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Can A Christian Be Both Loving and Critical?

The songs at church this Sunday were alright. Only one minor theological blunder that I counted. The person on stage who read today’s passage managed to pronounce all the words correctly. . .

From the moment the pastor started preaching, my brain quietly fact-checked everything that came out of his mouth, from the historical background of the passage, to the “original Greek” claims he made, to whether or not I thought his message was gospel-centric enough . . .

Not exactly the posture of a humble worshipper before God, huh?

I grew up in a Bible-believing household, went to Bible college, and now work with a Christian ministry. I love history, culture, and language, so my interests happen to line up nicely with acquiring biblical knowledge. The problem? As Paul said it so simply, “knowledge puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).

Don’t get me wrong—familiarity with the Bible is a good thing. Analytical thinking is a good thing. It is important to know the difference between a solidly gospel-grounded sermon, and a motivational feel-good speech. Even the most experienced pastors will make mistakes, and it is crucial for us to cross-check anything we hear with the Bible.

After all, even the Bereans checked Paul the Apostle against Scripture (Acts 17:10-11).

But none of that calls for sitting back with arms crossed, silently grading the pastor on the quality of his sermon. Partway through the sermon that Sunday, I realized that I was being critical of the pastor to a point of hostility. I had let myself puff up with pride, and was silently pointing out every minor flaw I noticed as a means of affirming my own inflated sense of intellect, well-read-ness, and general arrogance.

Once I realized my serious attitude problem, I told my brain to shut up and stop being so critical. But that doesn’t exactly solve the problem, does it? For the rest of the day, I wrestled with how to reconcile a critical mind with Christian love. Eventually, I came up with some guidelines to help me think through the issue and hold myself accountable.

 

Does it really matter?

Sometimes I find myself nitpicking at minute details that don’t really matter. If a person mispronounced a word, for example, it probably wouldn’t cause any misunderstanding. Or if the pastor gave an illustration of God’s amazing creation, and mentioned nine planets in the solar system (instead of eight, since Pluto has lost its status)—the main point is still clear and valid. It would be silly for me to worry over such irrelevant mistakes in a worship service.

On the other hand, sometimes there are mistakes with greater consequences. For example, I was recently in a Bible study where a newcomer mishandled biblical passages to argue that the Holy Spirit was not God. This clearly contradicts the Bible’s teachings, and could potentially mislead some of the newer Christians in the group, robbing them of the comfort of God’s continued presence in their lives (John 14:16-17). Unlike mis-numbering the planets, this was a problem that needed to be addressed.

Thankfully in that case, the leaders of the Bible study politely but firmly put a stop to this newcomer’s theories, while offering to discuss it more in a private setting.

While some mistakes are minor and have little consequence to how we live our lives or relate to others, other mistakes might be more foundational and problematic. I need to learn not to dwell on minor mistakes, as well as how to act lovingly in the face of more serious problems.

 

If it matters, how do I respond in love?

When faced with errors in foundational doctrine or mistakes with the potential to damage a young Christian’s relationship with God, sometimes we need to act. But at the same time, I need to take care in how I respond to the issue. Too often I find myself stewing in imagined debates, or pointing out errors to those around me in a gossip-like manner while not actually doing anything constructive to address the problem.

If I decide that a mistake is not trivial but requires action, then I need to ask myself, am I being loving in my approach? I should always start by praying and asking God to purify my motive.

If I counter someone’s point in Bible study, or approach a pastor after the sermon, I need to do it out of a heart of love and service. I’ve found that starting with questions and clarifying the other person’s view first is one way I can do that. After all, perhaps they know something I haven’t thought of yet, or maybe I misunderstood!

If I bring up the issue with friends or family, I should talk about it in a way that seeks further understanding and truth—it should never simply be criticism for the sake of pointing out errors. “What did you think about the speaker’s interpretation of this verse?” would hopefully lead to a constructive discussion that leaves us all with greater understanding and confidence in the truth the Bible offers.

Finally, whatever I do, pride must have no place in it. I am to “do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).

Too often, I am overly confident in my own opinions and understanding. I need to learn to let go when something simply doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I also need to remind myself—and ask God to help me—to be loving in all that I do and think. I pray that He will continue to overcome my sinful pride and reveal my many mistakes and misplaced opinions. And as I continue asking myself these questions throughout the week, I will ask God to enable me to interact lovingly and humbly with people around me.

