Bible Principles for Dealing With Criticism

Updated on August 21, 2017
RonElFran profile image

Ron is the founding pastor of a church in Harrisburg, PA. He is a graduate of Denver Seminary in Colorado.

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Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.

Have you ever said that? I certainly have. I was taught that little adage as a child, and can dimly remember the kids in my neighborhood, myself included, chanting it to one another.

But my naive confidence that negative words about me wouldn’t hurt didn’t last long. Over the years I have had it impressed on me, definitely, forcefully, and conclusively, that words can hurt me – because they’ve done it so many times.

We call those words that hurt, criticism. The dictionary defines it as finding fault with someone, judging them disapprovingly. And nobody escapes it.

Expect to be criticized!

It doesn’t matter how wonderful a person you may be, or how upright and wise in handling the issues of life. The fact is that somebody is not going to like what you do or how you do it. You could be absolutely perfect and you would still get criticized. Look at what the critics said about Jesus and John the Baptist:

Luke 7:33-34 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners."'

Note: All Scriptures are from the New International Version of the Bible

If Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, couldn’t escape being criticized, there’s not much chance any of the rest of us will!

In fact, I don’t even want to be the kind of person who is never criticized, because I recognize this fact of life:

If I am having enough impact in the world for people to notice me, they will talk about me!

And people being people, some of that talk will be negative.

Our normal reaction to criticism is to become defensive and antagonistic

Often when we receive criticism, we experience it as an attack deliberately and maliciously launched against us. And being attacked usually provokes two immediate and automatic reactions:

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The first is to defend ourselves against the attack so that we won’t be further hurt. That often means putting up a wall of denials, explanations, and excuses designed to show that the criticism is totally off base and has no validity.

Next comes the counterattack! We lash out at our attacker with whatever harsh accusations we can think of regarding their motives, knowledge, and competence, hoping to put them on the defensive, and at the same time punish them for daring to attack us in the first place.

Yet the Bible teaches that the knee-jerk defensive reaction we all so easily fall into is counter productive.

Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Instead of blindly reacting to criticism, we should thoughtfully respond to it

Rather than allowing criticism to provoke an automatic defensive and antagonistic reaction, we’ll get much better results when we carefully consider the criticism, and then respond appropriately.

The three types of criticism

Any criticism we receive will ultimately fall into one of three categories, and each type requires a different response:

(1) ACCURATE criticism – it is essentially valid, although it may not be 100 percent correct.

(2) INACCURATE criticism – it is essentially incorrect, although there may be some truth in it.

(3) MALICIOUS criticism – it is motivated by anger, frustration, jealousy, envy, or some other agenda on the part of the critic.

Let’s look at what Scripture teaches about responding appropriately to each of these types of criticism.

1. Use ACCURATE criticism as an opportunity to change

Proverbs 15:31-32 He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. 32 He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding.

Criticism can be a God-given instrument of needed correction!

Unless you make the unlikely claim of being perfect in all you do, there will be times when negative judgments about how you handle some situations are entirely appropriate.

That’s why, for example, a well run company is likely to have yearly performance reviews for its employees. Those assessments provide an opportunity not to tear a worker down, but to make mid-course corrections that will help the worker be more effective on the job.

And that’s exactly how we ought to view the accurate criticism God allows to come into our lives – it’s an opportunity to make corrections and get better.

But when it comes to criticism, what, exactly, does “accurate” mean?

Criticism need not be 100 percent true in order to be “accurate”

No human being judging our actions can possibly know all the circumstances and potentially mitigating factors we could cite in our own defense. So, it will always be possible to punch holes in someone’s assessment of our performance. That’s why “100 percent correct” is not an appropriate standard of accuracy. Instead, a standard of “substantially correct” is the one we should apply.

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For example, if my boss criticizes me for “always” overstaying my lunch hour, it would be easy for me to cite all the times I got back from lunch on time, or even ahead of time. But that would miss the point. Although I’m not late 100 percent of the time, the observation that I have a pattern of being late getting back from lunch is substantially correct. I need to listen to it, and allow it to provoke me to change.

2. Use INACCURATE criticism as an opportunity to teach

2 Timothy 2:24-25 And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.

Criticism that is sincere but inaccurate is usually based on ignorance or misperceptions of the facts. That’s what happened to the apostle Peter after a vision from God sent him to share the gospel in the house of a Roman Centurion named Cornelius. When Peter reported back to the church at Jerusalem, he drew some strong criticism:

Acts 11:2-3 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them."

Obviously the critics didn’t understand that Peter had done what he did by the direct command of God. In other words, they were ignorant of the facts.

