Is it okay to judge someone else’s motives?

You can never be certain that your motives are pure. You know all too well the deceptive nature of your good intentions. Yet, we still tend to trust them. And, we believe the lie that we can know the motives and intentions of others. This combination is destructive to peace, contentment and stable relationships. Solomon makes this warning about motives in Proverbs 16:2:

All the ways of a person are pure in his own eyes,
but the Lord is the one who evaluates motives.

Here are three important lessons to take away from this proverb.

First: Your own motives are deceptive. In short, trusting your motives to justify your actions leads to self-deception.  The phrase, “all the ways” in the verse indicates a complex series of thoughts, which encourages us to believe our actions and motives are pure. Our natural inclination is to think as long as our motives are good everything else will be fine. But the life lesson that Solomon is teaching here is that our motives are not to be trusted.

Second: If you cannot know and reliably evaluate your own motives, then you are not able to evaluate the motives of other people.  So, much of the relational conflict that occurs in families and in life happens because we believe we know the motives of others.  This proverb reminds us that we cannot judge motives. Jesus repeats this warning and adds a strong note of caution in Matthew 7:1-3:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure, you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”

Third: Only the Lord can safely evaluate motives.  Thus, when you attempt to judge motives you are assuming a role that God has reserved exclusively for himself. This leads to disaster. To judge a motive is an attempt to judge the heart. However, the truth is that God alone is the heart-knower.

Judging the motives of others is the gateway to relational chaos. It prevents you from living out the beauty of Christ. Attempting to discern the motives of others means a lack of focus on love. Analyzing motives leads to self-focus. In contrast, the Holy Spirit calls you to focus on peace, patience and putting others first. Jesus tells you to forget about finding the speck in your brother’s eye and to remove the log in your own eye.

Focus on love, not discerning motives.

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This post originally appeared on the Shepherd Press and was republished with permission. 

Jay Younts is the author of Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, and he is the Shepherd Press blogger. He is a ruling elder at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.


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