We are going to deal with a subject today that I firmly believe God has put on my heart. I have several reasons for choosing this subject, and one of them is that some folks never get it right in an entire lifetime. There is good and helpful criticism, which leads to improvements, good jobs being done and healthy attitudes among all ages. And there is bad or poor criticism, which usually leads to anger, uncertainty, bitterness and often failure. Do we know how to offer constructive criticism or do we, generally speaking, criticize those around us to make ourselves feel better and more important?
The church family is one major place that criticism can wound, defeat, interfere and limit any good or productive ideas, programs and forward motion. Anyone who sets out to serve the Lord will be criticized — some of it just and some of it unjust. Just criticism is helpful, coming from a loving friend or fellow church member, handled personally, quietly, and can produce great strides of growth and maturity. It flows easily between healthy friendships where hearts are like iron sharpening iron. No criticism is pleasant, but a friendly critic is a gift — a person who genuinely cares about you and your development for the Lord.
Unjust criticism is a different experience altogether. It is usually painful, hurtful and damaging. This comes from a person with an agenda of their very own — one who is determined to pick a fight and win it in ways that exhibit a lack of integrity, spiritual wisdom, love and Christ-like concern. Here are some qualities from which we can learn today about unjust and unfair criticism. Check off the ones you need to work on in your own life.
1. Unjust critics are, by their own nature, faultfinders. It is what they do, like the Pharisees. By their own admissions, they are not encouragers (even when they want to be in their own hearts). I can’t imagine a cause so far from the heart of Christ as that of “fault-finding.” What a busy, tired, defeating life they must lead. “Be ye therefore merciful as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged, condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned, forgive and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:36,37).
2. Unjust critics stir up controversy but don’t really want truth. Truth is fairly easy to come by. You go to the person in question and talk. You pick up the phone and make a call. You bring people together in love. You ask direct questions. You pray and work things out, even if you have to agree to disagree. But unjust critics will not do this because this would lead to resolution and rob the opportunity for strife and drama, which they often crave. Unjust critics love the strife and attention it brings and convince themselves that they are truly fighting the “good fight of faith,” even when they have to fabricate much of that fight. Jesus never did this nor does He condone this practice.3. Unjust critics exaggerate and slant small bits of truth in the favor of their agenda. What bits of truth they do find, they prefer not to know the context or understand in more detail. The less they know, the more they can embellish and build up their own self-worth. And in print or online, or in a class, or even the pulpit, embellishment and imagination read a lot like truth. It’s very captivating and entertaining — good for reader or listenership.
4. Unjust critics leave out larger truth that would hurt their agenda. The whole truth usually hurts the critic’s story and mission. With an unjust critic, you will only hear the portions of the story that supports his agenda. The larger truth is left in the dark, unless you are willing to invest the time to do your own research. Godly people can sniff out an “agenda” and usually go out and get the truth themselves.
5. Unjust critics strain at gnats and yet swallow camels. The Pharisees did this to Jesus relentlessly. “Your disciples didn’t wash their hands.” “You really can’t heal on the Sabbath.” “You even eat with publicans and sinners.” So do unjust critics. Jesus never entered their debate over the gnats and He never entered the “fault-finding ministry.” He was way too busy in the fault-forgiving ministry, thank God.
6. Unjust critics ignore God’s structure of authority. When there is a problem, your first step should be in the direction of God’s biblical authority structure — to the spouse, to the pastor, to the administrator, to the leader. An unjust critic makes himself the authority and inserts himself between all of these God-ordained structures at will. That’s a very dangerous practice and doesn’t solve problems. If the criticism in occurring in a work environment, follow the proper paths to dealing with it quickly and efficiently. Go to the person, discuss the matter openly, engage the immediate supervisor if this fails, and go to the person in charge as a last resort in getting the matter solved so that work can progress smoothly and pleasantly.
We have looked today at half a dozen suggestions for dealing with unjust criticism in our lives. Being on the receiving end can be discouraging, disabling, and defeating. In next week’s column, as we prepare for Easter Sunday, we will look at the other half dozen truths that can change our lives if we will allow them to do so.
Brenda Cannon Henley can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com.