Anyone who serves the Lord is going to face criticism. Some of it just. Some of it unjust. Just criticism is helpful, coming from a loving friend, handled personally, and can produce great strides of growth and maturity in your life. It flows between healthy relationships where hearts are like iron sharpening iron. No criticism is pleasant, but a friendly critic is a gift—a person who genuinely cares about you and your development for the Lord. This criticism should be humbly received and applied to your life.
Unjust criticism is a different experience altogether. This comes from a person with an agenda of their own—one who is determined to pick a fight and win it in ways that exhibit a lack of integrity, spiritual wisdom, love, and Christ-like concern. Here are some qualities to look out for with unjust criticism:
Unjust critics are, by nature, fault-finders—It’s what they do, like the pharisees. By their own admission they are not encouragers. I can’t imagine a cause so far from the heart of Christ as that of “fault-finding.” What a busy life that must be!
Unjust critics stir up controversy but don’t want truth—truth is fairly easy to come by. You go to the person in question and talk. You pick up the phone and make a call. You bring people together in love. You ask direct questions. You pray and work things out, even if you agree to disagree. But unjust critics will not do this because this would lead to resolution and rob the opportunity for strife. Unjust critics love the strife and convince themselves that they truly are “fighting the good fight of faith”—even when they have to fabricate the fight. Jesus never did this.
Unjust critics exaggerate and slant small bits of truth in the favor of their agenda—what bits of truth they do find, they prefer not to know the context or understand in more detail. The less they know, they more they can embellish. And in print or online, embellishment and imagination read a lot like truth. It’s very captivating and entertaining—good for readership.
Unjust critics leave out larger truth that would hurt their agenda—the whole truth usually hurts the critics story and mission. With an unjust critic you will only hear the portions of the story that support his agenda. The larger truth is left in the dark, unless you do your own research. Godly people can sniff out the “agenda” and usually go get truth themselves.
Unjust critics strain at gnats and yet swallow camels—the pharisees did this to Jesus relentlessly. “Your disciples didn’t wash their hands” “You can’t heal on the sabbath.” “You eat with publicans and sinners.” So do unjust critics. Jesus never entered their debate over the gnats and He never entered the “fault-finding” ministry. He was in the fault-forgiving ministry!
Unjust critics ignore God’s structures of authority—when there’s a problem, your first step should be in the direction of God’s biblical authority structure—to the spouse, to the pastor, to the parents, to the administrator, to the leader. An unjust critic makes himself the authority and inserts himself between all of these God-ordained structures at will. That’s a very dangerous practice and it doesn’t solve problems.
Unjust critics do not obey God’s command to “go to thy brother”—step one when you have a problem with another person is go to them personally. Get the truth from the source. At some point a public rebuke is biblical and necessary, but an unjust critic just wants to rush his agenda to market quickly—public rebuke is his only playing card. Biblical process is not important because honest understanding or biblical resolution is not the goal. The goal is the fulfillment of pride, jealousy, and envy. The goal is aggression and vehemence in the name of “standing.”
Unjust critics try to draw you into a fight—they like the drama, like 5th grade girls. They like to be the ones who exposed the fault. They live in a mode of self-righteous examination of other brothers. They seem to have never read Matthew 7:3-4. Or they reason it away completely—”There’s nothing in my eye!”
Unjust critics try to bait you to speak so they can turn your words against you—one of the worst things you can do with an unjust critic is enter the debate with them. Because truth is not the goal and resolution is not desired outcome. They make the rules. It’s their game. And your words or attempts to answer will merely be twisted and turned against you. An unjust critic will always have you saying what you didn’t say, or didn’t intend.
Unjust critics desire to provoke, not resolve—I’ve touched on this, but it’s huge. Problems and disagreements should be resolved between Christian brothers. Jesus instructed us to handle criticism and problems privately at first. After twenty years of ministry with this philosophy, I can tell you that 99.9% of the time, the problem is resolved at that point. It’s a wonderful thing. But resolution removes the unjust critics shot at larger conflict and broader strife. It kills the game before it begins. Point is, you can’t please an unjust critic, no matter what you do. So don’t try.
Unjust critics hide themselves in a shroud of false humility—They insert scriptural descriptives and self-efacing terminology to let you know how sincere they are. Those words read well, and readers tend to forget that actions completely betray them. An unjust critic’s behavior far outweighs disingenuous humility and feigned concern.
Unjust critics say what they don’t do, then do it—It’s an odd kind of double speak, but it works for the unjust critic’s crowd. For instance, “I’m not attacking…”—then BOOM, an attack. But it’s not really, because the critic said it wasn’t. “I’m just a humble sinner saved by grace”—then BOOM, a self-proclaimed authority over whatever is in question. “I would never want to usurp your pastor’s authority.”—then BOOM, “I need to tell you how wrong your pastor and church is.” Watch out for this tactic with unjust critics.
My advice? Don’t enter the argument of an unjust critic. Walk away. The critic wants the fight, not the solution. Find Christ-like Christians—Christians who live and minister with the heart of a shepherd and the love of the Saviour. Find Christians who encourage, build, edify, and strengthen their brethren. Find Christians with evident fruit—not just frustration. And don’t get caught up in the discouragement ministry of unjust critics. And most of all, don’t get discouraged by them when you are the subject of their malice.
Unjust critics have always been around. God uses them to remind us all “what not to become.” If you are being unjustly criticized, be encouraged! Be challenged! Let God work. Let your life and work speak for itself.
It’s hard to legitimately argue with the truth and the evident fruits of righteousness.