We all, at one time or another, have been criticized and have been offended. Of course, we know that both are sin, but it still happens. We also have criticized others and have offended others. So what do we do? How should we handle criticism and offense?
Before we look at others, we, of course, need to deal with our own sinful nature. First of all, we need to agree with God concerning our tendency to criticize others. Let me suggest some steps to do this.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you your critical nature. Remember, "Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks." (Luke 6:45)
- We tend to criticize others for real or perceived words, actions or intentions that we ourselves don't have. When this is the case, we need to recognize, admit, confess and repent of the pride that is involved in our criticism.
- We also tend to criticize others for what we know to be in ourselves but don't want to admit. Obviously, honesty within ourselves and repentance needs to take place.
- James lists some other sins that can be the root of a critical nature (James 3:14-16). So carefully examine whether you have envy, selfish ambition/self-seeking or confusion. Repent of any that apply.
- 1 John 1:9 - When true repentance takes place, stay in the place of prayer long enough to receive the promised cleansing.
- Seek wisdom for "The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, and adds learning to his lips (Proverbs 16:23).
- Put a guard over your mouth. "He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction" (Proverbs 13:3).
Since we know that whatever comes out of our mouth was first in our heart, these steps need to become second nature to us because "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it" (Jeremiah 17:9)? If we're going to grow spiritually and be effective in ministry, we cannot be like the little girl in a home Bible class I was teaching one time. Explaining what sin was, I quoted this verse in Jeremiah. From the front row, she protested, "We're not that bad!!"
Instead, we need to remember, God gives us two gifts:
- A new nature. Our old must die. The act of dying is both already accomplished by the cross and an on-going work of living by the Spirit in the now and now (Romans 8:14, Galatians 2:20, Galatians 5:25).
- A personalized cross (Matthew 10:38, Philippians 2:12). Don't climb down!
When it comes to our tendency to be offended, as believers, we actually don't have a right to be offended. After all, Jesus took it all for us. Plus, if we walk in His love toward others, we simply won't experience being offended!
"He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling (some translations say offence) in him (1 John 2:10).
"This I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:9-11).
When we are offended, it presents a good opportunity to check our love level. This can be hard because we want to defend ourselves and justify our own sin because the other person's sin was so much more grievous (in our opinion). I call the necessary response that needs to be taken as, "Getting ugly with myself." With an act of my will, I've learned that I must take my eyes off the other person and look with critically discerning eyes at myself. I also ask myself, "Who are you to judge another's servant" (Romans 14:4)? The other person is God's servant and His problem; I can't afford to take the time and effort it takes to judge him - especially if they are Believers. (FYI - This is a good attitude to take with spouses.) If the other person isn't a follower of Jesus, I remind myself that they can't help it. They're headed to hell, bumping, knocking and stumbling over others as they go. They need non-judgmental, loving, compassionate prayer.
So now, after dealing with our own sin, what do we do when we are the object of criticism? The answer, of course, has to do with living in Jesus and Him living in us.
Job 5:21 – "You shall be hidden from the scourge of the tongue and you shall not be afraid of destruction when it comes."
Isaiah 54:17 – “’No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord. And their righteousness is from Me’ says the Lord."
When a critical tongue of accusation comes our way, we must find a hiding place - in God, not by finding others to agree with us. Criticism will either crush or energize us. Obviously then, we must watch our attitude toward our critics. Bitterness toward them can do more damage than the criticism. We must take the same attitude as Jesus had. "Christ also suffered, for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Peter 2:21-23).
This can be very difficult to do but not impossible - if we forgive quickly and don't allow angry reactions to take root and fester. I've found it is very helpful to stand back and look at myself to see if the criticism against me is true. If it is, I need to admit it, repent and change. If it isn't, I need to slough it off and refuse to take it on. I've also learned the hard way that if my conscience is clear, that it usually isn't helpful to try to explain myself. We all tend to judge based on the thoughts, feelings and intentions of our hearts. So when people accuse us of feelings or intentions that we don't have, they are actually telling us about themselves. Because of this, they are not going to believe that our motives were any different than theirs would be. Trying to explain ourselves only makes matters worse. We need to give it over to God. Again, this can be very difficult. I once had a person whom I thought was a friend refuse to speak to me for a long time because I wouldn't/couldn't say that I felt the same sinful feelings that she did about a matter. Another time, during a phone conversation with a woman, she slammed down the phone when she realized that I was not reacting the way she was trying to manipulate me into behaving. In cases like these, we must console ourselves with 1 Peter 4:16 - "If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter."
This sort of thing has happened to me many times from childhood up. In both these particular instances, I had to let the friendships go. Though not promised in Scripture, both people came back to me. One even apologized! Unfortunately however, such is not always the case. When this happens, again learned the hard way, we must "gird up our loins" and allow the critical person to believe what they want about us - even if they gossip and spread lies about us. Jesus experienced the same thing when He walked the earth and, in fact, is still receiving this kind of treatment. And you know how He responds. So . . . have "a good conscience, that when they defame you as evil-doers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed" (1 Peter 3:16).
It goes without saying that when criticism comes through loving, caring people, we need to follow David's example when the prophet came to him. He allowed the Holy Spirit to prick his heart and he repented. No matter how loving and caring however, if what they say is not true, we must not accept it.
Another type of criticism is that which comes from a wounded person with the goal of hurting and damaging us. We must learn to discern criticism as to what it’s meant to do. The gal who hung up the phone on me is an example. That's when we need to have our guard up and refuse to fall into their trap.
Criticism of any kind is often not about our sin but about our SELF. We need other people. God allows criticism to reveal a foundational issue. Our BEING is more important than our doing. Criticism is to draw us to our OWN customized cross. (Remember the second point listed above?) It's about putting to death something that makes us vulnerable. Both God and the devil want us to die – for different reasons. The battle won’t be over until we die to what other people say and think about us. God wants to inoculate us from the praise of man until we die to the control of man. Jesus said, "How can you believe, who receive honor from one another and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?" (John 5:44)
When we offend others, we need to apologize quickly and humbly when the offence was accidental or just plain thoughtless. If the offence happened because we put forth the Word of God, an apology would be in order if we did so out of pride, haughtiness or self-righteousness. But if given in humility, gentleness, and love for God and the person, we should not apologize. First of all, God's word, will and way never need to be apologized for. How it comes out of our mouth and through our actions often does. We need to discern ourselves. "If you are reproached/reviled/defamed for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified" (1 Peter 4:14).
We all have blind spots. A true disciple is teachable which requires humility. Therefore, we each need to develop covenant relationships to learn the covenant aspect of humility. This is God’s #1 requirement with Him and with others.
Bottom line: Our only place of refuge from the scourge of the tongue is intimacy with God. Persecuted believers have an intimacy with God that is full of grace and glory.
Put on the new man. We have a choice. Will we take the spirit of this world or the spirit of Christ? God wants to take us from believing in Him to believing AS Him (2 Corinthians 4:17).
It’s all about identity. Through this sort of pain we can identify with His pain. Carrying our cross is more than bearing it humbly; it is loving the ones who persecuted us and blessing them. Many people justify their words and actions by claiming that they have "righteous indignation" like Jesus did when He drove the money changers out of the temple. Yes, Jesus did that in anger. But then He turned around and gave His life for those people - in love. Few people are willing to do that; they just want to be angry and criticize.
This whole subject is something we must deal with as it is a matter of walking in our inheritance. As we do, let's keep in mind these last two scriptures:
"In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
"Give thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:20).