Interaction with a brother (or sister) in Christ will sometimes include a conversation about a disagreement. Often times it will be over an issue of wisdom, or maybe even a matter of personal preference.
In such situations meet one-to-one with your brother (thousands of times if you have to and you might need to), humbly offer him your observations, but do not require an immediate response from him. As long as you have communicated your correction clearly and in love, (and this takes some time) then you have served your brother and honored God in the process.
But it still hurts to give the criticism and it hurts to take it. Does it not?
The sting of personal criticism is extremely painful, and it can be very dangerous, too. When criticism arrives, many temptations arrive with it. Often for me, when criticism arrives, my response reveals the presence of pride in my heart.
Tim Keller is familiar with the temptations that come with criticism. He writes,
“The biggest danger of not receiving criticism is not to your reputation, but to your heart. You feel the injustice of it and feel sorry for yourself, and it tempts you to despise the critic.”
Criticism can uniquely reveal my heart, and often what I see isn’t pretty.
I feel sorry for myself in the face of the “injustice.” Bill Farley says it well when he writes that “the roots of self-pity are ‘pride-in-action.’ It is the propensity to feel sorry for yourself because you are not getting what you think you deserve.” Your brother will be tempted to think, “I deserve encouragement, and this person does not seem to understand or notice or pay attention to this reality!” And through dwelling on what seems to be the critic’s ignorance their heart can quickly move towards self-pity. This is pride, and I’ve seen it in my own heart.
I am tempted to despise the critic. I sinfully judge the motive of the one criticizing me, wondering if they’re offended with me, rather than focusing on the content of their communication. Worse, I am tempted to dismiss the content if it is imprecisely communicated or if the illustrations are not completely accurate. I wrongfully think that if there is any portion of it that’s untrue then all of it is out of the blue. This is pride, and I’ve seen it in my own heart.
When criticism arrives, temptations to sin come fast and furious in the heart of the critiqued brother. And if that brother isn’t prepared for criticisms, if he doesn’t prize growth in godliness, he will despise criticism rather than embrace it. And to my shame I have, but when you do you see God’s grace. We can view criticism as a God-appointed means to produce humility in our lives, even if the criticism isn’t accurate – embrace it with love for the Father and His children.
As John Newton wrote,
The Lord abhors pride and self-importance. The seeds of these evils are in the hearts of his own children; but rather than suffer that which He hates to remain in those He loves, He will in mercy pound them as in a mortar, to beat it out of them, or to prevent its growth.
Criticism is just one of the many ways God will pound the pride out of most of us. But only when we have this perspective, will we humbly embrace—rather than proudly react to—the criticism when it arrives.