For many of us, criticism comes all too easily, and I confess that I am no exception. While we indeed need to develop critical thinking skills, we do well to be on guard against becoming a critic who is constantly pointing out the wrong while we do little to build up the right. Someone has said that a critic is a person who never actually goes to the battle yet who afterward comes out shooting the wounded.
Criticism that is not constructive has the power to create untold heartache. Individuals, homes, churches, mission organizations, and schools have all suffered immeasurable damage as a result of criticism that is unfounded, unnecessary, or unloving.
This is why I should be concerned about meeting the following criteria before criticizing, should my situation ever demand that I engage in this sensitive but sometimes necessary work. (See, for example, Galatians 2:11-14, where the Apostle Paul criticizes the Apostle Peter for hypocritical behavior).
My criticism is more likely to be constructive rather than destructive if I can answer the following questions in the affirmative:
1. Have I loved like Jesus loved?
Jesus criticized the Pharisees (Matthew 23) and then went to a cross to die for them. Do I have this love for the one I am criticizing? Is my attitude right? Is my motive love? Has love led me to pray for this person? This may be where I should start, as some problems respond to believing prayer much better than criticism. But after prayer, if I still feel led to speak a word of reproof, love should be the motivator.
2. Have I looked for good as diligently as I have for evil in the person, church, or organization I am about to criticize?
Have I taken as much liberty to point out the good as I have taken to point out the evil? If not, I should probably leave this work to another. After all, if I only have an eye for evil and no eye for the good, it’s unlikely that I will succeed at being a constructive critic.
3. Have I labored to understand the problem before I criticize it?
A wise man once said, “He that answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame unto him” (Proverbs 18:13). The Apostle Peter wrote that there are some “natural brute beasts” who “speak evil of things that they understand not” (II Peter 2:12). Many a critic’s voice has grown silent when he/she had to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.
4. Am I sure I have the facts straight?
One would only need a good case of sanity, much less true religion, to be convinced of the importance of this. Yet to criticize and gossip about things not known for sure is all too frequent an activity. Even if one should get the “facts straight,” it is still possible to separate those facts from their context until the truth is obscured, and one can barely discern the truth in what is being conveyed.
5. Does God condemn what I am criticizing in His Word, either in precept or principle?
Nothing needs to be condemned that God does not condemn. Simply put, just because I don’t like it doesn’t make it wrong. Conversely, because it is my tradition doesn’t make it right for everyone. People will lose confidence in my judgment when I criticize things God’s Word does not condemn. Then, when I have something that should be said, they are unlikely to listen.
If these questions can be answered with a resounding “yes,” it may be time for me to speak up in a given situation. If not, my wisdom will shine brighter in silence.