I recently heard it said of someone that he doesn’t receive criticism well. And I thought, not many people do.
I have to admit, when someone points out something in my life that needs possible correction or attention, my first response is not, “Thank you! You’ve given me something to think about. I am so glad the Lord laid that on your heart to share with me.” It should be. But my first response to criticism (inwardly, at least) is more likely to be one of the following:
- How dare you!
- You just don’t understand.
- Who do you think you are?
- Oh yeah? Well, have you examined yourself lately?
- What makes you think you’re right all the time?
Not very pretty, is it?
It should be no surprise to us that we’re not perfect, and no surprise that someone else notices that fact from time to time. We’re sinners — we naturally do wrong. We’d be the first to admit that we don’t have it all together. We’d never claim perfection. We probably know deep down that we have blind spots to some of our character flaws and that we tend to excuse or justify negative traits in ourselves that we see as faults in others (i.e., I’m determined but another who acts the same way is stubborn.)
Let someone try to correct us, and they are being hateful, petty, mean, or, one of the favorite adjectives in today’s Christianity, judgmental.
Here’s what Spurgeon had to say about being criticized:
“Brother, if any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be. If he charges you falsely on some point, yet be satisfied, for if he knew you better he might change the accusation, and you would be no gainer by the correction. If you have your moral portrait painted, and it is ugly, be satisfied; for it only needs a few blacker touches, and it would be still nearer the truth.” (Source unknown).
Isn’t that the truth? Sure, some people are judgmental. Some are busybodies. Some correct too much or too easily. Some people who really mean well can correct in an unkind or hurtful way. Some are even wrong in their critiques. But whatever they’ve said, they don’t know the half of it. There’s plenty of fodder for criticism in any of our lives.
Not surprisingly, the Bible has much to say about receiving criticism or reproof or correction. Here is just a sampling.
For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life. Proverbs 6:23.
Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. Proverbs 9:8-9.
He is in the way of life that keepeth instruction: but he that refuseth reproof erreth. Proverbs 10:17.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise. Proverbs 12:15.
Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction: but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured. Proverbs 13:18.
A scorner loveth not one that reproveth him: neither will he go unto the wise. Proverbs 15:12.
The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise. He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding. Proverbs 15:31-32.
A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool. Proverbs 17:10.
As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear. Proverbs 25:12.
I used to tell one of my sons who had trouble receiving correction that if he didn’t acknowledge that a certain action or attitude was wrong, he could not correct it or change it. I often shared with him Proverbs 28:13: “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”
So what’s the best way to respond to criticism? Here are a few tips that I know I need to put into practice:
- Believe that the other person has your best interest at heart, or at least he or she is trying to make you better in some way. Thank them for their interest and concern.
- Receive it calmly. Beware of responding defensively, in angry retaliation, or in a wounded closing in on oneself. You may need to ask for time to process what they’ve said.
- Examine it to see whether it’s valid.
- Pray about it. Maybe it doesn’t seem valid because you have a blind spot that God is trying to alert you to.
- Criticism stings so much primarily because of pride. “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble…Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (James 4:6, 10).
- If it is valid, do whatever you need to do to correct it. Confess it to the Lord if it is a sin (1 John 1:9) and to anyone else it has affected.
- If it is not valid, explain to the person, kindly and calmly, why you feel you need to keep doing what you’re doing. There are times it will be invalid. For example, a pastor of a church of 200 may hear 25 (or more!) opinions of what he should do, some in direct conflict with each other.There is no way he can implement every suggestion or change everything to please everyone.
We can take comfort in the fact that God sees believers through His Son, Jesus Christ, and that once we savingly believe on Him, His righteousness is transferred to our account because He took our sinfulness on His. Because of His amazing grace, those who have believed on Christ for salvation become God’s children, and will have a home with Him in heaven. Our eternal life begins NOW, not when we die.
Yet until we get to heaven, we have a sin nature to contend with, and we’re instructed to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18). II Timothy 3:16-17 tell us: “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” (ESV). Part of that growing, completion, equipping, is realizing those areas where we have a problem and then seeking God’s grace and relying on His Word to change us. So when we receive a criticism, instead of just brushing it off, we can see if God means to use it to show us something we need to know about ourselves. We can prayerfully examine it to see if it is just, then we can confess it to the Lord (and to whomever else we might need to confess it) and correct it and grow in wisdom and character — and stop causing a problem in other people’s lives by continuing on in the fault. Isn’t that much better than hanging on to our hurt and indignation? And even if the criticism is invalid, perhaps God allowed it to put us through a time of self-examination and humbling.
There is only one perfect person in the universe, and as we behold Him, He changes us to be more like Himself: But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. II Corinthians 3:18.
(Updated from the archives.)