It's all about perspective, my friends.
If there's one area in life where people have the most difficulty, it's deciphering the actions and intentions of others. Have five different people witness the same complex social exchange and ask them what they witnessed. You are bound to get five different interpretations. Why is that? Is it because some of the five have an agenda, or is it simply because they "just see things differently"? Actually, it's more likely because, as people, we have a tendency to view the world through a filter.
You've heard of viewing the world "through rose-colored glasses", meaning that the viewer thinks everything's just fine, refusing to acknowledge the hardships of others? This is a similar concept, except those glasses we're looking through are ourselves. We see life, the world and others through a filter of our own past, our own motives, our own intentions. We use this filter to gauge the intentions of others, to base our conceptions of their actions.
This can cause major issues in dealing effectively with others, in social situations, in business, in all aspects of life. If someone who has (or has had) a very self-centered view of the world sees someone else being very charitable, they inevitably assume ulterior motives. Likewise, someone who is a bit naive and who has a caring disposition views someone mistreating another, they may tend to assume there was some very good reason for things to go that way.
As believers, how are we to view the world and interpret the actions of others? Isn't this just how God made us, as people? Shouldn't we interpret the motives of others through the process we already use? I tell you, NO. As new creations in Christ, we are no longer to operate in the flesh and in our own devices, but we are to filter everything we think and do and say through Christ, revealed in the Word. We are to seek His direction in all things, and not to lean on our own understanding...In anything, ever. No matter how good the path of the flesh looks to us at that moment and in that situation.
So, what does that really mean, in everyday life? In its simplest terms, it means that we do not assume. Ever. If we have a history of selfishness and idolatry, we cannot use that history to discern the motives of others. If we did, we would only ever see the worst in others, always assuming the worst, and life would be a real mess for ourselves and anyone unlucky enough to be around us. Someone genuinely being kind to another would to us look like they were out to get something for themselves.
If we are young and naive, we cannot always use our simple kindness to discern why people behave the way they do. If we did, we would never see the evil of others operating purely in the flesh, and we and those around us would be open to attack. Someone horribly mistreating us and others would be assumed to be in the right, and the enemy would be allowed to operate freely in our midst.
In Christ, there is balance. Matt 10:16b "Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." We are to forgo our own interpretations and instead discern all things in Christ through the Word. Only then, when we can really hear from God on all things, can we be sure to understand what is going on around us and why people are doing and saying the things they are. Until then we should be careful not to judge, and instead temper all things with caution, following Christ's example. If you have a question, ask. If you have a problem, address it with the other person. In this way, we can be protected from attacks of the enemy that come in the form of misunderstanding, causing division.
That's what Matthew 18 is all about; protecting ourselves and others from this kind of attack by testing all things and always bringing all issues to the transparency of the Light of the Truth.
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector." Matthew 18:15-17 NIV
If we follow God's pattern on this, we can rest assured that, if there are issues, we have made every effort to handle them in a Biblical fashion. Hopefully they will be easily resolved as misunderstandings in this way. If not, at least we know we did all that we can, and did not judge in the flesh and in secret. In this way, we know it was not our own, possibly distorted perspective that may have caused an issue (or inflated a small issue into a much larger one), but all things were tested according to the Word and with the testimony of witnesses.
This is the only perspective we should seek to attain; that of Christ in all things. Anything less is worthless flesh and will ultimately only lead to destruction. Our own, and potentially that of others who we've led astray by operating in the flesh in the first place.
Until next time...