Christianity 201

August 20, 2014

Giving and Receiving Criticism

This is probably one of the highest things we can do in our personal Bible study; take an issue which is present in the course of a day or week, and delve into what the scripture says about that issue. In this case, we look at criticism, something we all experience and something many of dish out. To read this at source click the title below.

How to Offer & Receive Criticism

by Mathew Sims

Richard Sibbes once said that  “men love not to be judged and censured.”

Personally, I have yet to meet the person who enjoys criticism. Whether it’s criticism about your work, life, faith or criticism from an unknown critic online or a loving family member. All criticism is hard to swallow.

My mom and I have a great relationship. I look back at my formative years and she provided a foundation for the love of God that hasn’t left me. I recall the words of Paul to Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you” (2 Tim. 1:5).

However, I wish I was wiser when hearing her criticism. Her words of encouragement and admonition were coming from a heart of love. Because of my own struggles with hearing criticism, I would often refuse to heed her concerns, only accepting the truth of her words after I’d made a mess of the situation. Hearing criticism is and has been one of the hardest lessons learned in my life, especially if I’ve received criticism from those whose motives were not in my best interest.

But the gospel should transform the way we give and receive criticism. In today’s, age social networks and blogs have only made it easier to criticize without accountability or real community. It’s much easier to make that snarky comment about someone when you don’t have to look them in the face to do so.

So, how do we take a gospel-centered approach toward criticism?

The Gospel and Criticism

The gospel transforms the way we receive criticism in four ways. First, it tells us we are created in the image of God. We have value because we are his handiwork, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). What we do has value because we imitate his creativity in creation. None of us is left without a touch of this creativity.

Second, the gospel tells us we are sinful. Charles Spurgeon once said, “If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be.” Often criticism stings because there may be a teaspoon of truth within the cup of criticism (or maybe a cup of truth within the teaspoon). We know we are sinful. But we almost always give ourselves the benefit of the doubt as we speak, act, and write. It’s hard to hear the perspective of someone who may not give us this benefit of the doubt.

Third, the gospel tells us are adopted by God. We have been declared righteous and joined his family and are now being transformed into the image of the Son of God. We are now much more than the sum total of our sins. Criticism can’t touch that.

Finally, the gospel tells us that we will be vindicated on the last day. George Whitefield once said, “I am content to wait till the judgement day for the clearing up of my reputation.” We should learn to be content now with the righteousness of Christ waiting for our final vindication. For some of us, that might mean allowing our reputation to be tarnished for now.

Scripture actually has much to say about criticism. The following practical suggestions for receiving and giving criticism will hopefully help you build upon these truths.

Receiving Criticism

1. Hear the criticism.

The writer of Proverbs admonishes us, “Whoever heeds instructions is on the path of life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray” (Prov. 10:17), “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is foolish” (12:1), and “Whoever heeds reproof is prudent” (15:5). These Scriptures only touch the surface. Read through Proverbs for yourself and study what the Solomon teaches about receiving reproof. When criticism is offered, you should hear it, consider it, pray about it, and seek counsel about it. You should also be willing to sift through the criticism for the grain of truth. I have rarely found a criticism where there may not a single grain.

2. Rejoice in the criticism.

Jesus starts one of the greatest sermons ever preached, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).

In this sermon, Jesus addresses criticism that ends up being slanderous lies. Yet he says we are blessed and we should rejoice. How can this be? We are baptized into the body of Christ. We are participants in his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus was persecuted, lied about, and slandered. And the writer of Hebrews says, “[Jesus] who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1). This passage connects our joy, suffering, and final vindication by God. Jesus sits at the right hand of God vindicated against the criticism that he made himself to be God (Matt. 26:62-68). We too will stand before God vindicated one day.

3. Compare the criticism with Scripture.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The truest criticism we will receive comes from Scripture. It speaks honestly about the condition of fallen humanity. Bring the criticism you receive to Scripture and ask the Spirit to uncover truth that might relate to it. Don’t miss the full story of the gospel.

4. Don’t respond with umbrage.

The worst thing you can do is respond quickly with your own criticism or accusation. But also don’t let a “root of bitterness” (Heb. 12:15) take hold in your heart. Resentment will impact you most and the others you love. This last point is especially true when the person clearly doesn’t have your best interest in mind and the bulk of their criticism is slander. It’s easy to set the record straight about that person, but in my experience that is either almost completely useless because it’s peppered with anger or slander in its own right.

Offering Criticism

1. Be wary of making accusations against brothers in Christ. 

All those who profess Christ are one with Christ. We have been baptized into one body and Spirit (Eph. 4). Christ isn’t divided. We should be very careful when criticizing that we aren’t accusing another Man’s servant (Rom. 14). That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take part in polemics, dialogues, debates, and defending the faith. Helpful criticism takes wisdom rooted in Scripture and a robust understanding of how the gospel changes everything.

