like when your waiter gives you poor service, you choose to believe that maybe he’s had a hard day and couldn’t shake it off before coming into work.
Love looks like when you see the missionaries you financially support going on a vacation and you choose to believe that they are being wise stewards of their money, and they have the freedom to enjoy a trip.
And maybe the hardest of them all, love looks like when you’re hurt by someone’s actions and you choose to believe God is making something beautiful out of that person, even if you can’t see the full picture.
At the climax of this calling is Jesus, who perfectly loves, patiently endures, and graciously believes the best of us, even in our rebellion. While we were enemies of God, He died for us (Romans 5:8). We don’t bear, believe, and endure all things through grit and self-reliance but rather through humble recognition of God’s grace. If it weren’t for Jesus believing the best about us and risking hurt, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
May we be a people who take the risk to believe the best. The result of such love is always worth the cost.