Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
Abraham Lincoln once said: “If I tried to read, much less answer, all the criticism made of me, and all the attacks levelled against me, this office would have to close for all other business. I do the best I know how”. Most public leaders know that criticism is part of their life. They face criticism every day, some fair and some unfair.
I like the story of the day the first steam engine was ready for its trial run in the early 19th century. A large crowd had come to watch, most sceptical that the engine could move anywhere. It got up, steam started to hiss, and they shouted, “It will not start”. The whistle blew, and puffing and snorting, the locomotive began to slowly move. They were amazed, but not convinced. “It will not keep going”, they yelled. Strangely enough, it kept going. Still stubborn in their criticism, they said, “But will it stop?”
Have you felt the sting of criticism? Do you know what it’s like to be criticised unfairly by other people? I think most of us have had that happen. We are often quick to point out somebody else’s faults, but we get upset when another points out our deficiencies.
Sometimes we criticise others as a result of our own inferior feelings, and a need to bolster our own level of confidence. If you were to count up the number of times you have criticised another, what would the number be? Try putting yourself in the other person’s shoes for a moment. You’ve heard the old statement, Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me. It’s surprising this slogan has survived through time because it is untrue. To say our words don’t hurt is a lie. Words do affect people, and can demolish another’s character.
Don’t Judge Others—Love One Another
The Apostle James in his letter says:
Don’t criticise and speak evil about each other, dear brothers. If you do, you will be fighting against God’s law of loving one another, declaring it is wrong…Only he who made the law can rightly judge among us. So what right do you have to judge or criticize others?” (James 4:11-12 – TLB).
Let’s also see what Jesus said. In Matthew 7, he said:
Don’t criticise, and you wont be criticised. For others will treat you as you treat them. And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own? Should you say ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye’, when you can’t even see because of the board in your own? Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother. (Matthew 7: 1-5 – TLB)
When Jesus spoke of criticism or judgementalism, he was using a Greek word which literally means ‘to talk against’ or ‘to talk down’. In other words, to run someone down, to defame, slander, to backbite. We will never know the damage this does to another.
Jesus says we should not allow ourselves to develop and maintain a critical, judgemental spirit. He was talking about our attitude, really, towards other people. In condemning them, sometimes all we are doing is hiding our own sin or inadequacies, by pointing out the failure of others. It can be a smokescreen. Jesus warned us about this because one day we ourselves will be judged.
Are You an Armchair Critic?
God is the ultimate judge of all things, so he alone is qualified to judge. If we try to, we only look silly as we set ourselves up to be God. So Jesus wants us to eliminate the critical attitude. After all, how can we be critical of another when we have faults and sins of our own? What he wants us to do is evaluate our own life, look at our own shortcomings, and be honest about them. If we don’t, he says we are being hypocritical.
When we truly see ourselves for who we are, we are less tempted to want to criticise. After all, we need the mercy of God, and we should treat others the same way we would want to be treated. Jesus calls us to love one another, to seek their highest good. We are called to build one another up, not destroy them by gossip or harsh criticism.
There was a group one day who were about to stone a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery, but Jesus was there and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).
No-one has the right to criticise unless he or she is prepared to do better than that person who is being criticised. The world is full of armchair critics who would never dream of getting up and taking action.