‘Criticism’, 26th September 2021, Matthew 7:1-6
Father send your Holy Spirit, to teach us. As we dive into the Bible would you awaken our hearts, expand our minds and shape my identities and lives today. We want to live a Jesus shaped life … Amen.
All of us can receive criticism. At work, criticism can come from a work colleague; at home it can come from a spouse or a parent or your children; at school or college it can come from a teacher; even our friends can be critical towards us. People may be negative about our work, our marriage, our faith or how we bring up our children. It can be very hard to receive criticism and sometimes we can be deeply hurt and wounded by it.
How should we respond when we are criticized or condemned? What is the difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism. Is there ever a time to criticize other people?
Across the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has taught about character – who we are; about our conduct – how we live; our secret life – who we are when no one is looking; about our ambitions – what our desires; about security – what or in whom do we place our trust. Now in this chapter, he moves to how we relate to other people – relationships.
1.Do not Judge.
‘Do not judge or you too will be judged.’’
What does Jesus have in mind?
Jesus is not talking about the authority of the nation. Paul teaches in Romans 13, that judges and those in legal authority: ‘’God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.’’
He is not talking about the exercise of authority in the home or in the church. The Book of Proverbs exhorts parents to exercise authority in their home. It is a kind of judgement – discerning right from wrong – but it is a right kind of judgement.
Discipline also exists inside the church. During the Reformation, a definition of the church was : ‘’a place in which the word is preached, the sacraments are administered, and discipline is exercised.’’ And this follows NT teaching. There much teaching across the epistles about how believers are to treat one another; yet in those letters Paul, Peter etc are in fact discerning and speaking into situations which are unhealthy or plain wrong within the churches. Paul himself made judgements, about a fellow leader, Peter, in Galatians 2.
So if Jesus did not mean these things, what did he mean?
What Jesus is attacking here is a judgemental attitude towards people.
The Greek word used here has two meanings and both are important.
The first one means ‘to criticize, to find fault, to condemn.’
Jesus speaks to the ways in which we try to manage or control those close to us, by blaming them or condemning them, and forcing upon them our ‘wonderful solutions’ for their situation or problems.
Judgmentalism is a danger for all us of us – even in the church. There is an old episode of The Simpsons, where Homer Simpson asks his church-going neighbours, the Flanders, where they have been. Maude replies – ‘I was at Bible Camp. We were learning about how to be more judgmental.’’
Dallas Willard says: ‘’If we would really help those close to us and dear to us, and if we would learn to live together with our family and ‘neighbors’ in the power of the kingdom, we must abandon the deeply rooted human practice of condemning and blaming. This is what Jesus means when he says ‘do not judge’. He is telling us that we should, and that we can, become the kind of person who does not blame others.’’ Willard, Divine Conspiracy.
Now it is important to remember when Jesus says his words. If we are dealing, with what Jesus has already taught on, about anger, contempt, cultivation of listing, verbal manipulation, revenge and getting even, along with the burdens and anxieties about ‘have people’s approval’ and having security through wealth, then we are much more ready for what he now teaches. These are not just some comments Jesus has added as he comes to the end of his sermon on the mount. These words build upon what he has already said.
2. Exercise good judgement.
The Greek word we mentioned Krino – has a second meaning – ‘’to separate, make a distinction between, exercise judgement upon, to estimate or appraise.’’
So you visit a dentist. He examines your teeth and he says ‘ I see you have not been brushing regularly. Your gums are beginning to recede.’ When your dentist does that, he is indeed judging the condition of your teeth and gums and how you brush your teeth! He is discerning, seeing and saying what it is.
Now normally we do not think our dentist is condemning us or our teeth or gums. He appraises, evaluates their condition, and how things could be in a more desirable condition. That is his work. Now yes, he could be condemning us. But that is certainly usually not the case.
Willard: ‘’we do not have to – we cannot – surrender the valid practice of distinguishing and discerning how things are in order to avoid condemning others. We can, however, train ourselves, to hold people responsible and discuss their failures with them – and even assign them penalties if we are for example in some authority position over them – without attacking their worth as human beings or marking them as rejects.’’ Willard, ibid.
We are to exercise good judgment instead of being judgemental.
We are not to be fault finders, who are negative and destructive towards other people and enjoy seeking out their failures and trying to fix them. Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones – the famed London preacher – said: ‘’If we ever know the feeling of being rather pleased when we hear something unpleasant about another, that is the wrong spirit.’’ Gumbel, p.190.
It can simply be worth asking ourselves. Why am I criticizing that person? This is not just the criticizism we may do in public – to the person, on social media or even in our life group – but in our head, when we are behind the PC or driving and they come to mind.
When Jesus talks about giving sacred things to dogs, and pearls to pigs, it is about what helps them – pearls can not be digested. They are useless to pigs. We seek to give what is helpful to others and not just what we think is helpful. For that we need good judgement.
Jesus sums things up in v12. ‘In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets (NASB 95 translation). The word ‘therefore’ points us back to verse 1-11. The bottom line – in the kingdom life, we extend the respect to others, that we would hope others will extend to us.’’
3. Learn to give and receive constructive criticism.
Not all criticism is bad. He is not ruling out constructive criticism. All training has constructive criticism. A teacher needs to criticize his or her pupils constructively. It is about discerning, evaluating, and talking about failures and where to improve. If these things did not happen, no learning would take place. As someone said : ‘the largest room in the world, is the room for improvement.’
You see ‘the plank in the eye’ what Jesus refers to, is not make yourself better and then you can criticize. The plank is condemnation. We are angry, contemptuous or simply self righteousness – like the Pharisee who began praying – Lord I thank you that I am not like…’ and are in that place, we cannot see.
