Around two months ago, I started feeling God leading me to be less critical, and to stop talking badly about people. I felt like it would be fairly easy to stop at first, but I soon found I was the author of a perpetual stream of fault finding and criticism I didn’t realize was going on in my head. Often, the critical mindset I was in escaped through my conversations with people around me. Sometimes it was talking bad about people to coworkers, sometimes it was online, and it covered a variety of issues, but it was always aimed at tearing something or someone down instead of building something or someone up. When I tried to stop the criticism I was letting out, it didn’t take long to realize how entrenched I was. It left me embarrassed, hoping those around me weren’t altogether aware of my faults the whole time. I only now feel like I’m starting to make headway at curbing the internal and external criticism. I don’t know how many times in the last two months I’ve had to go back to a family member, a coworker, or even to a conversation online and apologize for saying critical things to or about someone.
In seeing my own faults, it made me sensitive to the same issue going on around me. I started noticing how prevalent the problem is in our culture at large, even amongst Christians. How many television shows and internet conversations are aimed at insulting, criticizing, and mocking others? A quick turn to Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and many blog sites, and you can easily find this. It’s easy even to find Christians verbally assaulting one another and other Christians over personality based or non-essential theological issues. I’m not talking about civil discussion, or even well-meaning debate between brothers and sisters in the faith, I’m talking about a war of words in the Body. James was speaking out against this kind of infighting when he used the tongue to represent the things we say: “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”(James 3:9-10) Too often, we have fallen to a culture of criticism, division, insults and mockery. We are not honoring God and creating unity by attacking other Believers. Please understand, I’m not claiming to be innocent of that. Far too often I have been involved in these very things. These are the very actions I started by saying I felt called to repent of.
Often, I have returned to Psalm 1:1-2, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” The word translated “scoffers” means to scoff, mock, or deride. It’s the same word translated “deride” in Psalm 119:51 when the writer says, “The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law.” I don’t know about you, but I like the thought of being blessed. If my own attitude about people gets in the way of doing what God wants, and also gets in the way of God’s blessing in my life, it seems like a good reason to change what I’m doing. In looking up the concept in the Bible, I also found it discussed in Jude:
These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage. But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. (Jude 1:16-23, NASB)
Now it’s important to say, I’m not saying I think I was among the people Jude was speaking of, and I’m not saying if you struggle with the same things I’ve struggled with that you’re one of them. I’m saying when you or I do the things Jude talked about, we’re acting like those people. We are joining in on actions that don’t honor God, and are against his desires for us. If you have accepted Christ as Savior, then you are in the second group who are told to build themselves up in the faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, keep themselves in the love of God, and to wait anxiously for the mercy of Christ to eternal life. The point is to avoid the actions of the first group. It’s difficult to read the first list, though, and not see an accurate description of the culture around us. It’s difficult for me to read the first list and not see the worst parts of myself. Some of the traits listed are practically considered positive in our culture. We make people famous if they’re good enough at finding fault and speaking arrogantly. We pay good money to watch movies about people following after their lusts. If you get good enough at flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage, we put you on magazines, read your books, and desire your success. As followers of Christ, we’re to move out of those traits, to recognize them as being against God’s ways, to not be associated with them, and even to hate them.
As Christians, we’re called to a different standard, and a different goal. Paul said we are to “encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thess. 5:11) Our goal is to be to lift those around us up. The Church doesn’t need more critics, it needs more encouragers. Paul also said, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (1 Cor. 1:10) A critical spirit is dangerous to our spiritual health, and I’ve found it easily gets in the way of my closeness with God. This is true in our overall outlook, but it’s especially damaging when it becomes critique of other Believers and ministries. This is exactly the opposite of the direction we should move. As Christians, our goal should be to encourage and build up those around us, and be united behind Christ as the head of the Church. In that mindset we can move forward personally in our relationship with God, and corporately as a united Church.