“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Comes to terms quickly” (Matthew 5:23-25a, ESV).
How do we sort through criticism? Is all criticism bad? Is it all good? Do we shrug it off? Avoid it? Quit when we receive it? Let’s critique the cause of critics and criticism today!
Some people are difficult–but in a constructive way. They challenge us in our walk with the person of Christ. So one would say that are not difficult, but their exhortations may land in a difficult manner on us. The end result, however, is being stronger in Christ.
Others are difficult in a destructive (or at least non-helpful) way. They challenge us to walk in their personal preferences. So one would say that they are difficult in that we risk working for their glory by their standard, and not for God’s.
I talk to quite a few pastor friends–and all of them (as with all people) deal with criticism. All of us at some point have been among the critics and among the critiqued. God calls us to be ones who are mature, able to discern truth from falsehood (Hebrews 5:11-14), but we must also discern the motives behind the criticisms. Are we denying self and taking up the cross and following him? Or are we exalting self, crucifying others, and following our own aims and desires and expecting others to follow suit?
Remember Thing from the Addams’ Family?
The beauty of the Body of Christ is amazing. So many different personalities and backgrounds—and God brings them all together for unity and maturity.
Do you remember the Addam’s Family? Remember Thing? Thing is a dismembered hand that was part of the family, who would move around on his ‘fingers’ and find ways to make symbols to communicate.
While Thing brought high entertainment value to the black & white TV screen, there’s nothing funny about this in the context of the church. Some want to function as a dismembered body, doing their own thing apart from the Head, who is Christ (Colossians 1:18-23). The church is the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). We are nothing without the head.
When you bring a criticism to the church about an issue, ask yourself the following questions to critique the criticism:
First, is the criticism you are bringing based on the person of Christ, or personal preference? This takes some serious prayer, but also a willingness to let others in your life who will tell it like it is. The Apostle Peter was told by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2:11-14 that his actions were based on personal and cultural preference. If you are teachable (that is, you understand you are a human being and do not have it all figured out), this will be a welcomed aspect of your sanctification. If you are not teachable, always willing to teach, and seldom believe you have anything to learn from anyone else unless they have a radio ministry or have published a book, you’re headed for a fall. Your ‘Christian walk’ is all about the steps you deem fit to take–and everyone must march in lockstep.
Secondly, if this is based upon a biblical issue, have you gone directly to the person to address this, or are you simply telling everyone else… maybe even guising it as a prayer concern? (I would even recommend this even if it was based on personal preference. Who knows? The issue that is bothering you so badly may disappear when you engage that person as a person the way Christ intended, rather than a distant enemy or annoyance.) There have been times in my 20+ years of ministry when someone has come to me to complain about someone else. My first step is to ask them, “Have you gone to them to express your concerns?” Many times, the answer is, “No, I haven’t yet!” After I encourage them to go, a time later they returned with another complaint. “Did you go and talk to them?” “Well, no, I didn’t feel led to at the time.” So I would arrange a meeting right then, if possible–especially if it was after a worship time. We don’t wait to feel led, for God has already led with his command (Matthew 5:21-26).
Thirdly, are you actively involved in serving the church as a servant of Christ, or merely looking as a spectator or as a judge in the Olympics–a removed observer? I ask this because it’s amazing when you are involved with a group of people, you begin to see how they serve, the attitude in which they serve, and how that service is not about merely serving themselves, but Christ and others. Didn’t Christ come not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)? When you’re not serving others, the only person that tends to matter is yourself. That’s not how God intended us to be. The approximately 60 ‘one another’ passages in the NT give this away.
Fourthly, when speaking about the issue that is bothering you, do you use your words more to criticize and gossip about that issue or to pray about that issue? Prayer is the instrument God uses to change hearts. Maybe the heart of the one that troubles you needs to change–or maybe your heart needs to change!
The path of least resistance is to complain and think only of what self wants. It’s easy to do that.
But if our critiques are based on biblical truths and biblical issues, then that is another blog post for another day, which will springboard from Ephesians 4:15. In this case, if it’s about personal preferences, then don’t raise them up to tests of faith. We are sinners–all of us. Some are in the demographic of being a sinner saved by grace. But others aren’t. We risk being very legalistic if we expect people to operate based on our Law rather than on God’s law in speaking the truth in love.
Time is too short for self to get in the way! The world needs Christ! Let not personal preference provide a stumbling block to the person and work of Christ!