When My Best Friend Told Me Off

Written By Debra Ayis, Nigeria

I remember the day vividly. I was sitting in my brother’s room, cooling off after an argument with my best friend. I’ll never forget what my best friend said to me. She certainly hadn’t spared my feelings: the gist of her words had to do with me acting like a spoilt, selfish brat.

I was smarting badly and my first thought was to exact revenge in some way, or to just ignore what she had just said. But, like in several other times in the past, I took deep breaths to calm down, evaluated what she said, and reminded myself of this Bible verse: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. And the wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Proverbs 27:5-6).

Even though I was upset with the way my friend had delivered her opinion, I knew her words had some truth in them. So I swallowed my pride and took the initiative to greet her when she walked past my brother’s bedroom to the adjacent room we shared. You see, my best friend was—and still is—my sister.

My attempt at reconciliation stopped my sister mid-stride. She redirected her steps and walked towards me. What she said next struck me—till this day. She said: “I admire you for one great quality you have. No matter what and how someone points out something wrong about you, and no matter how you act in the heat of the moment, you always listen, sift through the words and accept correction. You are also always willing and often the first to make peace and reconcile after a fight. Those are godly character traits you should never lose.”

She may not know how much those words impacted me that day, but what she said to me then always comes to mind whenever I find myself in a situation where a friend or even an enemy rebukes or criticizes me. Whenever someone finds fault with my behavior, I will retreat to a quiet place and ask for the Holy Spirit’s counsel, comfort, and advice.

Sometimes, verses will spring to mind, pointing to the fact that I do indeed need to accept correction. Other times, it becomes clear that the rebuke or criticism—though well intentioned—was unfounded. For instance, Job’s friends believed they were giving righteous criticism of their friend Job, only to be rebuked by God in Job 42:7-17. Therefore, I will always go to God to check if the rebuke is indeed from Him.

As a leader, writer, but most importantly, as a Christian, I have grown to embrace rebuke and criticism. Constructive criticism—and sometimes, not so constructive criticism from true friends—helps us grow and keeps us on the right track. I also believe it is essential if we want to become better individuals in all areas of our lives. After all, the Bible states in Psalm 141:5: “Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it”.

True friends will call us out; they won’t always be our cheerleaders. A person who really loves us and wants the best for us will let us know when we are taking the wrong path, because they want what’s best for us.

In my walk as a Christian, I have been blessed to have instances where I have been rebuked by genuine friends, whom the Bible describes as those who stick closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Ultimately, I believe that rebuke from God—whether it is through His word or others, such as our friends—should be welcomed and celebrated. In Revelation 3:19, the Bible states that “as many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent”.

Will we be willing to be pruned so that we bear the best fruit?

ODJ: Conquering Criticism

April 9, 2016 

READ: Mark 2:23-28 

Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath? (v.24).

During the closing seconds of an American football game, the referee had to make a very difficult, game— deciding call. His decision resulted in one team winning and the other facing the bitter sting of a loss. Furious fans from the losing team ridiculed and threatened the ref for days and weeks. In time he experienced panic attacks and even considered suicide. Doctors diagnosed his condition as post—traumatic stress disorder.

Some of us can relate to this much—maligned referee. We live with a sense of defeat, fueled by the harsh disapproval of others. Thankfully, we can rely on Jesus to help us conquer the power of negative criticism.

Jesus defended His disciples when the Pharisees criticized their behavior. One Sabbath, Jesus’ disciples ate some heads of grain they had found growing in a grain field. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:24). Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of the people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” (v.27).

On another occasion, He defended a woman who had been involved in adultery. The Pharisees paraded her sin openly, wanting to know if they should stone her. Jesus ended their antics by saying, “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” (John 8:7). The accusers all walked away.

No matter what type of criticism we may face, Jesus never joins in with people who fling careless or calculated remarks. He always stands up for us—even when we wrestle with sin (1 John 2:1). Jesus cares for us and wants to help us, and His love doesn’t depend on a perfect performance of the Christian life.

—Jennifer Benson Schuldt

365-day-plan: 2 Samuel 15:1-37

MORE
Read Galatians 2:11—13 to see how fear of criticism created a problem for Peter. Look up Romans 14:3 to see the root of condemnation for some in the early church. 
NEXT
Is all criticism destructive? What happens when someone lovingly points out a shortcoming? Read Proverbs 15:31 for some insight on this topic. 

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