My granddaughter is currently in her second year of confirmation classes. In looking over her copy of Luther’s Small Catechism, I came across this explanation of the Eighth Commandment:
The Eighth Commandment You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
What is this? or What does this mean? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.
I added the bold highlighting of the final words, because they really struck me. How generous am I in the thoughts I have about others, and the words I speak about them? I may refrain from telling lies or spreading gossip, but am I generous enough to give them the benefit of the doubt, especially when their actions seem questionable or even wrong to me? Do I refrain from speaking about something that may be true, but is still damaging? I have to admit that no, often I don’t. This isn’t right and it isn’t how God expects us to behave. Nobody knows everything about another person. We don’t know what trials they are going through; we don’t know if they are dealing with mental or physical distress; we don’t know what kind of childhood they had or what pressures they’re under. There is so much we just don’t know, and so we should always try to be understanding and generous in how we judge others.
Here’s another good piece of Biblical advice from the book of Matthew:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Matthew 18:15
Instead of stewing about what I think is wrong with someone’s behavior, or mouthing off about him to another person, I need to go directly to him and confront the issue. Maybe I’ll find out that I’m the one in the wrong because I misunderstood; maybe I’ll give him a chance to apologize; maybe he’ll even change. Maybe I’ll just be glad I gave someone the benefit of the doubt — don’t we all want someone to extend us the same generosity?