With the tongue we praise our Lord
and Father, and with it we curse men,
who have been made in God’s likeness.
Out of the same mouth come praise
and cursing. My brothers, this should
not be. –James 3:9-10
A few years ago a sister in Christ approached me and asked, “Do you have any information on criticism?” I began to discuss some resources with which I was familiar. She responded with a look of bewilderment. Then she stated, “I don’t need help dealing with critics. I’m too critical. I need help dealing with me.” Our discussion then turned in a different direction. I told her that, in my estimation, her acknowledgment of the problem put her well down the road to spiritual growth in this area.
Hopefully, she is not traveling this road alone. Doesn't experience teach us that she is not the only person wrestling with both the tendency and temptation to be overly critical? Before me is a thoughtful article that has been in my files for years. The concise title is simply “Criticism” . The unknown author provides eight practical and, most importantly, scriptural parameters for keeping the practice of faultfinding in check. The tone of the opening paragraph, however, makes it difficult for me to share it verbatim. In this string of sentences the author’s passion seems to reveal that he has felt the sting of unjust criticism.
Indeed, he is intensely critical of those who criticize! He states, “Such folks exalt themselves to the rank of ‘Lord’ from where they piously pick and peck at others until they have hampered their zeal and hindered their influence. They seem not to know the seriousness of their sin or the severity of their punishment.” Strongly stated, isn’t it? We concur with the author’s point. There does, however, seem to be a bit of room here for generous grace.
While most agree that there is a place for constructive criticism, we all face an ever-present propensity to be overly critical. I hope to bring this issue into focus, without coming across as a “holier-than-thou-goodie-two-shoes” that has this totally under control. I need to grow in this regard. Indeed, we all need to grow in this area. What follows is an adaptation of Brother Unknown’s list of things that each one of us should do before we criticize:
2. We should examine our own lives to see that everything is in order. Consider: Would I be honest to condemn another when correction is needed for my own soul? Read: Matthew 7:3-5.
4. We should remember God’s mercy toward each of us. Ponder: How often have I bowed before God to plead for grace when I have failed? Should I not be as merciful to a fellow-sinner? Read: Matthew 18:21-35 and Galatians 5:13-15.
5. We should consider the benevolence of others. Determine: My brethren have often borne with me, my failures; therefore, can I not now suffer with another? Read: Galatians 6:1-2.
6. We should remember the hurt we felt the last time that someone unfairly criticized us. Ask: Can I delight in inflicting the same hurt upon another? Read: Matthew 5:44-48.
7. We should pray for our brethren and our selves. Remember: I need to petition the Father for my brethren that they might overcome; and for myself, that I might be forgiven for even considering sinning against them. Read: Acts 8:22.
8. We should be willing to go to our brethren in humility. Then I can freely confess my own shortcomings, while seeking to serve as God’s instrument to open her eyes to her need for repentance. Read: James 5:19-20.
These are excellent suggestions. Following them will benefit each of us greatly. However, there is a greater principle to observe. Through the Apostle Peter, the Holy Spirit both states and explains it. In 1 Peter 1:22 the principle is stated: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.”
The idea behind this practice is further developed in 1 Peter 4:8. Here we read, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Love’s conquering power is once again celebrated. The spirit of harsh criticism is covered over and rendered powerless when the prevailing power of God’s love fills our hearts and guides our steps. Let us strive, always, to resist the temptation to harshly criticize one another. Beloved, as our Lord has commanded, let us love one another.
© Bill Williams