“We should fear and love God that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, or give him a bad name, but defend him, speak well of him, and take his words and actions in the kindest possible way.”—Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism
Some of you might be familiar with this quote, but for those who aren’t, this is from the reformer Martin Luther’s explanation to the commandment God gave us to “not give false testimony against our neighbor.” I’m good with the lying and betraying part. But the second half of that explanation may be my downfall, particularly the “take his words and actions in the kindest possible way” part.
I could blame it on watching too many murder mysteries and not enough Hallmark or getting into grunge and alternative music in my formative young adult years. Truthfully though, too often in the past I’ve guessed wrong in favor of a person’s innocence, only to be let down. Also truthfully, I’ve held on to others’ past sins and villainized their every action in the aftermath.
The consequences of assuming the worst about someone all the time aren’t pretty, and this isn’t God’s way. We’re to assume the best until we have reason and proof to know otherwise. Then, with that knowledge, we are to love like Jesus. This kind of love: “Jesus knew Judas’s heart, yet he still washed his feet” I found that quote on Pinterest. But think about that. Jesus knew the worst and still loved zealously.
Long before David was the second king of Israel, he was on the run from Saul, the first king of Israel. A lot of people in Israel didn’t know the behind-the-scenes information we know. They saw David as the problem. Since he was no longer in Saul’s court and Saul was the king, they figured David must have rebelled. (Note: this is NOT taking a person’s words and actions in the kindest possible way.)
In truth, Saul’s heart wasn’t in line with God’s will. David didn’t go after the throne. God determined David would be the next king while David was still tending his father’s sheep.
But Saul wanted a dynasty, and that meant his son Jonathon must be king. For that to happen, David, God’s anointed and chosen replacement of Saul, had to die. So Saul spent years chasing David to take his life.
With love and respect that could only come from God, David refused to kill Saul even when he had opportunity. He refused to set the record straight too. David didn’t go around the country telling Israel how bad the reigning king was. He knew the truth and trusted God knew the truth too. That was enough for David.
And that’s a big part of this commandment. Knowing the inside information doesn’t mean broadcasting the inside information. Maybe a person is doing plenty to ruin his or her reputation. Maybe no one else knows or sees it. It isn’t my job to defame the person. If that person is living a double life and I’ve taken steps to lovingly confront the person about his or her sin to no avail, then my part is over, even if nothing changes. If church discipline is in order and I’ve gone through the proper channels, it’s in that person’s lap. If I still see no notable change, I need to follow David’s example, knowing the system failed David but God never did.
God help me take people’s words and actions in the kindest possible way. Help me to pray, love, and know you have it under control, even when that’s not what I see. Your Word says everything hidden will be revealed, and I trust you to do so in your time and way . . . without me opening my mouth.