2. Be prayerful about your criticism.

Before you ever utter the criticism pray about it. Ask God for wisdom in using the right words and also that it would be received from a heart of love. Express your dependance on God in sharing this concern with the person. Examine your heart in giving the criticism. If you cannot offer the criticism in good faith (Rom. 14:23) then don’t.

3. Seek peace and mutual up-building.

Paul says, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up-building” (Rom. 14:19). I see two connections to the gospel story when see the word “peace.” First, peace connects with the Old Testament concept of shalom. It’s a state of rest for all of life. In the Old Testament, the shadow was the promised land and in the New Testament the fulfillment is the rest we have in Christ. Also, peace is often connected with the blood of Christ and our justification. All of the conflict, rebellion, and sin found in the story of humanity and Israel is resolved when God makes a covenant of peace with Christ (Eph. 2:13-16, 6:14-15; Rom. 5:1-2, and Col, 1:19-20) declaring all those in him as justified and now “fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16-17, also see Luke 2:8-14). The purpose should be to build the hearer up; it shouldn’t tear him down. There’s correlation with Jesus’ instructions for church discipline, the goal of which is restoration.

4. Watch your own life and doctrine.

Paul admonishes the Galatians, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgressions, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 5:1-2). These instructions are meant to encourage patience, gentleness, and humility. A professor in college who taught counseling would frequently say, “Admonish others as you might expect them to admonish you later.” The idea was “today it’s me admonishing you; tomorrow it may be you admonishing me.” Paul also makes an important point about “bear[ing] one another’s burdens.” Step in their shoes and understand their struggles. Don’t be merciless to those who doubt (Jude 1:22). God doesn’t bruise the reed and neither should we. Fan the flame of God’s grace in their life.

5. Stop continually criticizing.

Paul commands Titus, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him” (Tit. 3:10). The original context was the local church but there’s good application for our personal relationships and online interactions. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may just need to stop criticizing and “have nothing more to do with him.” I cannot tell you how tiring it is hearing the same criticism over and over again by the same people about the same person. It takes wisdom to understand at what point you are casting your pearls before the swine (Matt. 7:6).

It’s important to search Scripture when understanding how to receive and give criticism. The Internet has made it easy to register our criticisms and provides a platform for those with grudges. These interactions are front and center for the world to see. We must learn to interact in a way which glorifies God. “Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters to pertaining to this life!” (1 Cor. 6:3).

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Originally published at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. Used with permission.

Mathew Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes. Follow him on Twitter: @GraceForSinners.

May 27, 2012

Many of Us are Guilty of Religious Violence

Or should that “many” actually say “all?”

While sourcing an image for the second of two posts today at Thinking Out Loud, I ended up at Wilderness Wanderings, the blog of Jon, pastor of Lights of the Canyon (LOTC) United Methodist Church in Anaheim Hills, California.  There were a number of great devotional posts there, but this one got my attention; he titled it Sticks and Stones.

Matthew 23:29-39

New International Version (NIV)

29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Jesus said a lot of things that make me uncomfortable. This scripture passage from Matthew is a case in point. Jesus passionately criticizes (perhaps “condemns” is not even too strong a word) the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus’ says that they are complicit in killing the prophets of old. This is impossible, of course, because none of the people that Jesus is speaking to were alive during the age of the prophets. Jesus, knowing that he himself is going to be crucified soon, and knowing also that many of his followers will face persecution, is pointing out the scribes and the Pharisees complicity in those acts of violence.

Since this subject is disconnected from us at LOTC, we talked yesterday about violence in general (physical, emotional and spiritual) that people perpetuate in the name of God. The point I really wanted to communicate was that we are all guilty, to one degree or another, of the sin of the scribes and Pharisees. We have all committed a degree of religious violence at some time in our lives. Whether we passionately criticize someone for their beliefs, whether we lean on the tried and true technique of just calling people names, or whether we simply look down on other people, we are doing violence to the gospel.

Yesterday, I shared about my experience in college and in seminary. Another experience that I had in college that speaks to this issue involved our rivalry with Biola University. At the first Westmont/Biola basketball game in our gym, the fans from Biola held up letter signs that ultimately spelled out a word. Their sign read l-i-b-e-r-a-l-s. I was surprised by two things. First, that there was a place that thought Westmont was liberal. But, I was also surprised that the Biola students chose a theological critique at a basketball game. Not to be outdone, when Westmont visit Biola later that season, students held up the following letter signs; l-e-g-a-l-i-s-t-s. And the debate raged on.

It seems sometimes that Christians are more eager than we should be to be critical of others, when perhaps our “go to” response should involve love and compassion first and asking questions later.

~Jon Wesley Waterson

September 21, 2011

Pastoral Relations

One of the ways we can demonstrate spiritual maturity is in the way we respond to the host of conflicts which come up in the life of a typical church.  It’s been awhile since we linked to Keith Brenton at Blog in My Own Eye, but I appreciated the practicality of this piece which he called, Pastoral Care.

