Zig Ziglar jokes that some people find fault like there is a reward for it. You know these people, the Negative Nancy’s and Pessimistic Paul’s of the world. They are your neighbors, co-workers, family members and sometimes even church members. These people have nothing positive or nice to say about anyone. You smile when they approach and secretly whisper a prayer of thanksgiving for this “thorn in the flesh”. You do this because you know that learning to deal with them grows you. Yet, you wonder just what in life has made them so miserable and your frustration by them is overshadowed with your pity for them.
Aristotle said, “Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” Dale Carnegie expressed it in a slight different manner. In How to Stop Worrying and Start Living he said, “Remember that no one kicks a dead dog.” He reminds his readers that unjust criticism is often a disguised compliment. When you are criticized you are accomplishing something worthy of attention. Does this resonate with you? Then let’s learn how to properly define criticism, practically deal with it, and then permanently defeat it.
The first step in defining criticism is to identify what it is not. Criticism is not the same as biblical exhortation. I realize that the idea of accountability (i.e. exhortation, looking out for one another, discipleship, admonishment, and being answerable to one another) comes across as archaic. However, as we read the Bible we see a theme of accountability to one another. We are to love one another, honor one another, edify one another, admonish one another, care for one another, serve one another, restore one another, bear one another’s burdens, and be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving toward one another. We are to teach one another, comfort one another, exhort one another, and consider one another. The Bible says we are to confess our sins to one another, have compassion with one another, be hospitable to one another, minister to one another, and fellowship with one another.
God designed us for accountability. He does not intend for the believer to be an island to themselves. In the Bible, coming to the faith always meant coming to a local fellowship of believers (the church or assembly). Salvation is personal, but the Christian life is not. When we are born into this world we are born to a family; when we are “born again” we should be joined with a family of believers. In this family, the older are to teach the younger (Titus 2). The strong in the faith should help to restore those overtaken in faults (Galatians 6:1). The brethren exhorts the unruly (I Thessalonians 5:14). We are called to encourage one another daily so that sin will not harden our hearts (Hebrews 3:12-13). And we are to love those in sin enough to have compassion and make a difference in their life. (Jude 22-23) This is biblical exhortation.
Second, criticism is not making a judgment. It is here Matthew 7:1 is quoted, “judge not that ye be not judged.” This is the problem that arises when Scripture is taken out of context. The Bible does not say we cannot judge the sins of others, but we are to first cast the beam out of our own eye “and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye,” Matthew 7:5. We are not to be hypocritical in our judgment, but do so in love and compassion.
There are things we cannot judge. We absolutely cannot judge the heart or inner motives of others. Only God knows the heart (I Samuel 16:7). However, this does not mean that we are to be undiscerning Christians; for we are commanded to make righteous judgments. For example, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 states that when disputes arise between believers it should be settled in the church. A judgment has to be made. The church is to judge serious sins of its members and take action. We see this in Matthew 18:17 and 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. Those in the church must judge which men have qualifications necessary for elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13). As believers we are to judge the teaching of preachers by the Word of God (1 John 4:1). Jesus told us in Matthew 7:15-20 that we are to make judgments based on fruits in these men’s lives. Christians have to discern or make a judgment concerning the salvation of others to obey God’s command in 2 Corinthians 6:14 about not being unequally yoked. And according to 1 Thessalonians 5:14 we are to judge which people are unruly, fainthearted, and weak in that we can warn them. Making a judgment based on God’s Word is not the same as being critical of them.
So, if criticism is not biblical exhortation or righteous judgment, what is it? Simply put, criticism is an opinion with a negative connotation. (Notice exhortation and judgment has nothing to do with opinion. Both are based on God’s Word.) However, opinions in themselves are not bad. Everyone has them. Opinions can be given in love, but criticism is often associated with animosity. It is a condition of the heart with the intent to destroy and discourage. It tears down instead of builds up. (Proverbs 14:1) It brings death instead of life. (Proverbs 18:21) It obsesses with flaws and imperfections instead of letting love cover them. (1 Peter 4:8) Criticism is a heart issue.
Dealing with Criticism
Now that criticism is defined, how do we deal with it when it comes our way? A peek into the life of David can give insight into how to handle critical attitudes in a very practical way. No matter what position in life you are in, you will receive criticism. David was criticized as an insignificant shepherd boy and as the prominent king of Israel. He received criticism from the world and from those near him. David was criticized in his youth and in his old age. He was criticized often even though he is considered a man after God’s own heart. So how did David deal with criticism? Let’s look at two specific incidences in his life.