The problem is, that even if we learn how not to condemn,
those we talk with may not know how to take our appraisal. They may only see it as an attack upon their person.
This is an issue today, when so many people seek approval. They cannot hold onto the fact that they are valued, loved, secure, significant and accepted by God in Christ. Instead they see any negative feedback of what they do, as condemnation of themselves as persons. There was an old phrase : ‘hate the sin and love the sinner’. But many no longer accept that. The attitude is, in many settings and I think in churches, ‘’if you disapprove of what I do or how I do it, you can only be condemning me and rejecting me. In effect the self talk going on is : ‘’I am my actions and how can you say you disapprove of my actions but love me?’’ Williard, ibid, p.248.
Criticism of others is a delicate operation. If we are to give feedback, we should not do it in a condemning way – ie we remove the plank of condemnation – we do it with humility, understanding, sympathy and generosity.
We should be like a mother who notices a speck in her daughter’s eye and very carefully, very delicately takes it out.
Confrontation should be combined with affirmation. As Paul says to Timothy: Correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.’
Paul in Galations gives a very helpful approach. ‘’Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.’’
- Firstly we don’t start to correct unless we are absolutely sure of the facts; for example are we sure it is sin? So if there is lack of clarity about whether it sin, or has it occurred, do not start correcting.
- Who corrects? ‘Live by the Spirit’ – Paul is suggesting about a spiritual maturity. So are you the one to correct or is someone more suitable?
- The correcting to be done, is not to leave the person with a bad feeling; but ‘restoration.’ We want to bring them back on the path of following / serving Jesus and to establish them there, so their progress in character and living can continue.
- Those who correct ‘ watch yourselves’ –We consider the sin or error they are involved in. To feel the burden. We are aware it could be us who could do the same thing. As one preacher said ‘but for the grace of God go I.’ Our self awareness removes any sense of self righteousness or superiority, which will greatly help our correction.
A practical method. Nicky Gumbel shares about Bishop Sandy Millar who was Nicky’s boss at HTB for 20 years. Nicky says, that Sandy was very good at speaking the truth in love – as Paul says in Eph 4:19. Sandy described it like a sandwich : at first he would be genuinely positive – encouraging, building you up; then he offered his criticism; then he would finish with more encouraging words. Nicky said – he ended this conversations feeling encouraged – not condemned – and he remembered what Sandy had said.
4.The critic’s attack.
So what happens when we receive criticism that is not constructive? Well if we want to achieve anything in life we are bound to receive criticism. How to avoid criticism? Someone said: To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.’ We may be people of integrity, but when we look at Jesus own life – the greatest teacher, the man loved all and anyone – the one who did not judge in the way people did – Jesus was still criticized by his family, his disciples, by the Pharisees and he was criticized for his teaching.
I came across some advice years ago which helped me – from a pastor – who said to look for the kernel of truth within each criticism. God may have something there for you.
But if criticism is wholly destructive then it is best to ignore it. Someone said we can learn from the weather – ‘However rude we are about it, the weather pays no attention to criticism.’’
Dallas Willard: If we need to look at the criticism, we look at it only simultaneously holding in full view the face that Jesus, so far from condemning me, died for me and is right now intervening on my behalf in the heavens. This helps us stay out of countercondemnation (where I attack back the other person), with its pain and anger.’’ Willard goes on to say: ‘’Who is the one condemning me…’’ I ask, ‘ when I set that beside that ONE who does not condemn me?’’ As Romans 8 reminds us, nothing can separate me from the love of Christ – who is then is the one who condemns – no one, Christ who died is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. ‘’
5. Sow Mercy, kindness and love.
‘For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’ Jesus will restate this later – in v12 – ‘In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.’’ We treat others as God treats us.
As you approach your correction or feedback etc, seek to see this believer as God does. A Christian is valued, loved, secure, significant, accepted. For if that is how God sees us and thus the approach from which he comes towards us, so should we to other believers.
If we judge others – we create an environment of judgmentalism in the church.
DL Moody – c19th American evangelist – powerfully said: ‘’You may find hundreds of fault finders among professed Christians, but all their criticism will not lead one solitary soul to Christ. I have never preached a sermon that I could not pick to pieces and find fault with. I feel that Jesus Christ ought to have a far better representative than I am. But I have lived long enough to discover that there is nothing perfect in this world. If you wait til you find a perfect preacher or a perfect service, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a long time. Let’s be done with faultfinding.’’ Moody quoted in Gumbel, p.192.
This atmosphere empties churches. You may have experienced it. We try to avoid critical people because probably they are equally critical of us when our backs are turned.
Our community is to reflect the character of God. Be imitators of God, as Paul tells the Ephesians.
In life God has not judged us as we deserve. He has not condemned us. He has died for us. He has set us free. The Holy Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts. The Book of Lamentations reminds us : ‘’Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.’’ If God has treated us so wonderfully, we do the same to them.
To finish. Nicky Gumbel says: ‘’We need to follow the words of Jesus and cut out our petty squabbles and our judgementalism. We need to stop criticizing other denominations and other traditions within our own denominations. We need to forget the past, drop the labels, and unite around the person of Jesus Christ. We need to get on with the task he has given us, until he comes again. Then he will do the judging and his judgement will be perfect.’’
Lord Jesus, I fix my eyes on you,
the author and perfector of my faith.
May my words be used to build up, strengthen and encourage;
Help me to know when to speak and when to listen;
Open my eyes to when I speak with a log in my eye.
Help me to know you more clearly, love you more dearly and follow you more nearly,
each and every day. Amen.