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Summary: The criticial spirit seems to be something that is easy for people to have. This sermon looks at at how to handle criticism

Overcoming Criticism

Ephesians 4:25-32

There’s the story of a man who was taking a journey with his grandson by donkey. He had only had 1 donkey and the road took him through 5 villages to get home. He put the boy on the donkey and walked alongside. The first village criticized, saying, “Look at that healthy young boy, making that old man walk.” He couldn’t take the criticism, so he switched places with the boy. The second village criticized, “look at that…a healthy, grown man making a little boy walk.” He couldn’t take it, so they both got on the donkey. The third village said, “that’s animal abuse having two of them on that one little donkey” So, they both started walking. The fourth village said, “can you believe it, two people walking when they have a perfectly good donkey…you’d think one of them would have sense enough to get on and ride!” He had had enough, so guess what he did. He came to 5th village, and what did the people see? The boy was walking, the man was walking, and they were carrying the donkey!

The criticial spirit seems to be something that is easy for people to have. We all know how painful it can be when someone comes up to you and says, “Can I be perfectly honest with you?” Or “I don't want to be critical but…” Remember the saying you learned as a kid, “Sticks and stone can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” That’s a lie. Words hurt. They bruise much deeper than sticks and stones and can take much longer to heal. And they can influence what we do and how we live. The Psalmist knew what criticism could do to a person and its piercing power when he said, “Hide me from the wicked who wet their tongues like a sword and bend their bows to shoot their arrows full of bitter words.” Psalm 64:2

We all know we cannot hide from criticism. It’s a fact of life. I love what Aristotle said, “Criticism is something you can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing.” Criticism is difficult for everyone to handle. It’s sometimes needed but never wanted. So the question isn’t “Will I be criticized?” but rather “How can I handle criticism constructively?” The way we handle criticism is a clue to where we are spiritually. The way in which we hear people tells us a great deal about our spiritual maturity. More than that, the way in which we receive constructive feedback is a measure of how Christ is growing in us.

Paul spoke to the church at Ephesus about handling criticism effectively. First, understand the difference between constructive feedback and destructive criticism. Let’s acknowledge that not all feedback is constructive or helpful. How do you know the difference between constructive feedback and destructive criticism? Ask four questions. First, how was it given? Did they give the benefit of the doubt or were they judgmental? Have they already formed an opinion before they came? Were they really seeking honest answers and information or had they already come to a conclusion? Were the words said in anger or contempt or were they said in love? Ephesians 4:15 says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Second, when was it given? Was it in public or private? Was it given out of anger or after a time when moods and emotions had died down?

Third, why was it given? Was it for your benefit or theirs? What was their agenda? The Message Translation says, “Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you do not agree with – even when it seems they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.” Romans 14:1,10 David Simmons, a former cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys, tells about his childhood. His father, a military man, was extremely demanding, rarely saying a kind word, and always pushing him with harsh criticism to do better. When Dave was a little boy, his dad gave him a bicycle, unassembled, with the command that he put it together. After Dave struggled to the point of tears with difficult instructions and many parts, his father said, “I knew you couldn’t do it!” Then he assembled it for him. When Dave played football in high school, his father was unrelenting in his criticisms. In the backyard of his home, after every game, his dad would go over every play and point out Dave’s errors. “Most boys got butterflies in the stomach before the game. I got them afterwards. Facing my father was more stressful than facing any opposing team.” By the time he entered college, Dave hated his father and harsh discipline. He chose to play football at the University of Georgia because its campus was further from home than any other school that offered him a scholarship. After college, he was a second round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals. Joe Namath, who later signed with the Jets, was the club’s first round pick that year. Excited, he called his father to tell him the good news. His response was, “How does it feel to be second?” Despite all of this, Dave began to build a bridge with his dad because he became a follower of Christ. During visits home, he started conversations with him and listened with interest to what his father had to say. In those conversations, he learned for the first time that his grandfather had been a tough lumberjack with a quick temper and who once destroyed a truck with a sledgehammer when it wouldn’t start. He often beat his son. This insight affected Dave dramatically. “Knowing about my father’s upbringing not only made me more sympathetic for him, but it helped me see that, under the circumstances, he might have done worse…” Try to understand the motives or catalysts behind those giving critics.

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