Criticism is something we all have to deal with, isn’t it? None of us are perfect, and yet it surprises people when someone makes a mistake. As a pastor I deal with my fair share of criticism, but I also know that I do some criticizing of others. Sometimes I deal with it correctly, other times I don’t. Criticism in itself is not sinful, even though it can be painful. We can take some comfort in knowing that even though Jesus is perfect, He was constantly criticized — and doled out a good deal of criticism as well.
It’s how we deal with criticism (giving and receiving) that sets us apart from others and shows us to be like or unlike Christ.
Two Kinds of Criticism
First, there’s Constructive Criticism which I would define as: Important and relevant information given by a compassionate individual, in a caring way, directly to a person they want to help — even though it might hurt. A wise person understands that “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:6).
On the other hand there is Destructive Criticism which is: Information given (though often not directly) to an individual purposefully meant to hurt them, damage their reputation and break their confidence. It may have grounds in reality, and possibly even be true (though not always), but it is not given to build up, but tear down.
Let Us Be Careful
I feel in my heart that Christians need to be more mindful of how we are giving and receiving criticism. We need to evaluate our words and our motives by testing them with scripture (2 Timothy 3:16), and checking with the Spirit of God (1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1) to see if it is His prompting which is motivating us to speak — lest we become a false prophet.
We may think our critical words are meant to be helpful, and even deserved, but they can be very damaging if not tempered with wisdom from God, grace, love, and a peacemaking heart (1 Corinthians 13:1-8). Ironically, even when we have been the targets of harsh criticism that has hurt us, our response can be to criticize the critic and hurt them back. That only deepens the wounds and feeds the “bitter root” (Hebrews 12:15).
On the other hand, some people need to remember not to give others too much of a voice in their lives. They are in constant fear of someone else’s words, and are kept from obeying what God wants them to do because they live in fear of man. They must learn how to listen carefully, mine out truth, not to be shaken by difficult criticism, to rise above and bear with those brothers and sisters who are being foolish (Colossians 3:13), and to dismiss the words of those who work for the enemy of our souls . It behooves us all to ask God for the wisdom to discern what is being said, and the heart behind the speaker (Jam 1:5).
A Memory Verse for Giving Criticism:
When giving criticism, remember this:
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Col 4:6 ESV)
Two Memory Verses for Receiving Criticism
When someone is giving your feedback directly, or you hear something someone said behind your back, remember:
“Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God” (1 Jn 3:21 ESV)
“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” (Pro 12:1 ESV)