Everybody gets vital at a greater dose. It’s just the way society functions. Even Jesus himself faced criticism while on earth. As Christians, God calls us to also have an influence on our respective communities, and that means we must be ready to be criticized.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “Get a friend to tell you your faults, or better yet, welcome any enemy who watches you desperately and stings you savagely”. What a blessing such an unpleasant critic will have on a wise man. We can often respond to criticism in different ways; either we can be harmed or strengthened by it, but criticism will always hurt at some level. The question is what we are doing about the hurt. Here are three ways in which Christians should address the criticism.
Before we begin to talk about how to respond to criticism, let’s first define what critique is. We normally consider criticism to be a negative comment about something. We think it’s always meant putting down something or someone.
That’s not what they say. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines criticism as “the practice of carefully assessing the good and bad qualities of books, movies, etc.” If we are to apply the same thing to human relationships, it will mean a careful study of a person, a detailed evaluation of the qualities of a man or a woman.
With that in mind, we have to understand that some criticism, particularly that which comes from Christians who are genuinely concerned, is not meant to put anyone down. In reality, constructive criticism is often meant to serve as a “mirror” that allows us to see our shortcomings so we can fix them. These words, if we heed them, are invaluable, even life-saving (see James 5:19-20).
The three types of criticism
Ultimately, any criticism we receive will fall into one of three categories, and each category will involve a different response:
(1) ACCURATE – it is basically accurate, while it may not be 100 % correct.
(2) INACCURATE-it is fundamentally inaccurate, although it may contain some facts.
(3) MALICIAL – it is motivated by the critic’s rage, resentment, jealousy, envy, or some other purposes.
Let’s look at what Scripture says about properly reacting to each of these forms of criticism.
BASIC PRINCIPLES FOR DEALING WITH CRITICISM
1. Using ACCURATE criticism as an opportunity to make amends
Proverbs 15:31-32 “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. 32 He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding.”
Criticism can be a God-given corrective device!
If you make the impossible argument to be flawless with anything you do, there will be moments when it is perfectly reasonable to make critical judgments on how you approach those circumstances.
For example, this is why a well-run organization would definitely have annual performance evaluations for its employees. Such reviews offer an opportunity not to tear down a worker, but to make mid-course changes that can help the worker be more effective at the job.
And that’s exactly how we should interpret the specific feedback that God allows to come into our lives – it is an opportunity to make corrections and changes.
But what exactly does “accurate” entail, when it comes to criticism?
Criticism doesn’t need to be real 100 percent to be “accurate.”
No human being can possibly judge our acts by understanding all the circumstances and possible mitigating factors that we might invoke in our own defense. So, poking holes in someone’s evaluation of our results would always be necessary. But “100 percent accurate” is not an acceptable level of accuracy. Alternatively, a “substantially right” norm is the one we should be implementing.
For instance, if my boss criticizes me for staying late after my lunch hour, it will be easy for me to list all the time that I got back from lunch time that I left early. But that would have missed the argument. While I’m not 100 percent of the time late, the conclusion that I have a habit of getting back late from lunch is very right. I need to listen to that, and make changes.
2. Use INACCURATE Criticism as a teaching tool
2 Timothy 2:24-25 “And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.”
Sincere yet misleading criticism is generally based on the ignorance or misperceptions of the facts. That is what happened to Apostle Peter after he had a dream in which God was sending him to the house of a Roman centurion by name, Cornelius to preach the gospel. As Peter reported back to Jerusalem church, he received some heavy criticism:
Acts 11:2-3“So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, ‘you went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them’”
Obviously, the critics didn’t realize that Peter was obeying God’s instruction given to him in His Dream. They had been unaware of the truth, in other words.
Instead of getting on his high horse, “how dare you to blame me for doing the will of God,” Peter responded humbly in Acts 11:4
Peter used the opportunity to “gently warn” his critics. Instead of an incident that could have caused great turmoil in the church became an opportunity for Peter to show Jewish Christians that God loves Gentiles too (Acts 11:18).
3. Using MALICIOUS criticism as an opportunity to offer grace
Grace is defined as “unmerited favor,” and that is exactly what the Scripture commands us to give to those who maliciously criticize us.
Peter converted incorrect criticism into a moment of teaching by simply giving the truth to his critics, and doing so without attitude! If, because of the unfair and unreasonable criticism that came at him, he had allowed himself to become defensive and antagonistic, the opportunity to give advice would have been missed.
“But they don’t deserve to be blessed!” yells our indignant feelings.
Perhaps, but that’s precisely what grace entails. And Jesus says we become more like God Himself by offering the grace to people who have intentionally and maliciously abused us with their criticism.
