Listen: LifeWords Q&A Podcast, Episode 83
We all have blind spots and character flaws, and sometimes it takes a friend to point it out to us. But when is it right to correct someone, and when is it wrong? Didn’t Jesus say “judge not, lest you also be judged”? In this episode of LifeWords Q&A, David Reay suggests some answers.
CB: Welcome to LifeWords Q&A, the podcast where we wrestle with tricky situations and questions from a Christian perspective. I’m Clare Bruce, journalist at Sydney’s Christian radio station Hope 103.2. And on the phone with me, staying COVID-safe, is David Reay – pastor and writer and lifelong seeker of God. G’day, David.
DR: G’day Clare, nice to be with you again.
CB: Yeah, nice to have you. Look I just realised as I was doing that little intro, “lifelong seeker of God” – is that correct? I realised, I don’t know your your journey-of-faith story.
DR: Oh, look at you could call it a lifelong seeker of God. But that sounds super, super spiritual, when it’s nothing like that. I can’t actually remember when I became a Christian. All I know is I’ve always had a deep consciousness of God’s presence and my need of His mercy. And so I can’t point to this sort of “from gutter to glory” conversion situation. So I’ve certainly been a seeker after God. Whether or not I’ve always found him as consistently as I’d like, is another method, but yes, seeking. That’s a good statement.
CB: Well, let’s get to our question of the moment. So today we’re going to talk about constructive criticism. So the question on the table, “My friend has some serious character flaws. But Jesus said, ‘Judge not’. Should I correct them, or just ignore it?”
DR: Yes, it all depends on what we think when Jesus was saying, “Do not judge”. Some translations have Jesus saying, “Do not criticise”. That can’t be right, because elsewhere in the Bible, like that opening question, we are called upon to correct someone who’s going astray. We are called upon to admonish and refute one another, as appropriate. And also, Jesus did that. Jesus certainly didn’t hold back from rebuking and criticising people.
So it’s not right to say Christians ought not to criticise.
When Jesus is not to judge, he’s not condemning criticism. If you look at the context in which he says it, he’s actually condemning something else. He’s condemning self-righteousness.
It’s that familiar story where Jesus says, “Take the log out of your own eye, before you take the speck out of someone else’s eye”. In other words, what he’s saying is, “be aware of others’ faults, and even take action about them; that is, take the speck out of that other person’s eye. But hey, you can’t do it properly, and you’ll make a mess of it, if you’ve got a log in your own eye.”
What does that mean in practice? It means that, yes, I’m may be aware of others faults, and yes, I may have to act in a constructive and loving and gentle way to correct them. But I’ve got to be aware of my own faults as well. That’s what Jesus is saying. He’s not saying “Never rebuke or admonish”. He’s saying “Do so with some humility, and some self-awareness of your own issues”.
It’s so easy for us to find faults in others, that we’re not prepared to face in our own self. So I think what Jesus is saying is not “Never rebuke or admonish or criticize”, but rather he’s saying, “Hey, do it in the right spirit. Do it with a sense of self awareness and deep humility”. Because quite physically, in a practical sense, you can’t remove a tiny little speck out of someone’s eye unless you’ve got good eyesight! And so we need to have good spiritual eyesight in order to correct and rebuke others.
CB: Yeah. And I guess the point being, if you’ve got the so-called log in your own eye, you’ll have a set of glasses on that might find fault in everybody. But it may be because there’s a problem with you.
DR: That’s right. It’s so easy to project our own failings onto others. Instead of dealing with my own failings, I deal with those same failings in others, and it’s a very dangerous trend. And you’ve touched on something there as well, that if you’ve got a log in your eye – if you’re not aware of your own failings – you tend to make mess of any rebuke or admonition. For one thing, you may actually enjoy it. And I will say to anyone – if you enjoy rebuking or admonishing other people, even though you might have legitimate reasons for it, you’ve got a problem. Because we should never enjoy it. We shouldn’t be licking our lips, saying, “Oh, boy, I’ve got to get stuck into that person”.
You see, there’s a difference between being a constructive critic, and having a critical spirit. A critical spirit is somebody who’s always going around fault-finding, and is finding some sort of perverse enjoyment in it. So we’ve got to be careful of ever enjoying it. I may have to rebuke and criticise, but boy, I never want to enjoy it. It’s always got to be uncomfortable, because at the same time, I’m being aware of my own failings.
CB: Yeah, I imagine that this is an area where people who are in lead leadership and authority positions have to be even more extra careful.
