When Criticism is Praise

Someone once said, “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” Inevitably, if we are, in fact, saying something, doing something, or being someone, we will face criticism. There seem to be a lot of ‘Monday-morning quarterbacks’ who feel it is their duty in life to criticize those who do, while they are content to merely sit back and criticize. Such individuals seldom, if ever, have solutions to problems, but they are quick to point out the problems and anything and everything that is wrong with what someone said or did. Constant criticism can be wearying, if not outright overwhelming.

      If you have lived long enough and said anything or done anything, you have likely been on the receiving end of criticism — some deserved and some undeserved. It may be, too, that some of the words intended as criticism were actually words that would make one thankful to hear because the perception of the critic was vastly different than the one being criticized. Consider a few examples we find within Scripture.

      The Scribes and Pharisees Criticize Jesus. On one occasion, when it was said that “all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him” [“Him” being Jesus], the scribes and Pharisees complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1, 2). I am sure they meant this as a criticism of His character and associations, but it was actually something that was true, and should have been understood as words of praise! Jesus received sinners and ate with them because He cared for their souls; the same could not be said of the religious leaders of that time. For that, it was they who should have been ashamed.

      The Council Criticizes the Apostles. After the apostles began preaching the gospel message of Jesus as the Christ and only Savior, it was said that over 5,000 had been converted, but for the fact they taught “in Jesus the resurrection from the dead,” the Sadducees [who did not believe in the resurrection] had them arrested and brought before the council [the Sanhedrin] (Acts 4:1-7). After much discussion, the council “commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18), but they would not be silent.

      When the apostles went back to preaching and teaching Jesus and working miracles, signs, and wonders, the high priest and the Sadducees had the apostles arrested again and imprisoned. After they were set free at night by an angel, the apostles went back out and began preaching again, just as if nothing had happened. When this was discovered by the religious leaders, they had the apostles brought before them again.

      This time, the religious leaders asked the apostles, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!” (Acts 5:28). Let us note that, here, they charged them with what they believed to be a terrible thing: “you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine.” While they likely intended this as a reprimand, it was actually a good thing to be said of one of the disciples of Jesus Christ! We want to fill not only individual cities with the doctrine of Christ, but the world!

      The Envious Jews Criticize Paul and Silas. When Paul and Silas got to Thessalonica, it is said that Paul went into the synagogue there and began preaching Jesus as the Christ and, as a result, “some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas” (Acts 17:1-4). But some of those who were not persuaded instead became envious of the efforts of Paul and Silas and attempted to stir up a mob to resist the work, even going to the city officials and complaining, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus” (Acts 17:5-7). Let us note two points of criticism:

      First, they charged these men with having turned the world upside down; that was actually true — and a good thing! The world was then [and is now] filled with sin and most are pursuing fleshly desires and pleasures with no thought of the spiritual or the eternal; Paul and Silas were able to convince at least some that there were more important things to consider and what they taught did indeed turn the world upside down. It needed to be!

      Second, Paul and Silas were charged with teaching “there is another king—Jesus.” Again, the charge is true; but this was [and is] the truth! Jesus was and is King! Just as was prophesied, a descendant of David was to sit on his throne, and when Jesus ascended from this earth, He was “exalted to the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33) and “given…the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Phil. 2:10). Jesus Himself will later reveal that He had “sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev. 3:21). Though these words of the envious Jews were meant as criticism, the ‘criticism’ was about the truth, and for that we should not apologize.

      So, what does this mean for those today who are faithful disciples of Jesus Christ? The likelihood is that we, too, will hear some supposed ‘criticism’ that are actually words of praise, though — like these we have considered today — they were not intended to be such. Consider a few that may be intended as accusations or criticisms, but are actually praiseworthy descriptions for the faithful disciple.

      “You’re narrow-minded.” Granted, this might be a legitimate criticism when one is unwilling to even consider or listen to alternative views or beliefs, but this is usually a charge against those who hold firmly to what the Scriptures teach, and are unwilling to accept the creeds of men as equally authoritative. For that, faithful disciples are criticized for being ‘narrow-minded.’

      Let me ask you a question: Are you ‘narrow-minded’ on the solution to the equation 2 + 2 = x? Is there another answer for x besides 4? We would ridicule one who would charge us with being ‘narrow-minded’ because we would only accept 4 as the answer but, friend, that is because there is only one correct answer. That is the nature of truth. Truth is, by nature, narrow. Don’t be offended if someone says you are narrow-minded because you refuse to accept anything other than the truth of God’s word (John 17:17). Long ago, a wise man wrote, “Buy the truth, and do not sell it” (Prov. 23:23); that’s still good advice! Don’t be ashamed to hold to the truth and reject what is not truth — what is false and a lie — just because ‘everybody else is doing it.’

      “You’re not like everyone else.” While the world, and even many religious people, may make this observation, it is sometimes spoken as a criticism. For the faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, being unlike the world is how we are supposed to be. It was the apostle Paul who wrote, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Christians are not supposed to be like the world.

            So, if you hear these ‘criticism’ [or others like them], don’t take it as criticism, but as an honest observation that you are living as you should. Thank them for their kind words and keep doing what you are doing: Serving the Lord!   — Steven Harper