I’ll never forget it. My first thought was, “What was his motive or motives for such a horrendous act?”
In 2009, the New York Times reported that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a military psychiatrist, shot and killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others at the Fort Hood Army base in Central Texas. ¹
Last week, I wondered about the motives of whoever was sending package bombs to media and political figures around the country.
Fortunately, the police and FBI arrested Cesar Sayoc, 56, of South Florida as the prime suspect in the bomb mailings. Based on evidence collected so far, his motive appears to be extreme hatred of left-learning politicians and public figures.
Being a sociology major, I am extremely interested in what makes people tick. Crime shows fascinate me. In these shows, the question of motives always comes up either in the show or within my own mind.
Why Do We Want to Know a Person’s Motive?
- To indulge our curiosity;
- To know how to prevent future civil or moral disobedience;
- To judge others;
- To know how we can help solve others’ problems through acts of kindness; or
- To pray for them.
In my blog titled Our Motives, Intentions, and Attitudes—Part 1, we discussed how to analyze our own motives. In Part 2, we will be looking into how we judge other people’s motives and whether it is right or wrong to do so from a Biblical perspective.
As we approach this topic, let’s remember that as we look upon the motives of others, they are looking back at us with the same inquiring mind, wondering, in turn, what our motives might be. Sometimes it is obvious; other times it is not.
When we judge (or try to analyze) the motives of others, our own belief system, personal experiences, desires, and other peripheral factors always come into play—affecting our perception of others.
Are We Judging Others When We Look at Their Motives?
Motives can be good or bad, so we must balance how we view motives very carefully: we can’t always determine the motives of a person just by their behavior, deeds, or talk.
I must admit, when I was in my early twenties, I went to Sunday School to learn about God, but I had a double-motive. I wanted to find some dating possibilities. My motivation was what most Christ-followers can accept—the desire to find and date someone with like spiritual beliefs. While not 100% pure motives were involved, most accept and understand my dual motives.
Scrutinizing others’ motives should entail looking at our fellow human beings with the goal of glorifying God. Our words and thoughts should be gentle and humble—always seeking the best outcome for the other person. In this scenario, we would be looking at others in a righteous manner.
When we look at motives in an unrighteous way, our judgments are usually inconsistent with the way Jesus looks at us. Rudeness, roughness, humiliation and deviating from looking at others through the eyes of our Lord is prevalent today. Just look at many of our current political debates where intolerance and a lack of respect exist.
In 1 Chronicles 19, David was fleeing from King Saul and he received help from the Ammonite King Nahash. Nahash and David teamed up and together took on Saul and his army. Nahash eventually died and David, who succeeded Saul as King of Israel, tried to reach out to Nahash’s son King Hanun, but Hanun and his advisors became leery of David’s motives.
David’s men tried to express sorrow for Nahash’s death. Instead of accepting David’s offer of peace and alliance, Hanun humiliated the envoys by shaving their beards and cutting off their garments in the middle.
If Nahash would have taken the time to confirm David’s intentions, things would have turned out differently. Instead of harmonious relations, war broke out between them, and Israel defeated Nahash’s kingdom in Aram.
It didn’t take long for Hanun to decide that King David was insincere in reaching out to give consolation regarding his father’s death. But, he was dead wrong in his analysis.
King Hanun was easily influenced by his princes. Just like Hanun, we allow our friends, spouses, employees and previous experiences to color our attitudes, knowing full-well that adhering to God’s Word should be the primary motive in guiding our actions. Hanun’s princes should have given him time to think through and evaluate David’s kindness.
Instead they asked:
- Do you think that David’s servants came to Hanum in the land of the people of Ammon to comfort him?
- Did you think that David really honors your father because he has sent comforters to you?
- Did his servants not come to you to search and to overthrow and to spy out the land?
In these questions, we see an unreliable group of people who probably had their own motives and agenda in mind to influence the King.
When we look at others, our mind, soul and spirit should be in alignment with the mind of Christ. Seeking God’s perspective on our psyche, spiritual life, and experiences guides us to a true discernment of a person’s motives; this helps us assist them in becoming in tune with God’s ultimate will for their lives.
Through prayer, the Holy Spirit’s guidance and a deep desire to live in the spiritual realm, we can gain an understanding of the intentions of others—most of the time!
The Bible says,
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.” (Luke 6:37)
“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)
What Does the Bible Mean When It Says, “We Are Not to Judge Others”?
In an article titled, What does the Bible mean that we are not to judge others? by GotQuestions.org, it says:
- The Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean there should be no mechanism for dealing with sin. Christians are often accused of judging or intolerance when they speak out against sin. But opposing sin is not wrong.
- The Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean we cannot show discernment. Jesus is giving us permission to tell right from wrong. In Matthew 7:15-16, Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them”—the false prophets.
- Jesus gives a direct command to judge: Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly. (John 7:24)
- We are always to be gentle toward everyone. Harsh, unforgiving judgment is wrong. (Titus 3:2)
- Self-righteous judgment is wrong. We are called to humility, and God opposes the proud. (James 4:6)
- Untrue judgment is wrong. The Bible says to slander no one. (Titus 3:2)
- Believers are warned against judging others unfairly or unrighteously, but Jesus commends right judgment. (John 7:24) ²
When sin is involved, discerning the motives of others might be the difference between leading a person back to the Lord or letting him continue in sin, thus having him miss out on God’s best for his life.
