A WALK THROUGH THE NEW TESTAMENT CONCERNING CRITICISM & A CRITICAL-SPIRIT
In Matthew 5 – Being a master Teacher, our Lord did not begin this important sermon with a negative criticism of the scribes and Pharisees. He began with a positive emphasis on righteous character and the blessings that it brings to the life of the believer. The Pharisees taught that righteousness was an external thing, a matter of obeying rules and regulations. Righteousness could be measured by praying, giving, fasting, etc. In the Beatitudes and the pictures of the believer, Jesus described Christian character that flowed from within.
In John 12 – It was Judas who started the criticism, and, sad to say, the other disciples joined in. They did not know that Judas was a devil (John 6:70), and they admired him for his concern for the poor. After all, he was the treasurer, and especially at Passover season, he would want to share with those who were less fortunate (John 13:21–30). Until the very end, the disciples believed that Judas was a devoted follower of the Lord. We today, just like the disciples that night, desperately need this lesson on humility and a critical-spirit. The church is filled with a worldly spirit of competition and criticism as believers vie with one another to see who is the greatest. We are growing in knowledge, but are we always growing in grace? (II Peter 3:18 – But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.)
“Humility is the only soil in which the graces root. The lack of humility is the sufficient explanation of every defect and failure.” – Andrew Murray
Jesus served His disciples because of His humility and because of His love. In the Upper Room, Jesus ministered in love to His own disciples, and they received Him and what He had to say. Jesus never berated His disciples, Jesus never had a critical-spirit, Jesus never sought to tear down, but only to build up. Jesus led through humility, through demonstrations of love, and not by a critical-spirit, and not by making fun of someone or their performance.
In Acts 2 – “We are not going to move this world by criticism of it nor conformity to it, but by the combustion within it of lives ignited by the Spirit of God.” Vance Havner made that statement and he was right. The early church had none of the things that we think are so essential for success today—buildings, money, political influence, social status—and yet the church won multitudes to Christ and saw many churches established throughout the Roman world. Why? Because the church had the power of the Holy Spirit energizing its ministry. They were a people who “were ignited by the Spirit of God.” That same Holy Spirit power is available to us today to make us more effective witnesses for Christ. The ministry of the Spirit is to glorify Christ in the life and witness of the believer (John 16:14), and that is what is important. We need to concentrate less on being critical about other Christians and the world and more on living a life for Christ, and being a witness for Him, according to the dictates of His Word and not because of the criticism we may receive from man.
In Romans 14:8 – Paul emphasized the believer’s union with Christ. Romans 14:8 “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.” Our first responsibility is to the Lord. If Christians would go to the Lord in prayer instead of going to their brother with criticism or going to others about their brother with criticism, there would be stronger fellowship in our churches, a stronger more unified spirit in churches, and more work and more fruit for the Kingdom of Christ would be getting done.
In I Corinthians 4:1-6 – “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God. And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.”
The local church is a family and we should not let cultivate among that family self-righteous attitudes among its members. There is a place for constructive criticism, delivered in the right way, in the right time and place, but there is no room for criticism delivered from a self-righteous attitude and point of view. If the person delivering the criticism is right, and it is done in the right way, he has helped us, but if it is not right, we need to seek ways to help him with his critical-spirit.
The Corinthians who were passing judgment on Paul were actually “playing God” and assuming to themselves the privileges that only God has. It is very easy, and we need to be careful with this, it is very easy to misjudge a person, a situation and the motives behind them. The Corinthians, like we are guilty of also, were judging Paul by the wrong standard, they were judging by personal preferences and prejudices and not by God’s Word. They were also judging with the wrong motive, our motive should not be to point out they were wrong, and “I could or would have done that better”, our motive should not be to tear down others and to build up ourselves in the process, our motive should be rooted in a humble heart and spirit and it should be to uplift, to correct when necessary, and to encourage when needed. God’s servants are stewards of His truth, and the key test is – have they been faithful to obey and to teach the Word of God? Not just faithful preaching and teaching, but faithful practicing of what they are preaching and teaching as well.
In James 4:11–12 “Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?” The saints were speaking evil of one another and judging one another with a critical-spirit. Here, again, we see the wrong use of the tongue. Christians are to be “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15); they are not to speak evil in a spirit of criticism. If the truth about a brother is harmful, then we should cover it in love and not repeat it (I Peter 4:8 – And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.). If he has sinned, we should go to him personally and try to win him back (Matthew 18:15–19; Galatians 6:1–2). James was not forbidding us to use discrimination or even to evaluate people. Christians need to have discernment (Philippians 1:9–10), but they must not act like God in passing judgment. We must first examine our own lives, and then try to help others (Matthew 7:1–5).
We never know all the facts in a case, and we certainly never know the motives that are at work in men’s hearts. To speak evil of a brother and to judge a brother based on partial evidence and possibly unkind motives is to sin against him and against God. We are not called to be judges; God is the only Judge. He is patient and understanding; His judgments are just and holy; we can leave the matter with Him. It is unfortunate that fellow Christians can be so quick to criticize, so quick to let themselves be taken over with a critical-spirit, so quick to condescendingly judge others, their actions, their performance, their heart and their intentions.