Friday, June 3, 2011

Thinking critically about criticism

If we have anything to say that has a sharp edge of truth there is one thing we can count on:  criticism.  When criticism comes, how do you discern what's valid from what's merely someone grinding their axe and aiming their red hot sparks in your direction? Certain kinds of criticism is good like the kind that point us back to the truths of the scripture and are intended to help us keep our hope and focus on Christ. Other kinds of criticism is bad like personal attacks when someone disagrees with what you say based on their opinion. These seem like they are easy to discern the difference but when you throw in our tendency to justify ourselves, we can be left blind to our own faults and failures.

It's like a never ending cycle of he said, she said. When you have a diverse group with diverse gifts and diverse likes/dislikes you have a recipe for disaster if each person is out to shape everyone else into their image. It'll never work. It just stirs up strife and contention. Everyone is "right in his own eyes" and Christ is out of the picture. What a mess!

Then what? What if you find yourself in such a situation? What if someone criticizes you and you can't make heads or tails of it? Pray? Check. Read scripture? Check. Listen to God's Spirit within? Check. Talk to a faithful brother or sister about it?

"So and so said so and so about me because I said so and so.  What is your opinion?"

Okay, but does that just perpetuate the he said she said? Who can you trust? Who can you confide in? Where can you turn?
I ask alot of questions, I know. Maybe that is my downfall, maybe it is good. Maybe it keeps me on the straight and narrow. Maybe it just leads me in circles. "A double minded man is unstable in all his ways."  So what does a single minded man look like cuz that is who I want to be.

A single minded man would be the man who says what comes flowing from his innermost being. Or he would be the man who says what everyone wants to hear every time he opens his mouth. They may even be the same man who is so conditioned to what others expect of him that what proceeds from his depths are the outpourings of his programming. I don't want to be that kind of single minded man either. That doesn't sound like a man at all. I'd rather be the single minded man who says what's on his heart and isn't afraid to say it because he trusts his heart to the One who made it.

Back to criticism...what if we take criticism with a grain of salt, let it roll off like water off a ducks back? Is that arrogant? Probably in someone's eyes it is. How about in God's eyes? That is what matters, right? If we truly believe that Christ is in us and His Spirit is guiding us, who is there that can criticize? Answer:  Only those who speak for Him and not for themselves. How do we know the difference? Answer:  We can tell the difference because as they criticize, we sense the rebuke of the Spirit within. Now I am answering my own questions. I must be unstable. You may think so, but I don't and that's what matters (to me anyways).

Without our Spirit led conscience crying out there is no use giving criticism a second thought. I am convinced that the best thing to do is say what you mean and own it until the Spirit tells you otherwise. If our tongue needs some taming, he will let us know. Till then, we shouldn't quench the Spirit within us. We can't give in to the fear of man leashes that those who are trying to form us into their image want to put around our neck. We must either bark back or take their hand off, but we must not bow down.

I think of Paul's words:

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1Cor 4:3-5 ESV)


  1. Good stuff here Bobby.....criticism is a tough go, especially when taking it for what you think is doing the "right thing". I do learn from those who have God's best in mind when rebuking. Again, it's discerning that creature that is key.

  2. Tom,

    right on, discernment is key. We could all use a little more discernment both before we act/speak and after the criticism comes. How would you respond to what you discern as bad criticism, especially from someone you love and respect?

  3. what if we take criticism with a grain of salt, let it roll off like water off a ducks back? Is that arrogant?

    arrogant or apathetic?
    There may be something to discovery in every criticism. Bobby, your writing suggests that you often make good use of criticism received.

    Words can be misunderstood as criticism when truly intended and best received for exploration, interrogative, caveat... A defensive & paranoid culture to avoid?

  4. Marshall,

    thank you for that. I think apathy is a much better description for just ignoring criticism. I have found something useful in almost every criticism I have received, the rest I guess I just let grace and love cover it. No sense letting it blow all out of proportion, just take what you can receive and move on.

    I'm not sure how we could avoid the culture but I do think we can overcome it.


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