I remember just recently watching a YouTube video, of preacher who seemed to take great joy in – and this was the point of the video clip, pointing out a problem with this preacher – because he was telling a story about correcting a young man in the youth group. And the way he told the story, he seemed to have great joy and was almost gloating about the fact that he knocked the young man down a peg.
I wonder if it’s quite difficult as a person in authority not to fall into that trap of thinking that you’re right, and everyone else needs to be corrected?
DR: Oh, yes. And we can sort of hide behind the cloak of leadership there, that “I’m the pastor”, or “I’m the teacher”, or whoever it is, and “therefore I’ve got the right to be taking someone else down a peg or two”. But that should never be a motivation to do that.
Sometimes, yes, we have to do it. But again, a leader always has to be very gentle about it. Be firm as well, if this is needed, but be, again, aware of the fact that you’ve got your own failings.
I would be very uncomfortable if a preacher were to get up and publicly declare how they’ve been correcting other people. Boy, I mean, I mean, you should be facing that with great nervousness and trepidation, not almost like boasting about it. And it’s very easy as a leader, I’ve found over the years of being a pastor, to actually jump in and criticise someone and not be aware of all the facts.
I think this is again, what Jesus was referring to when he says, “Do not judge” and also “Take the log out of your own eye”. Having this log in your eye, means that my view of reality is distorted. And therefore when I see what I think is a fault in someone, it might not actually be a fault at all. Or, I may need to develop a better understanding of why that person is the way they are.
So I could jump from a great moral height on someone, for example, who is a bit of a critic in the church, but where is that person coming from? I need to dig into the facts a little bit more, before making this sweeping verdict – “Oh such and such is a gossip or a critic”. Well, what I need to do is to find out what’s driving them. So, maybe some rebuke and admonition is required, but maybe some deep understanding and sensitive listening is also required.
So, again, it’s this log and the speck. If you’ve got a log in your eye, you are blind to your own feelings of enjoyment and pride and self-righteousness. But first of all, before you’re going to rebuke someone, make sure that you’re also taking yourself down a peg or two.
And incidentally, when we talk about that phrase, Clare, why I dislike it is because some people are often saying, “Oh, well, so and so needs to be taken down a peg or two”, but often what people are thinking is that person has been very prideful, very proud. But in fact, sometimes that’s just a cover for self abasement, and a sense of worthlessness. And sometimes those people need to be built up rather than taking down a peg or two. But that’s another matter.
CB: You’re very right. Can you leave us, then, David, with a tip or two? Let’s say I have a friend who I see some flaws in. There’s some issue that they’re struggling with, but they’re sort of blind to it. I’ve examined my own heart, I’ve ‘done some logging’, you know, removed the logs. And I’ve taken time to be sure that I understand their heart as well. How do I go about correcting someone, you know, with the right spirit, and in in a gentle way?
DR: Well, first of all, you’ve covered most of the things that need to be done. You’re aware of things, you have good motivations, you’ve got that concern for that person in your heart. But there’s some practical things involved. Choose your time and place carefully. Preachers will tell you that the worst time for someone to have a go at your preaching is straight after you’ve sat down from preaching. I mean “hang on”, you’re emotionally exhausted, you’re in a vulnerable state.
If you do have to rebuke that friend, choose your time and place very, very carefully. And before you even go into rebuking, start exploring: what’s going on here? Because you might find, with exploring what’s going on in that person’s life, that the need for rebuke and admonition might not actually be as urgent. What that person might need is some healing of wounds, primarily.
And so I think the important thing is to do is choose your time and your place, number one, number two, start off by some careful listening, find out their point of view and find out what’s really going on in their life, so that you can then take the speck out of their eye in a meaningful sort of way.
But I think it is important to be prepared to do that, because some Christians think their task is to be nice to people and not say anything, not rock the boat. But when we’ve got very good relationships and friends, there are some times we have to say things that might not be nice. But yes – right time, right place, right spirit, with a right level of understanding, humility and self awareness. Because you see if I go in to rebuke a friend, it might be that that friend also might have to rebuke me. So I’ve got to be ready for that.
CB: Yeah. Good. All right, David, that’s been really helpful. Some good pastoral insight there too.
DR: Thanks, Claire. And it’s good to be with you. We’ll do it all again.
CB: We will. This has been David Reay and Clare Bruce for LifeWords Q & A. And if you have a question you’d like to send in for us to explore, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.