Handling Criticism part 1

At our church we’ve been focusing a lot of our attention on relationships. The reason for this is that we believe our job description as Christians is to “makes disciples” [See Matthew 28:19]. The most productive way of making disciples or followers of Jesus is by way of relationships. Few people, if any, will allow you to try to persuade them to become Christians outside of having an ongoing, friendly relationship with them.

Relationships are like bridges. They come in all kinds of sizes and strengths. The bigger and stronger the bridge, the more you can drive over it. When a relationship (bridge) is being built with a new acquaintance, it must be built big enough and strong enough so that it can handle the “traffic” of discussions about spiritual things. In other words, I may be able to talk about trivial things like the weather with a person I hardly know. But if I want to ask a question like, “Do you believe in life after death?” I can’t expect much of an open dialog with someone I just met. It does happen once in a blue moon, but most of the time this new acquaintance is repelled and thinking, “Who are you to be asking me something like that?!?”

This brings me to my subject – criticism. Good, strong relationships can handle criticism. Can yours?

Some quotes might help us get started. I checked the world-wide web and, sure enough, there’s a lot of info out there. Here are some famous people quoted:

“He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.” Abraham Lincoln

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” Winston Churchill

“If it’s very painful for you to criticize your friends – you’re safe in doing it. But if you take the slightest pleasure in it, that’s the time to hold your tongue.” Alice Miller

 Not surprisingly the Bible also has much to say about criticism. Here’s a small sample:

Proverbs 15:31, 32 [NLB] – “If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. 32 If you reject criticism, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding.”

Matthew 7:1-5 [NLB] – “Stop judging others, and you will not be judged. 2 For others will treat you as you treat them. Whatever measure you use in judging others, it will be used to measure how you are judged. 3 And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? 4 How can you think of saying, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log from your own eye; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

The first thing that became clear to me from scripture was that, while constructive criticism can be a good thing, judgment is not. I did a little word study here. To judge is used of those who act the part of judges or arbiters in matters of common life, or pass judgment on the deeds and words of others. The word “criticism” is not used in the New Testament. I think the concept is covered in the word “convict” or “conviction”. It is used in John 16:8 as a ministry of the Holy Spirit, so it must be something good. Many times it’s translated “rebuke”. It is defined as to bring to the light, to expose, correct; to call to account, show one his fault, demand an explanation.

Here’s an example of constructive criticism from a biblical perspective:

Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. 24 The Lord’s servants must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone. They must be able to teach effectively and be patient with difficult people. 25 They should gently teach those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will believe the truth. 26 Then they will come to their senses and escape from the Devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.” II Timothy 2:23-26 [NLB]

I see a difference in attitude in constructive criticism over judgment. In this scripture God’s servant is patient and kind, not quarrelsome or argumentative. His words of correction are given only for the purpose of helping this poor soul caught in a devilish trap, not for any self promotion or such.

Here’s another passage that gives insight into helpful criticism:

Dear brothers and sisters, if another Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. 2 Share each other’s troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ. 3 If you think you are too important to help someone in need, you are only fooling yourself. You are really a nobody.” Galatians 6:1-3 [NLB]

Notice again that the motive is to aid this person caught in sin. There’s no room here for pride or kicking a wounded soul while they’re down. This is exposing the problem, in love, and extending a helping hand of escape.

If criticism can be this loving and powerful – and it can – we’re going to need to take a closer look at it. We need to know what to receive and what to reject. Plus we’ll need to understand how to give criticism in a way that it can be received.

So, follow along with me if you’re able and we’ll dissect this important truth.