|Volume 23 Number 2 February 2021
T. Pierce Brown
Sometimes when I write an article, I ask my wife Tomijo to read, criticize and evaluate it, or make whatever suggestions she thinks might improve it. Sometimes I even follow her advice, and when I do not, I still value it. A few moments ago, I took three recent articles to her, in which she found a sentence she thought could be improved. I confess that even gentle criticism from a loving wife, though requested, may sometimes hurt a little, but Solomon said it properly in Proverbs 27:5-6. “Better is open rebuke than love that is hidden. Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” I then picked up a book I had been reading. My attention was caught by a paragraph that says, “There is a substitute for criticizing. It’s called love. Love heals. Love protects. Love builds up. And more changes come with love than with criticism.” I agree with what I think is the general intent of the author of the paragraph, but having just asked a loving wife to criticize some articles, I felt constrained to write another one dealing with some implications of the first two sentences of the above paragraph.
If one thinks of criticism as a destructive, negative or nagging action, which it often is, then the statement may have validity. However, we have no right to assume that criticism and love are antithetical or mutually exclusive, or that one needs to be substituted for the other. Can my wife find fault with my articles and still love me and demonstrate that love? Can you? Do I need to assume that if you write or call me and say, “I think your article would be a little better if you had…” that you are mean or hateful and not a loving Christian?
There is no doubt in my mind that much of my preaching would have been more effective if it had been better balanced by praising things that were good and worthy of praise, instead of being weighed more heavily in pointing out faults, shortcomings and sins. However, one does not have to practice negative, hateful or destructive criticism in order to criticize.
If we use Christ or His inspired apostles as examples, we need to be aware that love is not a substitute for criticism. Love may require criticism at times. In some of my graduate study I became aware of some experiments which showed that students whose papers were marked with a check mark by the answers that were done right did better than those who merely had a big red X by the ones that were wrong. However, I still have not learned how to get a person to correct what is wrong without letting him first know what it is. The problem is not in the criticism, per se, but in the way the criticism is given and taken.
A wife might say to a husband, “Darling, I think this tie would be better with that blue suit than the green one you have on.” That would be far better than if she said, “You blind idiot. Don’t you have enough sense to know that a green tie does not go with a blue suit?” Of course, it is possible that a husband would react to either kind of criticism in anger, but that would not be the fault of the critic but of the husband. If we are properly balanced, as Christ was, we will try to learn to give criticism in love and to do it in such a fashion that the one who receives it knows we love him and wish for the best for him. We will also try to take criticism, even request it at times, for we know that loving friends have often helped us to be better and do better.
Many parents have done much damage to their children by assuming that love is a substitute for criticism or corrective discipline. Hebrews 12:6 says, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Many preachers have allowed souls to stay lost because they refused to obey the apostolic injunction in 2 Timothy 4:2 to “Preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” If those of us who delight in sarcastic, bitter criticism would simply ask ourselves, “If it were my precious wife or a dearly loved son who has fallen into this error that I am condemning, what sort of words would I use to point it out and correct it?” greater good might be done.
Teachers especially need to be aware that in a Bible class, care needs to be taken to be sure that the correction of errors in understanding or conduct are made in such a fashion that the desired results are accomplished. A teacher who corrects and criticizes by ridicule or sarcasm has no place in a classroom. Also, a teacher who believes it is always improper to criticize and that loving a child is all that is necessary has no place there.
[Editor’s Note: Mean-spirited criticism undercuts and derails attempts to defend “sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:10; 2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1). Instead, no less resolute, the spirit-guided apostle Paul wrote about the need for “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Neither the pulpit nor the Bible classroom ought to be the platform from which a preacher or a teacher unleashes harsh, unloving and caustic criticism. No less is true of any child of God in whatever venue in which he or she may find himself or herself (e.g., restoring the fallen, personal evangelism). The way in which one criticizes exhibits something about his or her demeanor, motive and objective (e.g., reform, reclaim or discard). “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 NKJV). Likewise, the way in which parental correction manifests itself reveals the demeanor, motive and objective of mothers and fathers. ~ Louis Rushmore, Editor]