But instead of getting on his “how dare you criticize me for doing God’s will” high horse, Peter responded with humility:

Acts 11:4 Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened:

In other words, Peter used the occasion to “gently instruct” his critics. An episode that could have led to great strife in the church, instead became an opportunity for Peter to teach Jewish believers that God loves Gentiles too.

Acts 11:18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life."

How do you usually react when someone criticizes you?

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3. Use MALICIOUS criticism as an opportunity to minister grace

Grace is defined as “unmerited favor,” and that’s exactly what Scripture enjoins us to give to those who criticize us maliciously.

Matthew 5:44-45 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Peter turned inaccurate criticism into a teachable moment simply by giving his critics the facts, and doing it without attitude! If he had allowed himself to become defensive and antagonistic because of the inaccurate and unjust criticism hurled at him, that lesson would have been entirely lost.

When people criticize us out of their anger, jealousy, frustration, or even hatred, Jesus commands that we not only forgive them, but that we pray for them and seek to bless them.

“But they don’t deserve to be blessed!” our outraged feelings scream.

True, but that’s exactly what grace is all about. And by giving that grace to people who have deliberately and maliciously attacked us with their criticism, Jesus says we become more like God Himself.

Something wonderful happens when we take on an attitude of grace toward people who have been malicious or judgmental or spiteful toward us: their criticism can’t touch us! We understand that the problem is with them, and not with us. So, instead of being offended and hurt, we are free to joyfully minister forgiveness and grace into that person’s life. The result is that instead of the unfair criticism succeeding in tearing us down, it actually serves to build us up, spiritually and emotionally, as we follow in the redemptive footsteps of Christ.

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The 2 percent rule

In reality, most of the criticism we receive can be turned into a positive instrument of change in our lives. Even if it’s basically inaccurate or totally malicious, it may contain some small nugget of truth that is valid, and which we should not ignore. That was David’s attitude:

Psalms 139:23-24 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

David asked God to search his life to see if there was any offensive way in him. Any at all. And if God showed him something that was out of order in his life, however trivial it might seem, David was committed to cleaning it up.

That request of David’s led me to what I call my 2 percent rule:

If someone’s criticism of me is even 2 percent accurate, I need to recognize and correct that 2 percent.

We can be triumphant over criticism!

For many of us, just hearing that someone said negative things about us can trigger acute emotional distress. It’s as if that accusation, whatever it’s actual merit, immediately penetrates our defenses, causing substantial damage to our self esteem.

But when we respond to criticism biblically, we need no longer be victimized by it. We can experience first hand one of the great promises God gives us in Scripture:

Isaiah 54:17 no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me," declares the LORD.

To me, that's good news!

Questions & Answers

    © 2014 Ronald E Franklin

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      • profile image

        Paul 

        3 weeks ago

        Thank you for this article. God has used it to greatly help me tonight. May God continue to bless you Ronald, as you shine His light in the world. Peace in Christ, Paul.

      • profile image

        Julia 

        5 weeks ago

        Thank you so much for this article. I have read and re-read it, even reccomended it to friends. Thank you and God bless you for your wisdom and insight.

      • RonElFran profile imageAUTHOR

        Ronald E Franklin 

        3 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

        JD, you are dealing with one of the toughest problems any parent ever has to face. In this type of situation having the active support of your church family can make all the difference. I'd recommend that you start by sharing your story with your pastor, who can help to get the church fully engaged in supporting you and your family. I'm sure that if you are in a good church, there will be other members who will both faithfully pray for your family and provide their encouragement and practical wisdom as well.

      • profile image

        JD 

        3 months ago

        I'm currently dealing with an adult child who is a drug addict and is getting involved in criminal activity. My neighbors, fully aware of the issue, and amplifying the fear and anger, are looking at me in ways that I've never dealt with before - a mix of Christian and secular folks. The notion is that I am not doing anything about it.

        I have never had an issue with them before, but we are experiencing the cold shoulder. There are numerous other issues we are dealing with such as poverty and one income, and barely that. I'm in need of a shoulder replacement that will take me out of work for up to six months, and my wife cannot work.

        We are believers, and my walk has been the most challenging walk since about 2005 when my wife need brain surgery, and my son being diagnosed with preliminary MS. Which I believe is the root of the addiction.

        I don't know how to handle the negative perceptions, and don't really know what to do. I'm trying keep my son from diving off the deep end, and keep my home and life too.

        What do I say to my Christian neighbkrs, and what do I say to my secular neighbors, especially since my son is a drop in the bucket of risk compared the the high numbers of drug addicted young adults and the rising crime rates?

