According to the old western ballad, "Home on the Range", the range was a place, "where never is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day."
Fanciful thought. Never hearing a discouraging word would be pleasant. But that really wasn’t true in the old west and it’s certainly not realistic in our lives either.
We can’t expect our lives to be totally free of discouraging news. The doctor may tell us we have a certain illness - but we need to hear about it in order to seek proper treatment. The mechanic may give us a bad report about our car. That too, is unfortunately necessary so repairs can be made. At times we all need to hear constructive comments to adjust our course of living.
But there are also discouraging words that are UN-necessary. Critical comments made by people who have never given serious consideration to the proper use of God’s gift of speech.
People who are still so ignorant that they believe, "If I think it, I might as well say it."
We’ve all been guilty. God’s Word says no man can control the tongue. (James 3:8) Our gift of verbal communication must be influenced by God Himself if it is to be properly exercised.
One of the prime offences of utterance is constrictive criticism. Constrictive criticism is the antithesis of constructive criticism. Its purpose is not to build up but rather to tear down.
A prime biblical example takes place in our Scripture.
Moses’ own sister and brother let their lips get loose and before you know it they were saying things they would later regret.
How do you keep yourself from making a mess with your mouth?
Here are several questions to ask yourself before you loosen your lips for criticism.
1. Are my comments against the person, or against something the person is doing or saying?
There is nothing at all wrong with trying to help our leaders or anyone else see things about themselves that need improving. But the "why" and the "way" in which we carry out our mission are vitally important.
The attack of Miriam and Aaron on their little brother was personal, not ideological.
We can always tell if our criticism is taking the wrong tone when we begin to attack the person.
Whether we are talking with our spouse, a friend, a co-worker, or someone in authority over us - if we feel criticism is absolutely necessary, it should not be directed toward the person. Instead, it should lovingly be directed at what the person is saying or doing that needs tweaking.
2. Does my criticism mask the real reason for my verbal attack?
Miriam and Aaron were critical of Moses for marrying a woman of another race. Truth is, prohibitions against interracial marriage are man-made. They didn’t originate with God. (Yes, God did tell His people not to inter-marry with non-believers, but that is certainly not a race issue.)
The attack on Moses’ integrity was simply a smokescreen to draw attention away from the real reason his siblings were upset with him. They were upset that all of the attention and all of the speaking opportunities were going to Moses. (Verse 2)
Our motive is always central when we talk to or about others. Put plainly, Miriam and Aaron suffered from envy and jealousy.
If you find yourself tempted to be envious or jealous of another take some time to reconsider the opportunities God has given you.
Aaron was the only man on the planet who could enter the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement. As High Priest of Israel he was a type of Christ! What a position of great magnitude and honor! Moses could have been jealous of Aaron but he wasn’t. The Bible says Moses was meek. (Verse 3) His humility kept him from envy and jealousy.
Miriam had been the one who had cleverly saved Moses’ life as a baby. Hers was a place of great honor in the camp of the Israelites. She prophesied and led the Israelites in worship and praise to God at the Red Sea at a time when female prophets were rare. But Moses’ wasn’t critical of her. He was not jealous.
The key is not to focus on the doors of opportunity God has opened for others. The key is to concentrate on the openings God brings to us.
3. Have I cleared my criticism with God?
Verse 3 emphatically states the obvious reality that, when Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses, "the Lord heard it."
Of course God hears everything. That’s a sobering thought we need to consider in all of our conversation.
We need to practice the presence of God in our communication - especially in our criticisms.
If you don’t mind God hearing what you say, and how you say it, then it’s okay to speak.
4. Am I helping or hurting by what I am saying?
It’s not enough that something is true. It must be necessary and helpful for us to verbalize.
Ephesians 4:29 - "Do not let unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."
The comments made by Miriam and Aaron had to hurt.
They hurt God. They hurt Moses. They hurt the family of God. They even hurt the critics themselves.
God often has mercy and our admission of guilt causes Him to withhold punishment. However, in this case, God disciplined Miriam to set an example. (Perhaps Miriam was the chief catalyst of the criticism.)
Instead of saying critical or discouraging things to or about one another, consider making it a practice to encourage people by your conversation.