The Gospel and Criticism

Posted on October 18, 2010 · Posted in Communication, Criticism_

“That’s a bad idea! How could you think of something that awful?”

“That’s a pretty good job. But you know, if you just did this one part a little bit more carefully, it would be really great.”

“That stinks!”

“That is not what I told you to do.”

“Well, maybe next time you’ll do better.”

The five examples of criticism listed above are painful to read and even more painful when you are on the  receiving end of them. Hearing someone’s unkind and unfair criticism does indeed present a trial and a challenge. It becomes even more upsetting if this type of criticism is directed at one of your children.

The Bible has some direct comments about criticism, especially unfair criticism.  If we are to live out of a worldview that is biblically framed, then the first consideration must always be how I respond in light of the claims of the gospel on my life. The good news of the gospel informs me that it is not my responsibility to make everything right and fair and to correct all wrongs. Rather, my response should be to consider how God wants me to respond to this criticism. How can I bring honor to him right now? You see, if your desire is to first correct wrong and insure that you and your family are treated fairly, you have overstepped your bounds.  Is it really your job to enforce justice for you and your family. No, it’s not. The administration of justice is God’s job, not yours (see Romans 12:17-21). You could not ever make things right, even small things, by your own will and desire. God has called you to trust him for justice. If you are Christ’s, you are no longer your own. God will administer justice as he sees fit—it is your job to love and obey him as his Word directs.

Therefore, from a gospel-based perspective your first thought when you receive unfair criticism should focus on how you can return good for evil—because this is what God has done for you. Through Christ, God has taken the evil things that you have done toward him, placed them on Christ, and given you life. God has not treated you as your sins deserve. This is how he wants you to respond to unfair criticism. The flesh cries out for a quick comeback that puts the critical speaker in his place. This cry is often heeded  because it “feels” like the right thing to say. But God calls on his people to respond in a way that is not natural. He calls you to give grace instead of anger.  Self-centered anger calls for a quick, witty put-down. In contrast, the Holy Spirit says that a soft answer turns away wrath.

This provides some insight as the truth behind Proverbs 17:10 indicates:

A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a fool.

Granted, this proverb speaks of a wise rebuke. But if your habit is to bristle at criticism, you will seldom recognize the value of a wise rebuke. James advises that you should be quick to listen and slow to speak. Even if a particular criticism seems unwarranted, you would be wise to consider whether there may be something in the remarks that you should consider. In any event, a quick, cutting response is not one that displays the beauty of the gospel. This is an important point to consider as you work at being a Christ-like example to your children. If you do not model the grace of Christ’s love in your conversations, who will?

Yes, unfair, stinging criticism is difficult to receive. But the power of the cross is made available to you through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We no longer have to live as the world does. We can live in the joy and awe of our Lord and Savior who calls us to be like him in all that we do.

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Jay Younts
John A. (Jay) Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger, and is a ruling elder serving at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He has written Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, Finding the Right Track, the In Touch With Paul stewardship series, and What About War. He has studied and taught about biblical childrearing for 30 years. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.