Recently I was reading a very good book by Coleman Luck, on wolves in the church. There was a statement he made that stood out to me that I just could not stop thinking about. One that not only believers but even the world hears often. Here is the quote:
“As a Christian, you struggle to believe the best about other people.”
Take the word Christian out and this is something that is taught almost universally. The old saying “give someone the benefit of the doubt”
the benefit of the doubt
The withholding of judgment so as to retain a favorable or at least neutral opinion of someone one or something when the full information about the subject is not yet available. 1
Definition of the benefit of the doubt
“ the state of accepting something/someone as honest or deserving of trust even though there are doubts. He might be lying, but we have to give him the benefit of the doubt and accept what he says for now.” 2
The problem is not with the statement itself but rather with how we often misunderstand and apply it as believers. Most will automatically give all trust and confidence to the person in “doubt” and ignore the facts and what their gut is telling them. Rather than set the boundaries of discernment and watching and weighing spiritual evidence and conduct (fruit of the Spirit); many are driven by guilt to reject the doubt as thinking evil against a fellow believer and therefore lacking love of the spirit towards them. So often verses come to mind to condemn our gut feelings, such as:
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
1 Corinthians 13:7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
1 Peter 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
When in fact these verses are not meant to condemn or guilt us into setting aside our doubts but should rather encourage us to practice love as we doubt, test and fact check and use discernment. If one follows the context of Ephesians 4:32 and goes further to read chapter 5, remembering that there are no verses or chapter splits in the original language, you will see that chapter 5 deals with walking in love and gives specifics on how we are to discern and apply, love, with the truth:
Eph 5:9 (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)
Eph 5:10 Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.
Verse 9 speaks of the fruit of the Spirit in goodness, righteousness, and truth, speaking of how our conduct and behavior should be.
Everyone of us knows that truth many times is not pleasant, hence the saying “the cold, hard truth” but it is required by God. One problem is we just simply don’t know how to embrace truth when it is ugly and still exhibit love; but to be able to follow and apply verse 10 “proving what is acceptable unto the Lord”, we must learn and practice love in the midst of the cold hard truth. Love and truth go hand in hand. Loving correctly and in a healthy manner isn’t easy as it does require us to discern and act righteously and justly. “Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord”, this is not a discretionary act on our part.
I have noticed that most times that I have spiritually veered off into the proverbial ditch, it has been because I set aside the testing that Scripture requires to prove someone’s teachings. I like what they said even if little to no scripture were used in or out of context. Or I took someone else’s “word” for a teacher and didn’t bother to fact check. I fail and stumble due to my lack of applying and using discernment as outlined in the Scriptures. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt, even by the world’s definition has an investigative end to it. “withholding judgement….when the full information about a the subject in not yet available.” Means we continue to look for and study the facts as they come to light about someone or something.
Philippians 1:9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,
Yes, we are to be kind, tender hearted and longsuffering to one another but we never set the truth aside or ignore it. To ignore the truth voids our acts of love and kindness and makes them foolishness. Accordingly, setting love aside turns the truth into a weapon, rather than a reconciler and healer.
Pro 12:18 There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Eph 4:15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
Pro 14:25 A true witness delivereth souls: but a deceitful witness speaketh lies.1Jn 3:18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
““Truth” is never to be sacrificed to so-called “charity”; yet it is to be maintained in charity. Truth in word and act, love in manner and spirit, are the Christian’s rule.” 3 (esword: Jamieson-Fausset-Brown)
The Scripture’s above emphasizes that truth and love must be adhered to and practiced together, otherwise both become not only ineffective but unhealthy. Even in love the truth is difficult at times. Paul pointed this out in Galatians 4
Gal 4:16 Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? In practicing walking in love and truth, it doesn’t always mean things will go well, often it won’t. We must remember that the truth remains fixed, unchanged, and absolute. Which makes it difficult and hard to hear even when presented in love. We must be willing to hear and accept truth, to reject it is to accept a lie, there is no in between.
So, when we give someone the benefit of the doubt it should be with clear, strong reservations and boundaries so as not to be duped and deceived by blindly setting aside testing and trying of the spirits.
deceived heart — The heart and will first go astray, then the intellect and life (Rom_1:28; Eph_4:18). (esword Is. 44:20 notes)
According to 1 Corinthians Love rejoices in the truth. In 1 Peter we have purified souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in unfeigned LOVE.
1Co 13:6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
1Pe 1:22 Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently
The use of discernment, testing and fact checking in the church at large today is and has been almost nonexistent. Most will blindly, give the benefit of the doubt and accept incoming ministries brought to the congregation by the pastor or board without question, If questions are brought, the cycle of offense starts. I call it a cycle of offense because most times when questions are asked leadership, pastors, elders etc. feel their authority is being challenged; often the reaction is negative and there is an immediate dismissal of the question/challenge and the person who brought it are in essence marked as divisive. Yet two other doctrines that are not taught correctly, true authority and the asking of questions is not being divisive, which are other subjects for a later time.
Leadership/authority should never be offended nor dismissive of questions and scrutiny.