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Looking Past the Surface: Judging Others

I remember the first time I learned not to judge others until I had all of the facts. I was thirteen or fourteen at the time and not a Christian yet, which proves that God can teach anybody. I was watching an episode of a private investigator show called Cannon. The investigator got into his car and drove downhill on a busy city street. Even though he pressed on the brake, the car kept speeding up and refused to stop. He eventually had to swerve several times to avoid hitting pedestrians and other cars.

I do not remember how he finally stopped, but I do remember the lesson. Anyone looking at only the surface information, anyone who did not have all of the information or who did not know the investigator, anyone who was drawing a conclusion based only on the facts which they could immediately glean from the surface, would have judged that he was speeding or that he was drunk. But anyone who would have taken the time to look past the surface and gather all of the facts would have known that he was not speeding and that he was not drunk: someone had cut his brake line in an attempt to kill him.

The Scriptures contain several stories in which people judge others based on the facts which they can see on the surface. One of those stories is in 1 Samuel chapter 1. Elkanah had two wives, Peninnah and Hannah. Every year Elkanah would take his family to the tabernacle to worship the Lord. Peninnah had children but Hannah did not, facts which Peninnah made sure Hannah knew full well every time they went to the tabernacle. One year Peninnah’s teasing was so bad that Hannah ran to the tabernacle to pray. It was the custom in those days to pray out loud. The high priest, Eli, saw Hannah praying, but he did not hear her voice: “Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore, Eli thought she was drunk” (v. 13). He was so certain of his conclusion that he rebuked her for it: “How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!” (v. 14). However, once Hannah gave him the rest of the facts, he changed his tune: “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him” (v. 17).

How often do we draw conclusions about our brothers and sisters in the Lord and even condemn them based on facts which we can see on the surface? And how often do we not look past the surface and wait for the rest of the facts? Paul says that love “does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). Does that not mean that love does not immediately condemn based on surface facts but waits until the truth comes out? He also says that love “thinks no evil” (v. 5) and “believes all things” and “hopes all things” (v. 7). Does that not mean that love assumes the best instead of assuming the worst? If we see a brother or sister doing something that can be interpreted as something sinful, would it not be better to humbly ask him or her for the rest of the facts?

Jesus did not say that the world would know that we are his disciples because we claim to be Christians or because we go to church or because we live holier lives than the world does. He said they would know that we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). That means that we Christians should be loving our own better than the world loves its own. Are we?

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