Respect, we are told, is important in a relationship for that relationship to be healthy. Relatedly, it is hard to truly treat another person well when you have a bad attitude toward that individual.
These are not new ideas. The Word of God, for thousands of years, has given divinely inspired advice on how to best get along with others, though, as is often the case with God’s wisdom, men frequently fail to heed what God has said.
The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian church, stressed the need to get along with one another, and in that context of fighting division and animosity within the church, Paul emphasized the importance of love. Guided by the Holy Spirit, he famously gave some of the characteristics of true, godly love in the 13th chapter of that epistle.
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NKJV)
Notice the attitude love should have: love thinks no evil of others. That is, love, when given the opportunity, assumes the best of other people, giving them the benefit of the doubt. This does not make love naive; we must accept that sometimes other people do evil things. But, what it does tell us is that we should be slow to assume the worst; instead of jumping to conclusions about another persons motivations, love assumes, absence evidence to the contrary, that the other is acting under the best of intentions. This helps us also understand what is meant by “believes all things,” and “hopes all things.” Love wants to assume the best of the one who is being loved and wants the best possible outcome for that other person.
Practically speaking, this is one reason why God has always commanded that it is necessary to verify accusations made against other people with two or three witnesses, rather than merely relying on the say-so of a single individual. (cf. Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15; Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19) The judgments we make about other people need to be righteous judgments (cf. John 7:24), based upon the actual truth of the matter, not based upon our preconceived ideas, or unverified hearsay. Even when what you hear conforms with what you already believe, you should verify the truthfulness of what you have heard before accepting it; especially when it is a matter dealing with the reputation or actions of another person.
This is one of the reasons gossip is so destructive to relationships. Well do the scriptures advise us: “A perverse man sows strife, And a whisperer separates the best of friends.” (Proverbs 16:48, NKJV) How many friendships have been ruined because one part of the friendship has accepted gossip about the other friend? “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.” (Proverbs 26:22, ESV) Gossip has a way of making us think the worst of people, instead of the best, and it is hard to forget what we have been told. As we discover salacious details, it lowers our opinions of those we might otherwise think well of.
The solution is to avoid the activity of Gossip and refuse to participate in tale-bearing. Instead of reporting on the negative about others, focus and talk about the positive. Speech influences thought and thought influences behavior toward others. Sound speech, which builds up others, is what God commands, and in so doing we will be working on establishing strong, loving relationships. (cf. Ephesians 4:25-32). We ignore God’s word in this matter at our own peril, and the peril of our friendships and relationships with others.
The church of Christ invities you to come and worship and study with us as we work on developing strong friendships and ties through obedience to the word of God, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.