One time, a prominent member on the school board of the Christian school where I was employed either didn’t like me or misunderstood my motives. Unfortunately, it resulted in me losing my job. Being unjustly criticized (without recourse) by another purported Christ-follower was an extremely painful experience. In a situation like this, a discussion of the situation would have been very helpful in my understanding the member’s motives and, eventually, my forgiving this action. Instead, long years of speculation have occurred.
Another time, one of my best friends misunderstood why I did not congratulate her and her daughter when they “walked down the aisle” upon her daughter’s acceptance of Christ. I was oblivious to the hurt feelings my friend experienced and how upset she was with me. Providentially, my friend called me up and brought my attention to her hurt feelings; thus, reconciliation occurred immediately.
In the first situation, there was no room for discussion, and years and years have passed where I am still haunted about what happened regarding “being let go” because there was no resolution.
In the second scenario, motives were discussed, handled, forgiven, and we were able to move on to a life-long friendship which is deeper than ever because we learned the correct way to handle it.
Discerning the Motives of Others
Reading others’ motives is a skill.
It’s important to remember that not all people’s motives are bad. Many motives are downright positive, e.g. wanting to help someone be all the Lord wants them to be.
In How to Read People’s Motives by Western Mastery, this article discusses why we might want to discern the motives of others.
Their reasoning is because when we know the motives of others, it helps us to know their intentions, helps us to gain insight, how to respond, and how to address their behaviors; ³
When we want to help others to yield their lives to Christ and to His character, discerning their motives might be just the catalyst the Lord wants to use to change their lives.
Misreading the Intentions of Others
On the other hand, it is extremely easy to make a snap judgment about someone or their behavior. Misreading others’ intentions is quite probable. We can misconstrue why people are jealous, fearful, and/or lazy.
We must be extremely careful not to undermine a person or their behavior without cause.
For instance, jealousy can cause a person to question a comrade’s motives because they might feel that their comrade is taking a rightly-earned place or position which the person believes should have instead been his own. Tragically, misreading motives could lead to future scheming, avoidance or even feeling unduly threatened or resentful in the comrade’s presence. In the workplace, this could culminate in a co-worker believing they deserve the promotion or the higher-paying position when, in fact, they do not deserve either one.
What Should We Do When We Question the Motives of Others?
Let’s face it—we are human beings and we sometimes wonder about the motives of others. It may be a cursory glance or a scrutinizing in-depth evaluation.
Some tips are:
- Don’t rely on a preconceived notion about others. People change. God DOES change people;
- Don’t depend exclusively on first impressions or our intuition;
- Find out all the facts before judging a person’s motives (and especially before addressing them);
- Put yourself in someone else’s shoes; and
- If you have misjudged someone, apologize and reconcile as soon as possible.
A person’s background, personality, and life experiences may clash with yours, but that doesn’t make you right all the time and them wrong.
Being raised for most of my formative years in London, England or in the northeastern part of the United States, I may not think like some of my friends who were raised in the deep South. My life experiences and spiritual experiences are different than others, but I hope and pray that my friends and acquaintances will look at me through the eyes of God—instead of through my idiosyncrasies.
And especially not in a judgmental way.
When we depend on the Lord, our thinking about others and their motives will be guided by His light and in His wisdom. When we pursue God, He will show us any behaviors or actions He wants us address. Christian love and compassion should rule in our hearts—not negativity or criticism.
In his blog entry about motives, Joshua Kennon warns: “A final word of caution: I would urge you to consider keeping your thoughts on another person’s motivation to yourself.” ⁴ Until Jesus gives you the spiritual wisdom to discern where a person is coming from, keep your ears and eyes open for when, how or even whether you should speak.
When God gives us His wisdom, He will also give us guidance to know how to spur a person to hear God’s voice and experience a deep passion to follow Christ’s will.
Now, that is not being “judgmental”. Far from it!
It’s being a servant of God.
All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the LORD weighs the motives. (Proverbs 16:2)
Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment. (John 7:24)
A man has joy in an apt answer, and how delightful is a timely word! (Proverbs 15:23)
I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds. (Jeremiah 17:10)
I am prone at times to wonder what the thoughts or motives are of others are. I also understand that people, even those I consider friends, question my motives every now and then. I occasionally need my motives questioned and confronted in love. God, please give me Your mind. Give me Your discernment. Give me Your patience. Give me Your ability to speak only when You have led me to do so. Let my life be a replica of You. Lord, I want to represent You in all I do. I really do.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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All Bible verses use the New American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
Edited by E. Johnson
¹ McFadden, Robert D. “Army Doctor Held in Ft. Hood Rampage.” The New York Times, 5 Nov 2009. www.nytimes.com/2009/11/06/us/06forthood.html.
² “What does the Bible mean that we are not to judge others?” Accessed 8 Oct 2018. https://www.gotquestions.org/do-not-judge.html.
³ “How to Read People’s Motives.” Western Mastery. December 28, 2016. Accessed 2018.8 Oct 2018. http://www.westernmastery.com/2016/12/28/understanding-the-motivation-behind-peoples-actions/
⁴ Kennon, Joshua. “To Have a More Successful Life, Understand the Motivations and Motives of Yourself and the People Around You.” Accessed 20 Oct 2018. http://JoshuaKeenan.com/motives-and-motivations-matter.
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