We know that people do not just act, they act out of motives. Can we know and judge the motives of others through their actions? To judge motives one must be able to judge the heart.

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Over the years I have noticed that one of the chief ways people get into trouble with one another is by judging motives. How often husbands and wives quarrel over what they think lies behind their spouses' words or actions rather than judging those words or actions themselves. How frequently members of the church misunderstand the true goals and objectives of pastors and other Christians while attributing to them all sorts of intentions that never crossed their minds. How seldom do we admit we are only guessing and do not really know what is going on in someone else's mind. We think and act as though we have the ability to read minds, but the fact is, we don't.

The self-appointed mind readers who appear on the stage and on TV do not read minds at all; they use clever methods of deceiving people into thinking they have this power. I can say that with assurance because God tells us so in the Bible: "Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). Those words also clearly indicate that you do not have the power either. So, my friend, you must acknowledge your inability to read minds and motives and stop acting as if you had this power. When you do, things will go much better for you and for the others who associate with you.

The ability to read minds and motives belongs to God alone. When you arrogate that power to yourself, in effect, you claim to be God. It is an act of proud rebellion, lifting yourself into the place of deity. Not only is it idolatrous, arrogant, and heinous to do so, but also it is almost always a sin against the one whose mind you judge. That is because, as sinners, usually we judge others' motives when we are angry, and as a result, we attribute to them many motives, thoughts, and goals that are actually foreign to them. Even when now and then we happen to hit on a true motive or thought, because we couldn't be sure before making the accusation, we sinned in doing so. Instead, until the evidence proves otherwise, we are to make the loving interpretation of another's words or actions, always giving him or her the benefit of every doubt: "Love . . . believes all things, hopes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7).

Let me urge you, therefore, to give thought to the matter. Probably this very day you found yourself judging another incorrectly by judging his motives rather than his words and actions. Confess that as a sin to God and to him. Then ask God to help you stop. Learn instead to judge on the basis of what is yours to do, to evaluate the "outward appearance." Remember too, "By their fruit you will know them." We will know in time, when fruit appears, whether the inner heart of another was in harmony or disharmony with his words or actions; but we cannot know right away. Our judgment of another must always be tentative, giving him the benefit of any doubt in love, subsequent to revision only when the visible fruit indicates we were wrong. Our judgments must, therefore, be functional, not final. Final judgment is God's prerogative. But, since we must function in relationship to others, making judgments about them, we may only judge provisionally, on the basis of what we see and hear, and not on the basis of what we suspect is going on in their minds.

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