I’ll admit right up front that this a personal problem of mine. Something that I have always struggled with, mainly because it is so easy to do, isn’t it?
It’s easy to point out the faults in someone. It’s easy to talk about people behind their back, it’s easy to think that they should have done better, it’s easy to post something online about someone or something that we have had no involvement in, and pull it apart.
I wonder, does the Scripture have anything to say about this?
Of course it does! There’s the obvious verse about the log and the speck – we all know this one don’t we?
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
Matthew 7:3 (ESV)
We know that this is talking about our passing negative judgement on people because Jesus tells us in the opening two verses, we shouldn’t be so concerned with the little bits of sin in the lives of other people without living an unexamined life of our own, and critiquing ourselves.
It’s important the we distinguish between negative (destructive) criticism and positive (constructive) criticism. Let’s take negative criticism as continuing to talk about the faults of others (or the perceived faults) of others with no intention to help them or do them good.
When we understand this there are a lot of episodes in the Scripture that we can look at. Take Numbers 12 for example. The opening verse says:
Miriam and Aaron criticised Moses…
There follows a confrontation with God, where Miriam is left with leprosy and has to remain outside the camp for seven days. There are three points about why we should not criticise people that we can take from this episode in the wilderness
1. Criticism is wrong.
We’ve pretty much covered this off in our intro, but let’s expand it a little bit. We know that the wife that Moses had was not a sin. God – who in this chapter says that He talks to Moses face to face – has never told Moses that he needs to get rid of his wife. God had a lot to say about mixed marriage in the Exodus account (that is marriages of different religions, not marriages of different ethnic groups), clearly Moses’ wife was part of the covenant people, despite being from a different ethnic group. Miriam and Aaron had focused only on the problem that they had with Moses. Yet they never came to Moses to talk about it – and here is another key. If we have a problem with someone we must go and talk to them about it. Let’s make sure that we can muster the courage to do so.
Miriam and Aaron were punished for this criticism, a clear sign that it was wrong, and so we must acknowledge it the same way, we must say that it is wrong to criticise others in a negative way.
2. It masks something deeper that we need to deal with.
Like Miriam and Aaron we often have a deeper issue to deal with. In the case of Miriam and Aaron, it was their envy of Moses’ position, which can be seen clearly coming through later in the story when they make the claim that God also speaks through them. Yet, God Himself tells them that He speaks to Moses in a very unique way.
We too must delve into the depths of our heart in order to grasp if there is something deeper that is being laid bare in our criticism of others. When we are about to talk in that negative way about them, is it because they have something that we want, or because they posses some position that we envy, or because their life has gone on the path that we would have chosen for ourselves, or is it because we simply can’t seem to accept that God has made us this way, and that He has chosen us and set us apart for a particular set of tasks that we would not have chosen for ourselves.
These are the questions that we must ask ourselves.
Let us not try to cover our own deficiencies by pointing out the faults of another.
3. It stops the flow of God’s blessing in our lives.
Because, as we can see from the story of Miriam and Aaron (who, by the way, were spiritual leaders in the people of Israel – let that be a lesson to us all!) that their behaviour cut them off from fellowship with God. This is something that will happen to us too, if we are caught up in focussing on what we perceive to be the faults of others, rather than focusing on our own relationship with God, and allowing Him to speak into our lives.
What we want to cultivate instead is an attitude of love, of others care, rather than cutting others down, we should attempt to build them up, and only confront them when it is in the spirit of restoration or building up.
Where might you need to make a change in your attitude?