“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” Can you see young David asking this question? Righteous anger burns within him. Will no one take a stand? The strongest and bravest of the Israelites surrounded David, yet none dare battle the giant. King Saul, the one chosen to lead the people, sits in fear doing nothing. So, the young lad, willing to fight for the Lord, speaks out. Outside vilification is expected, but these words come from a brother. “I know thy pride, and the naughtiness of thine heart,” he says. David, criticized by one closest to him, addresses the matter. “What have I now done? Is there not a cause?” I Samuel 17:29.
Much later in David’s life he is again verbally attacked. King Saul is now dead and David reigns as king. He is weary, worn, and fleeing from his son Absalom. As David approaches Bahurim a relative of Saul named Shimei comes out cursing and hurling accusations toward him. (Pay attention. It is often a technique of the enemy to attack when we are tired and exhausted.) “Then said Abishai the son of Zeruiah unto the king, Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head,” 2 Samuel 16:9. David had the authority to stop his accuser’s tongue, but this time he chose to respond in quiet humility. “…let him alone, and let him curse; for the LORD hath bidden him,” 2 Samuel 6:11.
There are several lessons we can learn from David on how to deal with criticism. The first is to determine how to respond. There is, “a time to keep silence,” Ecclesiastes 3:7. In the case of Shimei’s attack, David was silent. His response was consistent with a verse he later wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. “I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me,” Psalm 39:1. There are plenty to times to hold our tongues when faced with criticism. But in that moment we should be careful to not hold our prayers. David’s prayer was that, “the LORD will look on mine affliction, and that the LORD will requite me good for his cursing this day,” 2 Samuel 16:12. He knew God could do much more for him than his enemy could do against him.
We also need to recognize there is, “a time to speak,” Ecclesiastes 3:7. David addressed his brother when criticized about his motives in facing Goliath. We also see him speaking out when criticized at other times in his life. (See 2 Samuel 6.) When we reply, we should do so in love and remember that a soft answer turns away wrath. When it comes to responding to our critics, remember that there is, “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” Let us seek wisdom to be able to discern which is appropriate.
The second aspect of dealing with criticism is to not let it affect your plans. Even though David’s brother came against him, he still became victorious over Goliath and the Philistines. Even thought Shimei came against him, David still continued on the path set before him. God was leading him in both incidences and he would not be deterred. Have you faced criticism in the way you raise your children or live your life? Do not give the enemy victory by letting it throw you off course. Has a friend criticized you for teaching your children at home? Follow God’s plan for your life even in the face of opposition. As we later see with David and Shimei, sometimes those that oppose us come back seeking forgiveness. (See 2 Samuel 19:15-23.)
Finally, do not let criticism steal your joy. How easy is it to get discouraged when faced with just one critical person! Notice what David did after Shimei’s vile attack. “And the king, and all the people that were with him, came weary, and refreshed themselves there,” 2 Samuel 16:14. David wasn’t alone and neither are you. For every one person who opposes you, chances are many more support you. David and all the people that were with him came and refreshed themselves. They would not let the hostility of one take away their joy.
To practically deal with criticism you must first know how to respond. Do not let it affect your plans or steal your joy. Then you must learn how to defeat it once and for all.
Criticism is a two-headed beast that must be defeated from within and without. We cannot stop others from responding with criticism, but we can defeat it by stopping its intended purpose of tearing down. When it rears its ugly head, we have power over how it influences us by overcoming it with good. “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good,” Romans 12:21.
But what if criticism is a problem that comes from within? We have addressed being on the receiving end, but to truly overcome it we must look within ourselves. Critical words tear down and we are all guilty of being critical at times. As Christians, we are to build up others through encouraging and positive words. There are two verses I go to when I find myself needing encouragement.
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers, Ephesians 4:29.
Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. Colossians 4:6.
Notice that both verses refer to grace. When it comes to permanently defeating criticism we do it with goodness and with grace. But, there is one more weapon used to defeat this monster. It is love, the most powerful of all. We are told in Proverbs 10:12 that, “love covereth all sins.”
Let us not think that we have power within ourselves to overcome the nature of our tongue. “For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison,” James 3:7-8. As we see here, no man tames his tongue. It takes something more. In Mark 7 we see a deaf man who could not speak clearly. Just as it took a touch on the tongue to heal him, we too must be touched by the Lord. Only through the power of God can we subdue our words. It takes His goodness, grace and love working in us to control our words and defeat criticism.