Criticism is the act of judging unfavorably or faultfinding. It is often appropriate to judge a person, thing, or action unfavorably. In fact, a true friend will speak the truth even when it’s hard to hear: "Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy" (Proverbs 27:6). Jesus was quite critical of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, and He expressed His disapproval forcibly on several occasions (e.g., Matthew 23). However, Jesus’ criticisms were always truthful and, ultimately, loving.
Since God loves people and wants the best for them, He points out faults, shortcomings, and sins. The Bible gives several examples of criticism:
"You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did" (Acts 7:51).
"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. . . . So because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16).
Our speech should be edifying. First Thessalonians 5:11 says, "Therefore encourage one another and build up one another." Hebrews 10:24 says, "Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds." And Galatians 6:1 gives the primary motivation for criticizing—with a warning: "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted." The Bible gives even more specifics on how to ensure our criticism is edifying:
Ground criticism in love
Ephesians 4:15 (“speaking the truth in love”) should be our primary guide in criticism. Godly criticism is true and loving. It comes from a humble, caring heart that wishes the best for the other person. It is not bitter, condescending, insulting, or cold-hearted. Second Timothy 2:24-25a says, "The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition." And 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 exhorts us, "Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." Criticism, if it is loving, will express those attributes.
Make sure criticism is based on truth
Criticism based on hearsay is not helpful; it is gossip. Uninformed criticism will usually wind up embarrassing the critic when the truth is revealed (see Proverbs 18:13). The self-righteous Pharisees criticized Jesus based on their own faulty standards; truth was not on their side. We can properly be critical of what the Bible is critical of. Second Timothy 3:16 says that Scripture is profitable for reproof and correction. In other words, God’s inspired Word leads us to critically analyze everyday situations.
Beware of a critical spirit
There is a significant difference between helping someone improve and having a critical spirit. A critical spirit is never pleased. A critical spirit expects and finds disappointment wherever it looks. It is the opposite of 1 Corinthians 13: a critical spirit arrogantly judges, is easily provoked, accounts for every wrong, and never carries any hope of being pleased. Such an attitude damages the critiqued as well as the critic.
Biblical criticism is helpful, loving, and based on truth. Correction is to be gentle. It comes from love, not from a sour personality. Galatians 5:22-23 says the Spirit wants to produce in us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If criticism cannot be expressed in keeping with the fruit of the Spirit, it's better left unsaid.
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