Responding “Christianly” to Criticism
By Brian Mavis
Have you ever been criticized for something that you said (or didn’t say? Have you ever been criticized for something you have done (or didn’t do)? Have you ever been criticized for just being who you are (or not someone else)? The answer to all of these questions is Yes.
Someone who is never criticized isn’t doing anything!
Anyone who is doing something will be criticized. And it can hurt. So when someone criticizes you for something you said, or did, or even for who you are, how should you respond?
Being a Christian Sometimes puts you in positions where you are scrutinized more closely, much more is expected of you at times, and there can be more pressure put on you just to see how you will react. If we all would be honest, we all have had to face criticism at sometime in our lives. Don’t lose hope though we are not alone. Moses, David, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul, and Jesus all were criticized.
Have you responded well to criticism sometimes, but other times you haven’t. I trust we all want to consistently respond “Christianly” to criticism. There are a several scriptures that can guide us in doing this. The one I want to focus on is James 1:19-20:
Jas 1:19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
Jas 1:20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
Another Translation “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
James says we should do three things.
1. swift to hear
2. slow to speak
3. slow to wrath
1. Give an open ear. James says we should be “quick to listen.” That means we want to listen. We welcome feedback. We yearn to learn from others. We need to know that every critique is an opportunity to grow.
2. ACC - Talk little and work much
3. The righteous speak little, and do much; the wicked speak much, and do nothing
4. First, Those who are easily incensed [angered], and easily pacified; these gain on one hand, and lose on the other.
5. Secondly, Those who are not easily incensed, but are difficult to be appeased; these lose on the one hand, and gain on the other.
6. Thirdly, Those who are difficult to be incensed, and are easily appeased; these are the good.
7. Fourthly, Those who are easily angered, and difficult to be appeased; these are the wicked."
Brian Mavis says, Listen to understand.
Often we don’t listen in order to understand the person’s perspective. Often we listen to argue back. When we don’t listen to understand, several things can happen.
One, we don’t use the opportunity to learn from the other person.
Two, we don’t demonstrate an inclination to respect other people’s perspectives.
Three, we appear to be defensive.
Four, we can misunderstand the criticism.
Mr. Mavis wrote something about Christmas that he knew would generate some conversation and controversy. He got some “amens” and some “oh nos”. After reading and responding to some people who disagreed with him, he quickly replied to another email. he basically said they would need to agree to disagree on it. He wrote back confused and said, “how do we disagree?” Mr. Mavis reread the email. The other person was explaining his thoughts – which were similar to Mr. Mavis’s. He had been defensive and didn’t listen to understand.
2. Have a tame tongue. James says we should be “slow to speak.” It’s hard not to quickly react without over reacting. Rarely have I regretted waiting to respond to a critique. On the other hand, I have regretted many times responding too soon with words I can’t take back.
Pr 10:19 In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.
Pr 14:7 Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge.
Years ago, many advised that if you ever wrote a letter in anger, wait at least a day or two before actually mailing it. With the wonder of email and instant messaging we can now whip out a quick response and simply hit the send button creating untold havoc and heartache in the process.
Use this time of delaying your reaction to consider the critique – was it true? – in what spirit was it given? These questions are vital.
3. Keep a cool head. James says we should be “slow to become angry.” Don’t mirror people’s anger. This is hard, but essential. When people are expressing anger towards you, it’s hard not to get defensive. But James wisely points out that your anger won’t bring “the righteous life that God desires” – neither in your life or in the life of the other person. You can see the truth of this by what you are going through. Their anger towards you has made it hard for you to respond in a right way. Don’t compound the problem by being a hothead. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). When you express your anger, don’t assume that you are being used by God; more often than not you are being used by the enemy of God.
Each criticism comes the opportunity to grow – either for you, the other person, or for both of you. And with each criticism comes the opportunity to respond “Christianly.” During the “tame your tongue” phase, use this time to think about the criticism.