        I am taking action in boundaries and the exercise of trying to both love my son and discipline him. Talking to police and trying to get him in rehab. And even the police think that my son wouldn't make it very long on his own from being kicked out

        What should Christian parents do when the statistics are that their children - of one in three - are now addicts?

        Should they hold fast in faith that they are doing all they can? Or should they turn their child away knowing the child could wind up suicidal or even worse into the world of drugs and crime?

        How do we deal with the negative perceptions of the neighbors who are (in my case) now trying to get us out of he neighborbood?

        It is my belief that we out of love try as hard as we can in spite of the criticism and not worry about the status quo, as Christ taught us to love the sick, where even he sat with the lowliness of society. And what can matter more in that situation than your own children, no matter how old they are?

        Am I missing something?

      • RonElFran profile imageAUTHOR

        Ronald E Franklin 

        5 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

        Thank you, Joyce.

      • SweetJoy profile image

        Joyce Cortes 

        5 months ago from California

        Your article is beneficial. Thank you for sharing this. :-)

      • profile image

        Tshepiso 

        5 months ago

        Thank you so much for an encouraging and profound article. It was eye opening and hopefully one will be able to face any positively so.

      • profile image

        Josh 

        10 months ago

        Thank you for sharing this. It ministered to me.

      • profile image

        Simone 

        12 months ago

        I'm struggling with criticism at work. I internalize it. I tend to want to avoid the person and I also talk about the person's with my coworkers which is wrong. I'm failing badly

      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 

        2 years ago from the short journey

        That it does not have to defeat or control us is indeed a wonderful thing!

      • RonElFran profile imageAUTHOR

        Ronald E Franklin 

        2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

        Many thanks, Peg. I'm very glad it was helpful. Whenever I'm reminded of these principles, it certainly helps me!

      • RonElFran profile imageAUTHOR

        Ronald E Franklin 

        2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

        Thanks, swilliams. I'd be very happy to know that some readers have been better equipped to handle inevitable criticism by what's shared here.

      • RonElFran profile imageAUTHOR

        Ronald E Franklin 

        2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

        Thanks, gerimcclym. It's so easy for Christians to act out rather than respond in a godly way when criticism hits, but it doesn't have to be that way.

      • RonElFran profile imageAUTHOR

        Ronald E Franklin 

        2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

        Thank you, Kristen. This is a lesson we all need to be reminded of, because criticism can rock our boats at any time!

      • RonElFran profile imageAUTHOR

        Ronald E Franklin 

        2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

        Thanks, RTalloni. In saying that if we respond biblically, criticism can't touch us I didn't mean to imply that it won't be painful, but that it can't defeat or control us or deflect us from our God-ordained course. We can be victorious over "every tongue that accuses" us!

      • RonElFran profile imageAUTHOR

        Ronald E Franklin 

        2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

        Thank you, mathursunil. I'm glad it was helpful to you.

      • PegCole17 profile image

        Peg Cole 

        2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

        What a valuable, insightful lesson that you've shared here. I really needed this. Thank you so much. I can see now where criticism can actually help guide me in the right direction.

      • profile image

        swilliams 

        2 years ago

        Thank you for providing this insightful article that is helpful in a world where everyone is trying to stick up for their personal beliefs. Very useful.

      • gerimcclym profile image

        Geri McClymont 

        2 years ago

        Thank you for an excellent article on how we should respond to criticism from a Christian standpoint.

      • Kristen Howe profile image

        Kristen Howe 

        2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Ron, congrats on another HOTD. This was spot on for this hub to focus on their own Christian beliefs on what to do with criticism from others and even their family. This was real gripping and inspirational, even motivational, to read.

      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 

        2 years ago from the short journey

        Congratulations on your Hub of the Day award for this look at dealing with criticism. Expecting it is indeed the first step to dealing with it! Though unbelievers would not be depending on the power of God to help them through Jesus the Christ, the principles you note here offer wisdom to anyone responding to criticism.

        I'm not able to agree that criticism can't touch us if we respond as the Bible instructs. It can be quite painful, but we can have peace in the midst of the storm. Have you ever read Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Brauns? If not, you would probably enjoy learning from its thorough look at what Christians need to understand about forgiveness.

        Learning to value our critics is critical to living victoriously. Thanks for a neat read.

      • mathursunil profile image

        Sunil Mathur 

        2 years ago from Allahabad, India

        You have explained very lucidly and philosophically how to deal with various types of criticism. The article is spiced with valuable and interesting references from the Bible.

