Lately, I’ve been having a hard time reading the Bible. First of all, I’m trying to read it in one year which is entirely too fast for a slow-processor like me. Second, I’ve had difficulty reading about the sexual sins in the Old Testament by patriarchs, especially King David. Most of all, the biggest difficulty has been my own heart. It has reeked of criticism toward these men.
Let’s pause right there. A critical spirit has been one of my biggest sin struggles. I could tell you many stories of how my criticism has hurt my husband, our kids, and other friends over the years. I’ve dwelt mainly on the negative, with less focus on the good.
The dangers of criticism are many because our hearts long for acceptance, fellowship, and tender, loving care. Not only this, but it is simply a sin. Matthew 7 is famous for verse one: “Judge not that you be not judged.” James 4:11-12 says, “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”
Because this issue is so destructive, and one that I’m constantly working on, I want to talk about criticism and how to overcome it.
Here are some probing questions to ask yourself if you struggle with a critical spirit:
- First, who do I criticize the most (whether in my thoughts or in word)? No, really. Get out a pen and paper and find a safe place to work this out.
- What am I most critical about toward that person? Write them down. For me, I was critical about what my husband ate, how he spent free time, how he exercised (or didn’t), how he managed our money, his tone, and his time (just to get you started if you needed some ideas).
- Am I guilty of doing the same things? This is really at the crux of overcoming criticism. If we’re honest, we do the same things. Sometimes the exact same things. Sometimes the same general thing like being lazy or selfish. Self-righteousness distorts and deceives us into thinking we’re better than the person we’re judging. “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (Romans 2:1).
- Am I jealous at all of this person? Sometimes jealousy can fuel our criticism. Not all the time, but it doesn’t hurt to check our hearts for this ugly sin.
Just last week a friend shared about her Bible study on the life of David, which made my ears perk up. She was nervous to teach the class, and it didn’t help that one of the women came in to the study late and angry and just stared out the window the whole time. At the end of the first class, this woman commented that she didn’t know why David was so praised in the Bible when he had so much sexual sin. The teacher, caught off guard, calmly responded that David had engaged in a lot of sin, but that ultimately God saw His heart. David’s heart to repent and to follow after Him.
After reflecting on her answer, I came to a new epiphany. Instead of being so peeved that David was looked on as righteous, my response should be relief. After all, I am David in one sense. I’m greedy, prideful, selfish, critical, disrespectful, quick to anger, argumentative, and wicked, and I think I’ll stop there because this list is getting quite long. But, God sees my heart to know Him and serve Him and is gracious to grant me those desires anyway.
We see what people do and say, but the truth is, we don’t know the heart. We can be wrong—dead wrong—about their motives. We need to pray for them and their issues that frustrate us. We need to confess our critical spirits as sin and beg for forgiveness. Ultimately, we need to entrust the people around us to God. They will stand before Him someday, not us.
“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls” (Romans 14:4).
Published September 23, 2017