During a recent conversation, a friend expressed irritation over comments made to her about her children’s behavior. “If there’s one thing that ticks me off, it’s when people say things about my kids,” she fumed. The desire to protect your children is innate, so quite understandably, it hits a nerve when others point out their faults. My friend admitted that she has great respect for the critic (in fact, she eventually got the whole story from her kids and dealt with them accordingly), although she did not appreciate the manner in which it was delivered. After all, who among us really welcomes and enjoys criticism? The topic of children may be especially sticky, but the root issue has nothing to do with any particular subject matter. People just don’t like to be corrected…about anything…ever.
As Christians, we are called to endure all criticism graciously, regardless of the commenter’s character or manner of delivery. That isn’t to suggest we act upon every piece of advice given to us, but we must be kind in our immediate response to the speaker. But what happens later? My friend’s reaction was a textbook example of what most of us do, most of the time: we make excuses so the comments glance off without penetrating heart or mind…and that isn’t difficult to do. The qualifications (or I should say “disqualifications”) we levy come in countless variations of two basic forms: finding fault with either the comment or the commenter. In my friend’s case, the person had spoken rather judgmentally and the harsh tone sent her guard up straight away. Yet I believe 90% of Christians would have responded similarly – with a mixture of hurt, frustration and indignation. Because the criticism was not given humbly, it quickly met the necessary criteria to be discarded by its target. The problem is that, as later determined, the comments weren’t altogether wrong. This doesn’t change the fact that the critic should have seasoned their words with salt and humility, but it does expose a dangerous error in our logic: truth, conviction and wisdom don’t come in impeccable packages.
It’s no secret that Satan ceaselessly schemes and plans man’s undoing, and Christians present a unique challenge to these plans. His tactics are carefully tailored to each individual, so it is crucial that we know our own weaknesses; he certainly does. When human feelings get nicked, the alarm is triggered for our minds to secure our hearts, thus the advent of excuses and disqualifications. Be sure that Satan depends upon this failsafe sequence to prevent all that widespread growth in wisdom and grace. And since “all truth is God’s truth,” there are varying degrees of edification to be gleaned from every criticism, even if it’s merely how to turn away wrath with a soft answer. Mankind is inherently sinful, and when we seek (consciously or otherwise) to disqualify correction or advice, we will undoubtedly discover some cause to do it: “I’ve known her a long time, and she has no room to talk about ABC,” or “his tone was downright rude,” or “she ought to worry about XYZ instead of telling me what to do.” The end result is thousands of missed opportunities to better ourselves, and if we subscribe to that line of thinking, we should never be so presumptive as to advise anyone else. In short, evil wins because we protect ourselves from good.
God always uses imperfect people (there is no other kind) to bring about his perfect purposes. We should learn how to gently correct and admonish, honestly applying biblical standards and the Golden Rule. But more importantly, we must ask the Holy Spirit to override that internal alarm system. Such defenses shield us from that which God intends for our sanctification but which our selfish pride perceives as a direct threat…because that’s precisely what it is! Pride convinces us we know everything, or at the very least, more than him, or her, or them. Of course, this begs the question: what is actually at stake in these situations?
Suppose someone meanly tells me I talk too much (I do, by the way). I can have one of three possible reactions: 1) I throw in a few *bonus* words to further cement their unfavorable opinion of me, 2) with clenched jaw, I curtly thank them for their comment, or 3) I show true gratefulness for their honesty and promise to sincerely consider their criticism. The first choice appeals solely to my ego, offering transient vindication and a terrible reflection of Christ. Option two seems to be a compromise between outwardly expressing gratitude – however superficial – and inwardly deciding why this reproof won’t make the cut. (It’s worth noting that where faith is concerned, compromise is usually a bad thing.) The third reaction, albeit the most difficult to master, is the response of a mature Christian eager both to honor Christ in their conduct before men and to leave no stone unturned in the search for wisdom – even amidst messy packaging. In options one and two, there is much to lose: friendship, respect, dignity, opportunity for evangelism, etc., while ultimately, nothing is to be gained. With the third option, it is exactly the opposite.
If we are selective in what advice warrants deliberation, we will forever justify rejection of that which is not pure or palatable enough to avoid molesting our delicate pride. I’d prefer to take it every thought captive and filter the baby from the bathwater, instead of chucking them both because I’m too witless and wimpy to discern one from the other. Christians are commanded to stand out from the world, and this way of handling criticism will make permanent impressions on those around you. It won’t be easy, but it will be eternally beneficial. Simply weighing counsel never costs anything, and you’ll find that God replaces bitterness with joy as you excitedly tear into every unattractive package you receive.