      • RonElFran profile imageAUTHOR

        Ronald E Franklin 

        2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

        Jack, I'm not familiar with that particular course, but the teaching of being compassionate rather than argumentative is sorely needed in today's world. May that teaching have an impact on the men!

      • Jack Hansen profile image

        John A Hansen 

        2 years ago from Fort Myers, Florida

        I am taking a course with my Men's Ministry, The Way of the Master: Seek and save the lost the way Jesus did. Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort present a course about being compassionate rather than argumentative as one develops the ability to engage in gospel conversations guided by the Holy Spirit. Overcoming fear is paramount with deep faith and perseverance. Pointing out that people are sinners when the 10 Commandments, God's law, are used to shine on one's truth about their behavior. This opens up the opportunity to talk about repentance at the foot of the cross so that Christ may judge them righteous and, by the grace of God, they may be saved for eternity in heaven rather than burn in the river of fire because their sins caused them to remove themselves from God. The fear of God is stressed because people are indifferent to God and feel they are "good." The devil wins with a complacent attitude about this most important issue. Always converse with love rather than competitive debate.

      • RonElFran profile imageAUTHOR

        Ronald E Franklin 

        4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

        Thank you, Inspired Heart. Learning to respond properly to criticism isn't at all easy, but as you say, it's really necessary for our growth.

      • Inspired Heart profile image

        Yvette Stupart 

        4 years ago from Jamaica

        Thanks for your informative and inspiring hub. While we might not like criticisms, we could find that some are useful for our growth and even achieving set goals in our lives.

        Also, I love your instructions to, "use malicious criticism as an opportunity to minister grace". Yes, as we have freely received God's grace, let us pass it on!

      • RonElFran profile imageAUTHOR

        Ronald E Franklin 

        4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

        Thanks, Mel. And you are so right. The Bible says of itself that the knowledge it provides gives us "all things that pertain to life and godliness." How foolish to neglect it!

      • Mel Carriere profile image

        Mel Carriere 

        4 years ago from San Diego California

        Very wise and meaningful words. The world's best self help book is already on most of our bookshelves, mostly gathering dust. Fantastic hub!

      • RonElFran profile imageAUTHOR

        Ronald E Franklin 

        4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

        Thanks, Ann1Az2, for reading and commenting, and for reminding me to be careful in my use of the word "grace." The sense in which I am using it is, to my mind, almost exactly what is expressed in Colossians 4:6, which says in the NKJV, "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one." I totally agree with you that the grace with which we "ought to answer each one" ultimately comes only from God. We certainly don't have any to give on our own!

      • Ann1Az2 profile image

        Ann1Az2 

        4 years ago from Orange, Texas

        I love your use of Scripture throughout this and you hit on one of my favorite men in the Bible - David. Well done because he certainly humbled himself and was always asking for God's instructions.

        I do take issue with one thing (since you are writing about criticism, I hope you won't take this wrong). I would hesitate in using the word "grace" for those who maliciously criticize. In an article that quotes so much Scripture, grace should be reserved for the only one who can give it and that is Christ. A better word choice might be forgiveness or as the Scripture says, love, since all Christians are called to love their enemies and forgive. But by the Biblical definition, only God can give grace.

      • RonElFran profile imageAUTHOR

        Ronald E Franklin 

        4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

        Thanks, MsDora. And you are exactly right - handling criticism gracefully is tough! But, as with everything else in life, God's word shows us the way. The hard part is actually doing it that way when our feelings just want to kick and scream!

      • RonElFran profile imageAUTHOR

        Ronald E Franklin 

        4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

        Thanks, Carola. No offense taken.

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        4 years ago from The Caribbean

        Hi Ron, I agree that criticism can hurt, and it can also help us improve. You have given us instructions on how to make it help. We really have to find refuge in the word of God, because these are not easy situations. Thank you.

      • Carola Finch profile image

        Carola Finch 

        4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        Your hub is really well done. Sorry about the comment, I was mistaken.

      • RonElFran profile imageAUTHOR

        Ronald E Franklin 

        4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

        Thanks, Ericdierker. I think we are all works in progress in this area!

      • Carola Finch profile image

        Carola Finch 

        4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        Just to let you know - it is always a good idea to do a search on HubPages on a topic before tackling it - lol. I have already done a hub on this topic with the exact same picture on top. Of course, you are free to write about whatever you want but it is better to know what is actually out there first. Please find another picture to use so people don't confuse our hubs.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Wonderfully done. I think that I am glad that I am not so perfect at this yet. It reminds me that God is not done with me yet. Thank you also for that armor of the Word you included here, your scripture provides and good breastplate.

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