One weekend, I was on a spiritual high after a church event and couldn’t wait to share my joy and excitement with a friend. Before I had the opportunity to fully express this joy, I was interrupted: “Did you have to pay for the event?”
I replied, “Yes.” Her response included a heavy sigh, eye roll, and what I can only describe as a hailstorm of criticism. She expressed passionately, “See, I don’t understand why they have to charge you to go to an event. What if someone can’t afford to attend, but really wants to grow in their faith? Did they have food? I wonder how much of our giving to the church has been put toward food that I’m sure they threw away afterwards. Was there any pressure to buy books?”
Though my friend was sharing her opinions, it altered my understanding and emotions. I began analyzing the seemingly negatives of the event: cost, which scriptures were read, how many people attended, the “pressure” to buy books, and the like.
In a moment, the air in my joyous spiritual balloon was squeezed out. My joy was killed by a powerful and polluting force: criticism.
Four Characteristics of Criticism
When we criticize our brothers and sisters in Christ under the guise of insight, we pollute the Church. Consider these four characteristics of criticism:
1. Criticism masquerades as insight.
We may not initially recognize the destroying power of criticism because it disguises itself as insight. Certainly there is nothing destructive about our opinions and critical thinking, right?
Unfortunately, we are up against one who delights in destruction: the enemy. Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44), seeks to make us believe the lie that our opinions are harmless—or rather, that our opinions are beneficial for the Church. We think, Surely commenting on the worship leader’s song choice cannot hurt anyone. Or, If I don’t agree with how the church is spending its money, telling others about it certainly would change things.
Jesus tells us that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). When we fail to acknowledge the sin rooted in our hearts before we speak, our reckless words have the power to destroy, no matter how seemingly small.
2. Criticism is contagious.
Perhaps like my experience, you enjoyed a church service in every aspect, but a friend began picking apart what they did not like. Initially it may feel minute and insignificant: a song choice, what the usher was wearing, the length of the pastor’s prayer. However, your eyes are being opened to areas of weakness. Soon, you adopt this pattern of thinking and begin agreeing with the issues of your critical church family. Rather than rejoicing and participating in blessed worship, you focus on what you didn’t like.
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Just as Jesus warned his disciples about being on guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:6), so must we recognize the power of criticism to spread, take root, and grow in our hearts.
3. Criticism causes others to stumble.
Have you considered that your critical words may be a stumbling block to your brother or sister in Christ? Consider Romans 14:13, “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” Your opinions could cause a brother or sister to be hindered in spiritual progress, and this should be a swift warning to us.
4. Criticism slanders and kills.
When we criticize and complain about our church, its leaders, and programs, we are breaking two of the Lord’s commandments: “Do not murder” (Exodus 20:13) and “Do not bear false witness” (Exodus 20:16). We are effectively killing and destroying what God has set in place when we foster cynicism. Not only can it murder our own spirit, it has the power to murder the spirits of those around us. And though what we say critically may not be false, a deceptive light may be cast upon the situation.
Imagine your day of judgment before the Lord, and he declares you guilty of deceiving and murdering your brothers’ and sisters’ spirits. Surely if we knew the power of our criticism could dry up bones (Proverbs 17:22), destroy (1 Corinthians 10:10), and feel like sword thrusts (Proverbs 12:18), we wouldn’t open our mouths.
Good News for Critical Christians
Though these offenses grieve the Lord, we have been given the free gift of grace through our Savior Jesus Christ. He is willing and able to rid us of our toxic attitudes. Victory can be ours through confession and repentance, an active role of faith we must take to grow in Christlikeness.
We must faithfully fight to do all things without grumbling or questioning (Philippians 2:14) or corruption (Ephesians 4:29). Our attitude and speech should be for building up (Ephesians 4:29), giving thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:18); it should be hospitable (1 Peter 4:9), humble (Philippians 2:3), loving and self-controlled (2 Timothy 1:7), gentle and courteous (Titus 3:2), and we are to maintain unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). Ask the Lord to turn your critical spirit into whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).
Consider Paul’s words as he meditated on the character of our beloved Lord Jesus:
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus. (Romans 15:1-7)