Dr. Joel R. Beeke
No one likes criticism. Christians with sensitive consciences may find criticism even more difficult to handle. Here are nine ways to help you cope with it.
Consider Criticism Inevitable
If you’re living as a Christian in a hostile world that hates what you believe, you can’t escape criticism. Jesus said that the world will hate us even as it hated Him (1 John 3:1). He added in Luke 6:26, “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you.” So, expect criticism if you’re going to live antithetically to this world; don’t be devastated by it.
Consider the Source
Though you should take every criticism seriously, it is still wise to ask yourself: who is criticizing me? Is my critic a friend or a foe, a mature believer or a hardened unbeliever, a highly critical individual, or perhaps a fringe member of the church?
If your critic is someone known for wisdom, you should encourage his or her constructive evaluation. Generally speaking, the more you can sincerely welcome constructive criticism, the more your relationship with others will benefit from it.
Consider Timing and Prayer
The physical setting, timing, and situation out of which criticism comes may help you determine whether the criticism is helpful. As a general rule, don’t respond to criticism for at least twenty-four hours to allow yourself time for prayer, sifting through your feelings, getting past some of the hurt, and consulting others whose wisdom you respect.
Prayer time is critical. Prayer puts criticism in its proper context. It provides clarity of mind and warmth of soul, decreases your anxiety level, and rekindles your passion for what is right and true. Moreover, it is hard to dislike someone while you are praying for that person.
The Holy Spirit uses our critics to keep us from becoming self-satisfied and from justifying and exalting ourselves. So let yourself be vulnerable. Find an accountability partner or two to monitor your reactions to criticism. Seek the wisdom and courage needed to penetrate the insulation around your ego. Don’t be afraid to say, “I was wrong; will you forgive me?”
Be grateful that you can learn valuable truths about yourself from your critics. Some of our best friends are those who disagree with us lovingly, openly, and intelligently. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6). Helpful criticism is like good medicine.
Consider the Content
Ask yourself honestly: What are my critics saying that might help me improve myself? Is there a kernel of truth in this particular criticism that, if changes are made, will make me more godly?
David Powlison writes, “Critics, like governing authorities, are servants of God to you for good (Rom. 13:4). He who sees into hearts uses critics to help us see things in ourselves: outright failings of faith and practice, distorted emphases, blind spots, areas of neglect, attitudes and actions contradictory to stated commitments, and, yes, strengths and significant contributions.”
If critics say something constructive, absorb it, confess your fault, take the lead in self-criticism, ask for forgiveness wholeheartedly, make changes for the better, and move on. If the critics offer nothing constructive, be kind and polite, and move on. Either way, move on—don’t harbor internal bitterness.
Don’t strive to justify yourself. Your friends don’t need that, and your enemies probably won’t believe you anyhow.
Don’t get self-defensive or angry. Remember, whatever your critic is saying of you—even if it is totally false—isn’t half as bad as you really are. Thank God they don’t know your every thought!
Don’t render evil for evil. Fight God’s battles, not your own, and you will discover that He will fight yours. Remember Romans 12:19: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
Memorize and meditate upon texts such as Ephesians 6:10, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might,” as well as Romans 12:10: “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love.”
When critics attack and you can’t understand God’s ways, plead Jesus’ words in John 13:7, “What I do thou know – est not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” Remember, God makes no mistakes. Look more to Him as the ultimate cause rather than to secondary causes, as John Calvin advised. Accept, therefore, all Christ’s providential dealings with you as from Himself, and let those dealings conform you to His image. Only as Scripture conforms us to the image of Christ will we find the right balance of strong tenderness and tender strength to rightly face criticism.
Above all, look to Jesus in the face of mounting criticism. Hebrews 12:3 advises, “Consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself.” Peter is more detailed: “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Peter 2:21–23).
If Christ, who was perfect and altogether innocent, was spat upon, mocked, rejected, and crucified, what can we sinners expect? If one of Jesus’ handpicked apostles betrayed Him for a paltry sum and another deserted Him, even swearing that he did not know Him, why should we expect to carry out our lives without ever being betrayed or deserted?
Love your critic. Seek to understand him. Thank him for coming directly to you with his criticism.
Be willing to forgive any injury done to you. Failure to fully forgive will keep the pain alive. As Charles Spurgeon says, “Unless you have forgiven others, you read your own death warrant when you repeat the Lord’s Prayer. Forgive and forget. When you bury a dead dog, you don’t leave its tail sticking up above the ground.”
Pray for your critic, and if possible, pray with your critic. Pray with integrity and humility.
Put away anything that inhibits love. As Peter writes, “Laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings” (1 Peter 2:1). When you do this, you will discover that your own wounds will heal more rapidly.
Remember, all criticism for us as true believers is temporary. Our faithful Savior will be waiting for us on the other side of Jordan. He loves us even though He knows everything about us, and He will take us to be with Him where He is forever. He will wipe away every tear from our eye and will prove to be the Friend who sticks closer than a brother. All wrongs will be made right. All injustices will be judged. All evil will be walled out of heaven and all good walled in. There our believing critics will embrace us, and we them. There will be a complete, perfect, visible, intimate oneness in eternal glory.
Three great truths will become perfect reality for us: first, we will understand that all the criticism we received here below was used in the hands of our Potter to prepare us for Immanuel’s land. Second, we will see fully that all the criticisms we were called to bear on earth were but a light affliction compared to the weight of glory that awaited us. Third, in heaven we will be more than repaid for every criticism we endured on earth for the sake of our best and perfect Friend, Jesus Christ.
Published by The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, used with permission.