When we carry on an attitude of grace towards people who have been malicious or judgmental or spiteful towards us, something amazing happens: their criticism can’t touch us! We understand they have the problem and not us. And instead of feeling insulted and hurt, we are free to preach forgiveness and grace joyfully into the lives of such people. The effect is that instead of the unfair criticism that succeeds in pulling us down, it simply helps to lift us up, spiritually and emotionally, as we follow in Christ’s redemptive footsteps.
The Two percent rule
In fact, much of the criticism we get in our lives can be converted into a constructive instrument for change. Also, if it’s essentially misleading or completely malicious, it can contain some important little nugget of truth that we shouldn’t overlook.
David once told God to check his life to see if he had any kind of offense in him. So if God showed him anything out of order in his life, however insignificant it might be, David dedicated himself to clean it up.
That David’s question led me to what I call my 2 percent rule:
If people’s criticism of me is only 2 percent right, I need to consider that 2 percent and make amends.
We can prevail over criticism!
Just learning that someone has said derogatory things about us can cause acute emotional distress for many of us. It’s as if the allegation, whatever its real validity, penetrates our defenses automatically, doing substantial harm to our self-esteem.
Yet when we respond biblically to criticism, we don’t need to be oppressed by it anyways. One of the great promises God makes us in Scripture is what we should hold dearly:
Isaiah 54:17, “no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the LORD.
This is good news to me!
A Christ-like reaction to criticism
Now that we’ve learnt how to prevail over criticism; let’s move on to how we can respond to criticism in general. The following are some ways we can do that which glorifies God.
We can respond to criticism in several different ways.
- Look at the facts before you respond
Check the truth for what they say before letting any comment bog you down or make your ears flap in pride. Are the comments depressingly degrading and untrue? Don’t believe it. Are they excessively flattering? Don’t let them get into your head and puff you up.
Remember the Lord Jesus. Many followed Him and praised Him for the miracles and wonderful things He did, but He never took any of glories to himself and was always very shrewd when dealing with others. Rather, “Jesus did not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all people” (see John 2:24).
Look for the real meat in every criticism you receive. Did someone say you lack in performance? Check your performance if the comment is true and then act on it. And more than that, check what the Bible teaches about this issue so you can size up to that. After all, criticism can be true and helpful, but our yardstick is always the Word of God.
- Do not be cynical and know how to filter
Not all criticism is valid. Some critics judge a person on the basis of how they view them, so don’t take anything they say at face value. Test the statement for some truth like the first example, and if you don’t see much of a truth in it, then ignore the statement (see John 8:32). Otherwise, you’ll find yourself insulted by it or grudged.
Be careful not to allow any insult to take root in you. Do not be angry against others, even your worst critics. The greatest defense against grudges is to pray for the one who criticizes to receive the grace and blessings of God (see Hebrews 12:15).
- Please only God, not man
No matter what people say, remember that ultimately you will render account to God and not to them (see Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Please God and not man (see Acts 5:29).
No matter how many negative reviews or blessings you get, always note that you are responsible to God for every thoughts, words, and deeds.
- With Humility
The best way to respond to criticism, whether unfair or on the spot, is by responding with humility. God resists the proud or pompous, but He gives more grace to the humble in heart (James 4:6). When a friend or co-worker criticizes you, do not respond with a counter criticism because they may actually be doing you a favor and helping you.
- With Thanks
Yes, I said with thanks. Again, irrespective of whether the criticisms are true or not, thank them for wanting the best for you.
Paul put down that “Love believes all things,” which I think he means that people should be given the benefit of the doubt. Don’t grudge and tell them, “Well, that’s your opinion,” because why else would they criticize you if they did not think it would make a difference.
- Put the source into consideration.
There was a guy I used to work with who criticized everyone he came in contact with. His criticism was unjust and fairly wrong most of the time, but instead of answering in frustration, my response was to ask him, “I appreciate you trying to help, but what do you have to say that for?” This allowed him to analyze a little of his supposed facts before confronting me. If people are always negative, trust me, there must have been a sparkle to kindle the fire of negativity in their lives. Think about why they’re like that. Maybe their parents were perfectionists, and they’ve never been pleased about something they’ve done. Or they’ve experienced so much criticism and disapproval growing up as a child they think it’s like that.
- Accept that they could be right.
If you see they’re right, then confess! You might say, “Yeah, I see what you mean”. “Thank you for drawing my attention to this”. “I had absolutely no idea”. “This is an aspect I need to focus on”. Note that faithful is a friend’s wounds, but an enemy’s kisses are deceitful “(Prov 27:6). I’d rather have wounds to heal than kisses to flatter. Since” iron sharpens iron “(Prov 27:17) and rust never sleeps, admit that they’re right and move on … you’ve only enhanced your growth and development in life!
Responding to criticism can go well or very poorly. It’s your decision to make. Consider it with modesty, with gratitude, consider the source and accept that they may be right. Responding to some in other form could just cut one of those people who can help you develop.