Occasionally, because of articles I’ve written, I’ve been accused of “condemning” my brethren for the way they live or the way they worship. This has never been my intention and I sincerely apologize if I have ever come across this way. I’m sure I have made many mistakes in this area.
But that being said, I think we need to recognize the important distinction that exists between criticizing and condemning.
We Need to Criticize
I realize we live in a culture where criticism is not popular. If you criticize anyone, you’re labeled judgmental, hypocritical, and pharisaical. However, removing all criticism from our lips is not as biblical or godly as it may seem.
We need to be criticized when we are doing something wrong. We need to be criticized when we are neglecting some good thing we should be doing. We need to be criticized when we are teaching something that is false. If we are never criticized, we never learn. If there is no accountability, we unknowingly make a mess out of our lives.
Scripture is full of instruction about how we should give and receive criticism:
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you (Proverbs 9:8).
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid (Proverbs 12:1).
A scoffer does not like to be reproved; he will not go to the wise (Proverbs 15:12).
Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence (Proverbs 15:32).
Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue (Proverbs 28:23).
As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear (1 Timothy 5:20).
This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith (Titus 1:13).
It is obvious from Scripture that the wise listen to – and learn from – criticism. I don’t want to live in a world where there is no criticism. A world without criticism is a world where foolishness reigns supreme.
When We Criticize, We Need to do it with Love
Often we take the idea of rebuking, reproving, and criticizing to an unhealthy level. Some Christians seem to think they must criticize everyone with whom they disagree. And some think they are justified in using harsh and inflammatory speech when they criticize.
Here are some important things to remember about criticizing:
- Not everything needs to be criticized. Even if someone is wrong and you are right, sometimes the right thing to do is to overlook the offense (Proverbs 19:11) and just keep your mouth closed (Ecclesiastes 3:7).
- You are not always the right person to do the criticizing. Sometimes you do not know the person well enough – or the situation well enough – to be the one to address the issue.
- Scripture should always be the standard by which we criticize. Your opinions and your traditions should not be the basis on which you level criticism against someone (John 7:24; 1 Peter 4:11; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
- Even in our criticism, our speech should reflect the fruit of the Sprit (Galatians 5:22-23). Is our criticism genuinely motivated by love? Is it obvious, when we criticize, that we love the other person? Are we patient? Are we kind? Are we gentle? Are we practicing self-control? These are questions on which we must honestly reflect.
All Criticism is Not Condemnation
Finally, we need to understand that we can criticize someone without condemning them. As I understand it, to “condemn” someone means to pronounce that they are lost and going to hell. But if someone simply says to you, “I think you’re wrong on this issue,” they have not condemned you. So please don’t escalate an already intense situation by claiming others have condemned you, when they’ve only criticized you.
As it pertains to “condemning,” there is certainly a time when we should express to people that they are in a lost condition. If someone is not “in Christ,” he or she is lost (John 14:6; John 15:1-8; Romans 8:1). But even when we must express this reality to someone, let us do it compassionately and mercifully.
When we disagree and criticize our brethren over various doctrinal issues, let us do our best to not “condemn” one another. We must leave such judgements up to the Lord. He is the judge. Heed the words of Romans 14:4, 10:
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand…Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
Give and receive criticism graciously. When you’re criticized, don’t be too quick to defend yourself. Learn from it and grow. When you give it, make sure it is biblical and loving.
I love you and God loves you,