“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 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.
2 thoughts on “The Gospel and Criticism”
As Steve Timmis and Tim Chester state in “Gospel-centred Life”: “My life is to be of such a calibre that only grace can produce it and only God receives the glory” (pg. 9). Only God’s grace allows us to receive criticism graciously.
Lately I find myself the regular object of what I would consider “unfair criticism” from someone I have weekly contact with as a member of a particular group. It has been painful. I have been racking my brain with the question, “How can I come back with a witty remark that will cause this person to treat me with more respect?’ Obviously, I was asking the wrong question. This blog has shown me that God is calling me to a higher standard. Oh, I need His grace. Thank you for the timely word, and thank you Jesus once again for rescuing me from myself.