HOWEVER, for those of you who want to dig a little deeper — maybe something a little more Christianity 301 —  you might enjoy his balanced approach to the Calvinist versus Arminian positions on the depravity of man, which he deals with in two parts, here and here

I begin with my standard disclaimer: I am not a minister or pastor, nor do I play one on TV.

I work in a church office, but I am not employed specifically to share the gospel of Jesus Christ or tend the flock of the Great Shepherd. But I work with a good number of priceless ministers who are, and priceless colleagues who support them, and I just want to offer a few words of advice on the care and feeding of church leaders, whatever their titles: ministers, preachers, pastors, elders, shepherds, deacons, interns, and staffers.

  1. If your pastor says something you disagree with, keep it to yourself. Seriously. If it’s a difference of opinion over something which scripture doesn’t dare to touch (and scripture dares to touch a lot), then the guidance I’d suggest is ” … So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.” (Romans 14:22a) And consider the possibility that you heard something you needed to hear; needed to be convicted by … in order for you to turn around and draw closer to God again.
  2. If your pastor says or does something that conflicts with scripture, go to your pastor. Not to someone over them or under them or beside(s) them. Go to them. Follow the steps: “… just the two of you … if they will not listen, take one or two others along … if they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church.” (Matthew 18:15-17) No shortcuts. No keeping it to yourself. No withholding of love or fellowship or willingness to discuss, listen, correct, reprove. You can do this kindly, lovingly, privately — in a way that does not affect your pastor’s influence — just the way Aquila and Priscilla did for Apollos, in their own home (Acts 18:26).
  3. If your pastor has something against you, go to your pastor. Now. Today. Don’t wait until Sunday when you bring a gift to God. Don’t expect Him to accept it when He knows you have something unresolved with your minister. “First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:24b)
  4. If you have something encouraging to say to your pastor, say it. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5) Do it often. Daily if you think they need it. And, again, don’t put it off until tomorrow. “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3)Your church leaders and staffers find out thing about people … things they don’t want to know about. They don’t want to know because they love the flock and want to think the best of them. Sometimes they don’t feel comfortable even sharing this information with a spouse who also loves and cares for the flock. The wise ones share it with God and turn it over to Him and do what they can to comfort, admonish, and encourage the strays and the injured and the sick and the dying among the flock. They are not the hired hands Jesus talks about in John 10:12. They don’t run away; they stay with the flock at risk to their own safety and security.Their hearts break on an irregular but frequent basis — sometimes several times a week. Don’t overlook the ones who oversee you. Don’t fail to serve the ones who serve you. Don’t miss administering care to the ones who minister to others.
  5. If you have a pastor who imitates the Great Shepherd (who laid down His life for the sheep), thank God for your pastor. You have a treasure in your church family worth more than all you could ever afford to pay. So give what is due. “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” (1 Timothy 5:17)

This is by no means an exhaustive list of admonitions from scripture — but it’s a great start. They’ll nourish any believer who does them or receives through them, church leader or not.

What we headstrong and occasionally brainless sheep fail to see, too often, is how famished and weary our pastors can become doing what they love for those they love to the glory of the One they love.

Feed the ones who feed the flock.

They’re trying to help Him look after your soul.

~Keith Brenton

December 21, 2010

Of Course They’re Not Referring to Me…

Today’s post reminded me of the times people hear a great sermon and think, “If only _________ had been here for this!”   I mean, it’s never about them, right?

This is from the blog Live Generously, by Brian Kiley, Student Ministries Director at Synergy Church in Santa Barbara, California, where it appeared under the title, No One Ever Thinks They’re A Part of the Problem.

I don’t know that anyone wakes up in the morning and says, “I’m a part of the problem.”

I don’t know of any Christians that wake up in the morning and say, “You know, it’s judgmental, self-righteous hypocrites like me who give Christians a bad name.”

I don’t know of any pastors that wake up in the morning and say, “You know, it’s shallow preachers like me that preach something other than the gospel who are contributing to the massive theological ignorance that exists in the American Church today.”

I don’t know anyone that wakes up in the morning and says, “You know, it’s extremists like me who are destroying any hope for progress and respectful dialog in our political process.”

I don’t know anyone that says any of those things.

However, if I’m completely honest, I know plenty of people, if not personally at leasts through the media, that I would place in all of those categories.

And I’m guessing that you probably do to.

Heck, for all I know there may well be people that would put me in one of the categories.

I bring this up not to suggest that we should all be relativists who do not make moral judgments about beliefs or points of view. Far from it. There are plenty of circumstances that require that. When a man says that God wants us to have our best life now, or a person misuses the name and teachings of Jesus for a political gain that must be called what it is.

I bring this up simply because I need the reminder as much as anyone that Jesus was really on to something when he said we should take care of the plank in our own eye before we worry about the speck in the eye of another. Our overly connected world allows us access to all sorts of points of view and perspectives.

And we can get so busy pointing the finger at perspectives that we find crazy that we forget to do the hard work of humble self-examination in our own lives, and that is problematic for everybody.

~Brian Kiley