In his book Life Essentials, author Tony Evans remembers how one of his favorite professors at Dallas Seminary, Dr. Howard Hendricks, told the class of how his fifth-grade teacher had tied him to a chair in an attempt to make him behave. When he went to sixth grade, his teacher eyed him and said, “So you’re Howard Hendricks. I hear you’re a bad boy, but I want you to know that I don’t believe a word of it.”
Believing the best about someone in the face of their bad behavior or cruel words is not an easy thing to do. Suspending judgment in the hope of change involves love, takes faith, and requires hope. But, reflecting on this story and the story of God’s grace, the Christian, above all, is called to do this very thing. More than anyone, the man or woman saved by God’s matchless and marvelous grace should be willing to give someone a second chance.
This is true because love believes all things (1 Cor. 13:7). Love informed and transformed by God’s love is eager to believe the best. That does not mean that love is undiscerning or gullible; it means that it gives the benefit of the doubt. Love retains its faith and doesn’t become cynical and censorious toward other people. It doesn’t like to think the worst until it has no other choice.
This is true also because the gospel has us anticipating that people can change through Christ. What they are is not how they will stay once touched by the transforming grace of God. We see this in the renaming of Simon to Peter (John 1:42). This new name was a prophetic statement of what grace would make out of this weak, vacillating, and impetuous man. Peter means “rock.”
Again, this is true because we can be wrong about people. The classic example of this is the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas over whether to take Mark—who had failed them once before—on a mission’s trip (Acts 15:36–41). There was no meeting of the minds, and so a rift took place. Barnabas took Mark with him, believing that his future would be better than his past. Time seemed to prove Barnabas to be right since, in his last letter, Paul acknowledges the usefulness of Mark in the ministry (2 Tim. 4:11). Time can prove us wrong about people, so we need to give them time.
Who is the Howard Hendricks in your life?