|Volume 23 Number 1 January 2021
D. Gene West
Criticism is both good and necessary, though it is often designed to be neither – that is a criticism of criticism! However, when properly offered, that is, gently, lovingly, cautiously and sparingly, criticism can be very valuable for both the one who gives it, the one who receives it and those who are affected by both those parties. Paul emphasized that those who are spiritual are to engage in a kind of loving criticism when he wrote, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). One can hardly talk with a friend or brother, especially about sin in his life, without being somewhat critical. However, we should all notice the qualifiers that Paul attached to such in this passage: “spirit of gentleness, considering yourself.” Hence, the necessity of both giving and receiving criticism is understood by all.
However, there are certain kinds of criticism and certain conditions under which it should never be offered. In order for criticism to be just and profitable, the one doing it should make sure of certain truths. (1) He should be certain of all the facts involved. The presumption of knowing all that is going on in the hearts, minds and lives of others is an extraordinarily dangerous thing. Therefore, it is wise to ask questions and to make inquiries before offering any criticism at all. (2) He should make sure that what he is criticizing is worth the effort. There are a million things that can happen one may not especially like, but unless there is sin involved – souls in danger – he needs to exercise forbearance, which is a very vital principle of Scripture. One does not have to like all that happens anywhere or under any circumstance. Yet, it is not necessary to hurt others, or even to disconcert them by making criticism of something one does not like. This is a principle plainly taught in Romans 14 but obviously missed by many. Therefore, it is wise to practice biblical forbearance with brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as the “golden rule” of Matthew 7:12.
It should also be added that (3) one should never criticize who does not compliment! There are several reasons such as the one being criticized will feel that you have no real interest in him, only in criticism. Criticism for criticism’s sake rarely has any value. A person may do a thousand good things and never be complimented, but if that person does one thing of which some do not approve, he can depend on the criticism coming very rapidly and very furiously. The recipient will just “turn it off,” so there is nothing of any value gained except the critic finds yet another opportunity to vent! Criticism is not for the good of the critic but for the recipient when properly given and received. (4) Critics should ask themselves some very personal questions such as: Why am I upset by this matter? To whom have I been listening that would cause my distress in this matter? Can I or am I doing a superior work to the one I am criticizing? Am I doing an unholy thing in the name of preserving righteousness in the kingdom? Just some thoughts on criticism.
Judging is a hot topic, both in and out of the church. It is one of the Bible themes that, like a coin, has two sides. Some judging is sinful, yet judging is commanded.
Jesus Is Against Speck Inspecting
It is wrong to unfairly judge others. The Master plainly said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:1-2). His younger brother added, “Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou are not a doer of the law, but a judge” (James 4:11).
It is wrong to judge others if we are guilty of the same things (Romans 2:1-2). We sometimes give ourselves a free pass but collect a heavy toll of another for the same action. Longfellow said, “We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.” Bertrand Russell capsulized this hypocrisy when he said, “I am firm. You are obstinate. He’s pig-headed. I have reconsidered. You have changed your mind. He’s gone back on his word.”
It is wrong to prematurely judge others (1 Corinthians 4:5). It is sinful to judge others in matters of opinion. Paul made this clear. “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? …why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ… Let us not therefore judge one another any more” (Romans 14:4-13).
The Pharisees were good at this kind of judging. Simon, for instance, watched an episode unfold in his house involving Jesus and a prostitute washing His feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair. He concluded, “This man, if he were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39). That was an unfair judgment based on insufficient evidence and faulty premises.
It is wrong to judge “according to the appearance” (John 7:24). We can make the same mistake of jumping to conclusions before we have researched the facts. Alan Smith tells the story of a newspaper reporter’s searching for a story about the laziness that existed throughout the South. He drove around until he saw a man in his field, sitting in a chair and hoeing weeds. This had to be the ultimate in laziness, he thought. He rushed back to his car but looked back to get more details as to colors and contrasts with which to begin his story. What he saw changed his entire outlook. He saw that the pants legs on the farmer hung down loose – the man had no legs. What had seemed at first to be a story of laziness turned into a story of great courage.
Jesus Is for Fruit Inspecting
It is not always wrong to judge others. In fact, it is impossible to be a faithful Christian and not judge others. Jesus told us to ‘inspect the fruit’ of others (Matthew 7:16, 20). He that is “spiritual judgeth all things” (1 Corinthians 2:15). Jesus said, “Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?” (Luke 12:57). He also commanded us to “judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Jesus complimented the church at Ephesus for trying “them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” (Revelation 2:2).
Christians must judge doctrine. There are some commands that cannot be obeyed without making careful judgments. For instance, Paul wrote, ‘‘Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Romans 16:17; cf., 1 Timothy 5:20; 2 Timothy 4:l-4; Titus 1:13). John added, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 1:9-11).
The learners in Berea were commended for judging whether the things Paul preached “were so” (Acts 17:11). Those in nearby Thessalonica were commanded, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). To the Ephesians Paul said, “Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10). The marginal rendering of the first phrase of Philippians 1:10 reads, “Try things that differ.” We are to “try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
Christians must judge morals. A few years ago, a congregation of the Lord’s church in Oklahoma withdrew fellowship from a woman for immorality. When she filed a lawsuit against the church, the story made all the national news media. Garland Elkins appeared on the Phil Donahue Show, which was popular at the time. The attitude of Donahue and most of the audience could be summed up in the words, “Judge not, that you be not judged!” If one speaks out against abortion, homosexuality, adultery, drunkenness, immodesty or any other moral misdemeanor, someone may say, “You can’t do that. You’re judging.” That is meant as you-should-be-ashamed-of-yourself-put-you-in-yourplace-end-of-discussion putdown.
Sure, one is making a judgment, but if he is making a righteous judgment, with the right attitude, he is doing what God wants him to do. Paul passed judgment on a fornicating brother in Corinth (1 Corinthians 5:3; cf., Acts 13:10). He wrote the same church, “If the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? …Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?” (1 Corinthians 6:2-5).
Strong Christians “by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). Yes, we can (should) judge others, but we must use God’s Word as the standard of judgment. In matters where the Word does not give precept or principle, we should leave the judging to God.