Criticism: An Ever-Present Temptation

criticism.jpgWith 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:

1. We should pause and be sure that our hearts are right. Ask: Do I really want to help or hinder? Which will I be doing? Read: Matthew 7:12 and Ephesians 4:29.

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.

3. We should try to put our selves in the place of others. Ask: How would I be doing if I were bearing his burden or laboring in her place? See: Romans 15:1-2 and Colossians 3:12-14.

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

About a fellow sojourner

a sojourner in life, trying to follow in the steps of Jesus.
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16 Responses to Criticism: An Ever-Present Temptation

  1. Good advice for a preacher to hear. Thanks for edifying me again.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  2. Neva Cooper says:

    Bill,
    So glad you are back. I missed you.
    This is a very good reminder for all of us. When my children were growing up, they got so tired of hearing Eph. 4:29–I worked really hard to convince them and me that everything that crosses our minds does not necessarily need to come out of our mouths. We all still need to be reminded of that.
    Thank you Bill
    Peace and Prayers,
    Neva

  3. Nan says:

    Being critical and judgmental is part of our humanness. From what I know and have seen, it resides in all of us to some degree. I am thankful that my life experiences have taught me that anything can happen to anyone, no who they are. Coming from very judgmental parents I have tried all my life to see beyond the action, into the heart and soul, although I am not always successful. Thankfully forgiveness is available to us, through God, when we mess up. I have copied and will print out your list of what we can do before we criticize and it will be an every day reminder to me. Thank you.

  4. Donna says:

    Good words for a “non-preacher” to hear too…. Thanks Bill

  5. janice says:

    this is a very good post, thanks

    hope you got over your fall! 🙂

  6. Lisa says:

    The hardest area for me to conquer is when I’m with friends who begin criticizing someone else, and I get wrapped up in it. I guess that’s called “gossip.” That’s what I see as my biggest struggle with criticism. When someone else criticizes the same thing I would, I feel justified in my own critical thinking. I also plan to print out your “checklist” and make sure I avoid these situations in the future. Thanks, Bill!

  7. TL says:

    Good post. I’m way too critical and I do it to hinder. I’ll do better in this area starting today!

  8. reJoyce says:

    Unfortunately, there is much to be critical of in this fallen world. I think point number three is my biggest weakness – in that I am critical when someone does not handle or do things the way I think they should be done. But, maybe that is really what all criticism stems from in the first place.

  9. Preacherman says:

    Great post. We all need to hear this message and practice it in every church if we are to be effective in the 21st century.

  10. Martin says:

    Being critical and judgemental isn’t Christ-like.
    Thanks for sharing!

    -Martin.

  11. Kathy says:

    Surely am glad you’re back, Bill. This is a much needed reminder.

    Personally, I have to watch it within the confines of best friends venting. It’s so easy to fall into the critical, poking at whatever, whomever within the confidentiality of a close friendship. Again you have given me an area to meditate on and pray about.

    As I said, welcome back!!

  12. Jim Martin says:

    Bill,
    A really good reminder. Thanks very much!

  13. Maggie says:

    Challenging.

    I love Ephesians 4:29, too. “…speak whatever is useful for building OTHERS up according to THEIR needs that it may benefit all who listen”.

    Lately, it’s about my needs or my kids needs being overlooked. I think I have some re-evaluating to do myself!

    Thanks! And thanks to Neva for the reminder of that long ago memorized verse.

  14. Bobby R. says:

    Bill,

    I don’t mean to be critical about this post, but ….

    Just kidding. Thanks for a very helpful post. I know I need it.

    — Bobby

  15. abundantlife13 says:

    I just said this same thing on Neva’s blog the other day; a friend told me many years ago to not offer advice if it is not requested. I find this intensely difficult, as I come from a family legacy of criticism. But it really changed the way I view feedback. This week has been incredibly hard in this area, as I have students who could do better in their clinical processes with some feedback. Figuring out how to offer this is like going across a tightrope on my nose! I gave some feedback to a student last week about her writing, and it was enough (even though I felt as though I was really fair and tender) to bring her to tears. I felt so bad, and yet her essay was SO much better come Monday morning. Criticism and feedback are tough for me as I am a process improvement person, always looking for ways to make things better. This is often my positive expression of my critical nature! But there are things that just need to be left alone, as not everyone or everything want or need to be improved. Thanks for your words; I ALWAYS need reminders and encouragment on this topic.

    Yes, abundantlife13. We all need these sorts of reminders, especially those of us who come from a family legacy of criticism. May God help us to live the abundant life Jesus promised and truly be overcomers in this life. -bill

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