How to be Gracious with Criticism

We are natural born critics. Finding flaws in the people around us is easy, and if we’re not careful, can become so habitual it plagues our view of everything.

We may have great respect and affection for someone, but that one way they sin is always on the periphery of our minds. We may have 10 encouraging things to say about our church, but get fixated on that particular area of weakness.

We must seek God’s help to kill these impulses towards sinful criticism. But what about constructive criticism? What should we do when we observe an area of weakness in our friend, or small group, or church that should be addressed for the glory of God?

Scripture affirms loving rebuke. Jesus said, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,” (Luke 17:3). It also calls us to exercise discernment, “…Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:8-10).

The Church was redeemed for holiness, and holiness cannot be gained when we sideline as cheerleaders who only focus on the “positive” and never do the uncomfortable work required for repentance and growth.

As a Body, not mere individuals, we are responsible to pursue mutual sanctification. Overcoming a critical spirit doesn’t mean that we ignore the sin and weaknesses of others, but that we view them differently.

Start by thinking the best

When we have a disagreement or concern for someone, we must begin by acknowledging that we aren’t omniscient and don’t know people’s hearts or motives. This keeps us from making premature judgments and enables us to engage them without drawing unjust conclusions. We may still end in disagreement, but taking a position of charitable judgment is helpful to any conversation.

View people through a lens of love

When we observe an area of weakness, we aren’t called to sit in judgment but to be participants of God’s sanctifying grace. He calls us to encourage, build up, and unify. When it’s apparent that someone is caught in sin, our correction should come from a place of compassion not self-righteousness. Sin is deceitful and destructive—in love, we should help our brothers and sisters turn from it, just as we want them to help us. Love never looks at a stumbling sinner and says, “Get your act together, you know better.” Rather, it earnestly desires for them to repent so that they can enjoy the surpassing worth of Christ.

Talk to the right people

Love doesn’t gossip or complain about shortcomings and disappointments. Love only wields criticism as a constructive tool. Criticism is never constructive if it’s not expressed to the right people or communicated with a loving spirit. Pointing out problems in our families, friends, and churches is easy. But love doesn’t take the easy road. It does the hard work of refraining from gossip, engaging the right conversations, and humbly seeking solutions.

View other’s weaknesses with humility—you don’t have it all together either

It’s easy for me to look at a mom who struggles with anger without judgment because I struggle with anger too. But in areas where I’m strong, I’m far more tempted towards pride. I’ll think: The Bible is so clear about this! How is it not a priority for them? Why are they so blind? This attitude fails to acknowledge that there are clear statements in the Bible that I have trouble applying, there are Godly priorities I frequently neglect, and there are areas of blindness I have! The more humbly we recognize our own weaknesses, the more gracious we’ll be towards the failures and struggles of others.

Remember that you are not the Holy Spirit

Sometimes our criticism will be right, sometimes it will be wrong, and sometimes it will fall somewhere in between. But the Holy Spirit is always right and can change any heart. When we have made charitable assumptions, viewed people with love, talked to them directly and with humility, we can confidently entrust the rest to the Holy Spirit. The same God at work in us is at work in our brothers and sisters.

As we do this, God will transform our sinfully critical tendencies into sanctifying-opportunities, and work through us to nurture the health and holiness of the Body.

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