Oftentimes, there would be people who would offer give unsolicited advice and criticisms. Earlier this morning, while I was having my quiet time, I encountered this question: When that happens, how do we respond? Personally, there would be times when in my mind I’d say, “Whoever gave this person permission to butt in my life?” And most of us, whether we admit it or not, would think that these people are minding other people’s business instead of minding theirs or we try to be sport, take their criticisms and learn from it. The latter would be the best thing to do, right?
While the latter is more recommended than the former, we shouldn’t just accept criticisms right away. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should act defensively whenever we get criticisms. What I am trying to say is we should also learn to discern which criticism is valid. What do I mean when I say valid? Not all criticisms are truth. The enemy can use these criticisms to feed you lies about yourself. (Proverbs 15:14) When Jesus was praying before He was captured, He asked God to “…protect them from the evil one… Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:15, 16) because Jesus knew that the enemy would do anything to keep us away from the truth.
That’s why we should always ask God to expose to us which is true and which are lies. That’s why we should always consult His Word for it is the truth. And after we know which is true, we should treasure it, ask God to help us change what we need to change and then act upon what needs improvement in us. The enemy wants us to either believe those lies or be defensive towards the one who gave the criticism and cause a rift between the two of you. But the Bible telling us to do the opposite. It is actually telling us to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3)
On the other hand, just as how we should be careful when receiving criticisms so should we be careful also when giving out criticisms.
1. Check your motives
Why are you giving out criticisms? Is it because you can’t handle such imperfection? Is it because you want everything to be perfect and to be where and what it should be? Or are you doing it because you love that person and you want them to improve for the better?
“How painful are honest words! But what do your arguments prove?” (Job 6:25)
Indeed, what are you trying to prove when you are giving out your criticisms?
2. Do it out of love and with love
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I am nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-8a)
You might have heard of 1 Corinthians 13 over and over already but this verse is really useful (well nothing in the Bible is useless, but you know what I mean). Whatever we do and say, if it is without love then it is nothing.
When doing something, are we doing it out of love? How about with love? Are we doing it with love? Thing is, we can do something out of love but without love. Am I confusing you now? Let’s say, for example, you want to give a criticism to someone because you want them to improve and you are doing this out of your love for that person. But the way you do it is without love. Meaning, you do it in a way that will really hurt them. Tough love is different from just being mean and “tough” to make a point. Remember, Jesus didn’t have to shout or to be mean to His disciples or to anyone when He is teaching them something. Our aim is to be Christlike. And if Jesus Christ did things with love when He was here on earth, then so should we.
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
3. Ask for consent
It wouldn’t hurt to ask someone if you can share your opinion, right? Especially when it is something about them? That way it wouldn’t feel like we are trying to tell them how to live their lives.
“Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you out of love… I did not want to do anything without your consent…” (Philemon 8, 9 & 14a)
In the passage above, Paul is asking Philemon to do something. And even if he had the authority to order Philemon what he ought to do, he didn’t. He chose to appeal out of love. He chose to ask for Philemon’s consent. Paul chose to humble down and appeal to Philemon. And he did it in a gentle way. And that’s what God’s Word is telling us to do. (Ephesians 4:2)
Even if we have the authority to give out criticisms or corrections doesn’t mean we have to and that it’s the only way. More often than not, when we are ordered to do something, we have the tendency to feel forced upon doing it. Our hearts are not into it. And it ends up with result that are only half good. When in fact, if we have done it wholeheartedly, the result would have been excellent and not just satisfactory. And we want that. Not only the half good results.
Which leads me to my next point…
4. Motivate them.
Even if we are giving criticisms, we can also motivate them at the same time. This I know from experience. How is that possible, you might be asking.
My parents, my mentors and leaders in the ministry and in church and my trainers when I was in training for the job that I have now have all been that way to me. They focus first on what I did great. And then they tell me the would be better’s. And then they wrapped it up by reminding that despite of what I need to improve, they are still happy with what I did. At the end of each mentoring, I didn’t feel condemned at all or that I wasn’t good enough. I actually feel appreciated. And that motivates me to improve more on what I need to improve.
See? It is possible. It’s not really sugar coating things and sparing one’s feelings. Of course, everything we say should be the truth. If you really think they did great, then we should say they did great. Don’t say you love it when you don’t just for the sake of saying something good. And what if that is the case? Nothing is entirely bad. If we know how to look then we would find something good about something. Remember, we are sinful yet God still loves us and finds us worthy enough for Him to send His only Son to die for our sins. Doesn’t that motivate you to do the same with others?
I hope you all learn something from this. This is purely based on what I learned in my quiet time, first-hand experiences and realizations in situations I have been in. Let’s be critical and careful with the criticisms we receive and at the same time, criticize carefully, out of love and with love.