What happens when you make assumptions? ‘Assume makes an ass of U and Me’, the saying goes, and this can be so true. In Acts 21 and 22, we see the dangers that are inherent in assumptions. The Jewish crowd assumed, without taking the trouble to check, that Paul had brought Trophimus into the inner court of the temple (Acts 21:29); Claudius Lysias assumed that Paul was an Egyptian terrorist (Acts 22:38), described by Josephus as ‘an Egyptian false prophet’ who, about three years previously, had assembled 30,000 men, led them to the Mount of Olives, and promised that, when the walls of Jerusalem fell flat at his command, they would be able to break into the city and overpower the Romans. The procurator Felix and his troops intervened, and these fanatical nationalist assassins were killed, captured or scattered. (Josephus, ‘Antiquities’, XX, 8.6; Wars, II 13, 5, quoted in John Stott’s commentary on Acts, P 347). This assumption was shattered when Paul spoke to him in educated Greek; he had to revise his opinions.
We often make assumptions based on appearances or preconceived ideas. This can work in different ways, assuming someone who is well dressed and articulate to be a person of substance or that someone who looks dishevelled and speaks with an accent to be less educated, or judging people according to their apparent wealth (or lack of it.) James speaks against this kind of prejudice in his letter (James 2:1-13), and there are enough stories of people dying in apparent poverty being revealed later to have vast fortunes to remind us that appearances can indeed be deceptive. God had to remind Samuel the prophet that His ways go beyond the surface appearance: ‘When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”’ (1 Sam 16:6-7)
Paul was not who the Roman commander had thought he was. So often, people are not who we think they are; we fail to see God’s image in them and judge by the world’s standards. Jesus Himself said, ‘Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.’ (John 7:24) Let’s do our best to avoid assumptions, check facts and be prepared to get to know people and situations before we wade in with our conclusions!