Criticism, Cynicism, and Saints

Criticism is a part of life.  It is an undesirable part, but it is a part nonetheless.  No one is immune to it, and there is no escape from it.  Every arena of life has to deal with the element of some form of criticism.  If  we do not know how to properly deal with criticism, then it can certainly become a fertilizer for the root of bitterness that springs up and chokes the the life out of any semblance of mental, or spiritual health.  Criticism unproperly handled can become a sword in our spirit that cuts us every time we move or breathe.  Been there, done that, and got the T-shirt.

How then do we as Christians deal with criticism that is aimed squarely at us personally?  Whether it’s at work, within our family, maybe it’s a neighbor, or from an even more difficult source, someone within our church, criticism must be handled Biblically.  How then do we do that?  Here are just a few things from scripture that every believer needs to know when standing in front of the fire hydrant of criticism.

First of all, discern the difference between honest criticism, and mean spirited cynicism, they are not the same.  The Bible instructs us to receive one, but to outright reject the other.

Realize this; criticism is to be thoughtfully recieved.

    Proverbs 27:6 – “Faithful are the wounds of a friend . . . ”

     Psalm 141:5 – “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head . . .”

     Proverbs 15:31-32 – “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. ”

The fact is that truth is our friend, and sometimes rose colored glasses lie to us.  Some of the most painful things that have ever been said to me, were true.  While we often reject the truth because of the messenger, we miss the blessing because of our bitterness.  God often speaks to us through means that we do not want to hear.  If He can speak through the dumb tongue of a donkey, then he can speak through the cutting tongue of a critic.  Genuine, honest, straightforward criticism is something that needs to move through the mill of the mind for the purpose of responding to any truths that it may contain.

Criticism is to be thoughtfully received, but mean spirited cynicism is to be outright rejected.

Proverbs 22:10 – “Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease.”

Proverbs 29:8 – “Scornful men bring a city into a snare: but wise men turn away wrath.”

Proverbs 21:11 – “When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise:  . . .”

Romans 16:17-18 – “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; 

The difference between legitimate criticism, and hateful cynicism is as broad as the difference between apples and cats.  They aren’t even the same kind of critter.  The cynic is the one whose genuine joy is pointing out wrong, and cutting people down to size.  The critic is one whose genuine joy is truth, and would rather see people built up.

In the arena of my life, as a pastor, I have often dealt with both.  Personally,  I have always had an open door policy, in which anyone could talk to be me about anything.  Not everyone knows where I live, but it is no secret, and anyone in any of the churches that I have pastored has always been welcome at our home.  I have had people who were what I called, “friendly critics.” I could trust them, because they genuinely wanted what was best for our church, and they had no personal agenda to see my demise.  When I made a wrong decision they told me.  When I make a mistake preaching, they help me. When there is an appearance in my life that I am not aware of, they let me know. (Which is the biggest danger for any preacher in my opinion – false appearances.)  When you have someone willing to tell you the truth because they love you, you have a precious gift.

On the other hand, the cynics are a different story.  Their entire joy in life is in finding reasons to take potshots at you. There are those people in life who do not really want to point something out for your own good, but they want to point it out for their own sense of twisted joy.  They love for you to be wrong, and their joy is found in cutting people down to the size that they want you to be.  Within a church context however certain things to be remembered

 Their attitude undercuts their credibility.  The truth is that with many cynics, they think they are engaging in “righteous indignation” when they rail against perceived wrongs.  The reality is that the Bible says, “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”  The Bible also makes it plain in Titus 3:10 that “a man that is an heretick, after the first and second admonition, reject.”  The word for heretick is the word that means “schismatic”, and it speaks of someone who has a divisive spirit.  A heretick is one whose joy it is to be divisive toward the will of the church body.

When someone has the right spirit and their agenda is edification, they will speak straightforward but gentle, pointed but peaceful, and personal fellowship can still continue even in a disagreement.  On most of the things that rise up in a church setting, fellowship can exist in disagreement where people are more willing to be in “accord” than they are to be “right.”

A cynic, however, can never be happy until the one he’s beating down says “uncle.”  And even then, once someone says “uncle” the cynic will never let up.  These spirits and attitudes are to be outright rejected.  Whatever grain of truth they may have latched hold of, does not justify, license, or grant permission for them to embrace their position of self-rightoues indignation.

If a man is your friend, and is genuinely trying to help by pointing out some proverbial food in your teeth that  you can’t see, then that criticism should be welcomed and received.  If a man merely latches on to your faults, and enjoys taking verbal potshots, driveby comments, and sarcastic remarks, then you can and should categorically dismiss such offhandedly. 

    1.) The Spirit of the Lord never behaves that way. No one under the control of the Holy Spirit, will behave with such dilinquency in their speech.

    2.) The Bible says to “reject the schismatic” person

    3.) The Bible never lets your own wrongs, justify that kind of behavior toward you.  You may not be innocent, but your guilt doesn’t give a cynic permission to be a cynic.  If you are guilty, repent.  “Cast out the cynic” but repent anyway, if there is something to be repented of.

   I am currently reading the true story of a church member who rose up against his pastor to the point that the member killed the pastors wife, and attempted to kill the pastor.  It is a terribly true tale of what happens when selfish cynicism, and self-righteous indignation reaches it’s fever pitch in the flesh.  When issues of control, criticism, and conflict are not handled biblically the results can be tragic. 

Criticism properlygiven, and properly taken, will have proper results.  That each saint would know how to deal with both ends Biblically would be a necessary change worth making.

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