“Why do you criticize and pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you look down upon or despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God… And so each of us shall give an account of himself – give an answer in reference to judgment – to God. Then let us no more criticize and blame and pass judgment on one another, but rather decide and endeavour never to put a stumbling block or an obstacle or a hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Romans 14: 10-13 Amplified Bible)
An Online Dictionary defines criticism as “an act of criticizing; to judge as a critic; to find fault; to blame or condemn.”
Paul is quite clear here: we are not to tear down one another through criticism or judgment. He offers two good reasons:
It blocks their path forward and it damages their faith.
It’s a serious issue, and Jesus gives a sobering warning: that “…whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6).
Have you heard the old saying that “We tend to judge others by their actions, and we judge ourselves by our intentions ”?
The truth is, we cannot rightly judge anyone else, because we do not know the contents of their heart. We should be content to judge only ourselves and seek to bring our own lives in alignment with God’s Word (1 Cor. 11:31).
There is of course something that we call “constructive criticism.” But, as Dale A. Robbins puts it: “The only criticism that is ever constructive is that which is expressed in love to “build up,” not to tear down — and it is always expressed face-to-face, never behind their back.”
That’s important. Every single time you use the words “He” “She” or “They” in a negative way in your conversation, then there is a distinct possibility that you are speaking behind someone’s back and finding fault.
Every. Single. Time.
And that’s not “constructive criticism,” it’s a “critical spirit.”
The person with a critical spirit usually dwells on the negatives, finds something to grouse about rather than something to cheer. They’re a complainer, usually a little upset about some issue, and generally have a problem or a complaint about something or other. They often have little control over their tongue (prone to blurting), and their temper (prone to tantrums), and have that tendency towards a bit of gossip and slander, to which Paul refers in Romans 1:29-32.
And before you make a mental check-list of everybody you know like that, grab a mirror first!
So how did we get like that? In the article by Dale A Robbins to which I referred above, he suggests five causes:
- Negativity – A bad attitude and a negative view of life. A person may have unconfessed sin in their life (Rom. 2:1), or may harbour unforgiveness or bitterness toward someone who may have offended them (Heb. 12:15).
- Insecurity – Criticism is often a subconscious means to “elevate one’s own self-image.” By putting others down, they are inwardly trying to feel more important or that “they know more.” Jealousy toward the spiritual victories of others is often the cause of criticism and belittling comments. Popular ministers of the Gospel are often the target of such tactics.
- Immaturity – Believers must always keep their focus upon Christ and His Word, not man, who will often fail (Heb. 12:2). The young or immature believer who has not progressed very far in their own faith, remain overly dependent upon the faith of those within the body of Christ. Unfortunately, when they begin to notice the flaws in their brethren, subconsciously, this becomes a threat to their own sense of victory. Criticism becomes a reaction of disappointment, because their expectations in others have been crushed.
- An Unrenewed Mind – Put-downs, making-fun-of, criticism, sarcasm are the world’s ways of reacting to the faults of people. However, as Christians we don’t behave this way. Our thinking and attitude should be renewed by the Word of God, which teaches us to bear the infirmities of the weak, to love, and show compassion and encouragement (Rom. 12:2).
- Satan – As we may realize, the Devil specializes in influencing obsessive behavior. He may use any or all of the above channels, or other techniques, to influence a complaining or critical attitude to stir up turmoil and strife within the body of Christ (Eph. 6:12). We must be on guard that none of us would be used as a tool of the Devil to bring harassment or discouragement upon our brothers or sisters through continual criticism, as the Bible warns us not to “give place” to the Devil (Eph. 4:27). Remember that Satan is specifically called “the accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10). Are you an accuser of the brethren?
So what is the Way Out? How can I stop criticising?
The Bible says that the reason that we are to come together as a church is, not to criticize, but to “exhort” (encourage) one another (Hebrews 10:25). So how should I speak? How do I do this “encouraging”?
Paul is quite clear about it: “No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
The Greek word translated “foul” here (sapros) is used in only one other context in the New Testament, namely, the places in Matthew and Luke where Jesus says, “It is not the good tree that bears bad fruit “(Luke 6:43; Matthew 7:17f.; Matthew 12:33). The term for “bad” fruit here is the same word for foul or unwholesome or evil in Ephesians 4:29—”Let no evil talk come out of your mouth!” The image in Paul’s mind is one of rottenness and decay, something that is spoiled.
That sort of talk belongs to the old life of v22 that needs to be stripped away when a person becomes a Christian. Clearly, he’s referring to what we call “swear words,” and basically anything that is mean-spirited, sneering, vicious or negative.
Why is this language “rotten”?
Because it doesn’t nourish. It doesn’t “build up” either speaker or hearer; in fact it sickens and desensitizes both. Words can transmit meanness and vulgarity like a disease from parent to child, from schoolmate to schoolmate, from colleague to colleague. It poisons the atmosphere, mocks the concept of the noble, trivializes the serious and important.
Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:34–37).
But instead of simply wagging his finger at swearing and telling us to knock it off, Paul proposes a whole new way of thinking about language. Instead of saying, “You don’t need dirty language to communicate your intention,” he says, “The root issue is whether your intention is love.” In other words the issue for Paul is not really language at all; the issue is love. The issue is not whether our mouth can avoid bad language; the issue is whether our mouth is a means of grace. You see he shifts from the external fruit to the internal root.
He shifts from what we say to why we say it. And that’s the real issue.
He doesn’t say, “Let no rotten talk come out of your mouth, but instead let fresh clean talk come out of your mouth.” He says, “Let no rotten talk come out of your mouth, but ask this: Is my mouth a means of grace? Am I meeting a need with the words that are coming out of my mouth? Am I building up faith into the people who hear?”
It is not enough just to stop bad-mouthing. I must ask the deeper question: Am I speaking now to edify? Is my mouth a means of grace? I have been made new in Christ! The grace of God has taken the hate and anger and resentment that spill over in mean and vulgar and irreverent language, and has covered them with the blood of Christ and killed them along with the old unbelieving self.
So now the words which once wounded and scorned can actually minister grace! Remember this, the Bible doesn’t promise peace to those who dwell on the faults of others! It says that the Lord will keep them in perfect peace, whose minds are stayed on Him! (Isaiah 26:3).
Let it be so, Lord. And may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to your sight, Lord, today.