In part one of this two-part article, we will examine how to respond before you actually respond, if in fact a response is necessary. Confusing? You bet. But I think you’ll get the idea as you wade in. 

I love those two guys in the side gallery on the muppet show! Their dry humor and quick wit get me every time. The comedic timing is perfect, and the sarcastic jabs always seem to hit the right spots. Maybe the real reason they’re so funny to me is because they’re not talking about me.

Unfortunately we’ve all been the objects of unfair criticism. It’s inescapable. I suppose the flip side is true as well: we’ve all unfairly criticized others.  And before we examine some of the ways by which we should properly respond, it might be good to remember that the Bible says quite a bit about how carefully we should guard our speech. As Winston Churchill once observed, “We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.” 

In fact, the very urge to criticize others should be the trigger that causes us to gaze at the mirror first. Isn’t that what Jesus taught? When the mote seems to be so obvious in the eye of my brother, Jesus told me first to cast out the beam in my own eye.

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)

What I notice in others outwardlyshould cause me to look first inwardly. Then what? Then I’ll see clearly to cast the mote out of my brother’s eye. Criticism that does not look inward first and see the largeness of its own problems is doomed to be woefully inaccurate.

Although it is important to guard one’s tongue and examine one’s heart, the subject at hand is how to respondto criticism. When the biting comments are spoken and seem to be so unfair, what should I do? When the innuendo is posted and it’s clearly directed my way, what should I say? When the outright lie is propagated and others swallow it, how do I react? Tough questions. Consider the wisdom of responding to criticism in these two ways: (We’ll cover the third one in the next segment of this article.)

Responding to yourself

You’re livid. You just read what he wrote about you. Someone just told you about the statement she made. Like the sharp pang of a heart attack, the news of their critical conversation has just reached your ears. You’re confused. Angry. Vengeful. You’re on the brink of doing or saying something regrettable and downright stupid.   

As difficult as it is, we must first learn to embrace the criticism and grow because of it. After all, a wise man will hear. He will consider. Foolish people almost never do. When we feel the sting of criticism, we must fight the reflex to kneejerk. We must force ourselves to ask the questions, “Is it true? Is it partially true? Have others said the same thing?” Too often we dismiss criticism because we find it to be an exaggeration, or because we can argue away one particular facet of it.

For the most part I try to be friendly to all those with whom I come in contact. I say “for the most part” because I’m afraid some of you have carpooled with me in traffic! Anyway, I was taken by surprise on one particular occasion when someone said to me, “You never talk to me. You always avoid me when you walk through the church lobby!”

Where did that come from? Silently I counted to 10.

What I wanted to say immediately was this: “What in the world are you talking about!? You’re not exactly Mr. Personality yourself!” I didn’t say it. But I wanted to. Furthermore, I wanted to point out that criticism is usually invalidated when one employs the superlative words alwaysor never. I wanted to supply this unjust critic with a list of the times and places where I had indeed spoken to him. I wanted to demonstrate in no uncertain terms that his statement was entirely without merit! …but was it?

No, upon reflection he had a point. In reality, I hadn’t really gone out of my way to speak with him. And while his assertions of always and never were emotional exaggerations, the general substance of his criticism was regrettably true. The right response for me would have been to say, “I’m sorry. It was certainly not my intention to avoid you. I’ll try to do better. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.” [Then swallow hard.]  

Another important way to respond to yourself is to deal with your own anger. Words can stir up strife. They often do. Most of us can testify that the wrath of man will not work the righteousness of God. Of course I’m aware that there is something called “righteous indignation,” but I’m pretty sure that 99% of my anger is anything but that.

Paul told some people in Ephesus that human offences (including criticism) gave them an opportunity to extend grace and forgiveness for Jesus’ sake (Eph. 4:32). But we can’t be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving until we have first dealt with our own malice and anger and bitterness (Eph. 4:31). Malice and kindness are poor roommates.

What did Jesus do when He was criticized unfairly? “When he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” (1 Peter 1:23)

Think about it. He committed himself to God. What a thought! And without doubt, God knows the degree to which the criticism is legitimate. Not only does God know, He will ultimately and righteously judge the matter in His time. Truth and timing both belong to Him.

Paul embraced this mindset when he too was unfairly criticized. “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.” (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).

Read those three verses again. Seriously. Wrap your mind around them. Understanding them is truly liberating.

Let me give you one more thought about responding to yourself. When someone unfairly criticizes you, redouble your efforts to set a great example.

Timothy knew what criticism was, and unfaircriticism at that.  I imagine he heard questions like these from his critics: “You’re too young to be a pastor! Don’t you think you need a little more experience? What do you know anyway?” Shockingly, they despised him just because of his age. How do you respond to that? Be an example. Let your walk do the talking. Argumentation feeds criticism; a godly example starves it.

Responding to others

Have you ever noticed that criticism doesn’t seem nearly as toxic when it isn’t directed at you? Perhaps that’s why it’s so easy to pass it on, or fertilize it. How many times has a person unwittingly fanned the flame by clicking “like” or “retweet” to some cryptic critical remark? And the not so flattering implication for someone “always being in the know about things” is that he probably provides a listening ear to criticism all too readily. Something to think about…

Resist the urge to gang up. If someone has an issue with someone else, stay out of it. Don’t get sucked into the criticism vortex.  On this very subject, Solomon’s advice is poignantly simple: “Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.” Proverbs 26:20

Quit putting wood on the fire.

That’s enough for now. In part 2, we’ll discover some ways by which to respond to the critic himself (and throwing hand grenades is not one of them!).

Source: Consider This

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