When Criticism is Earned

Criticism isn’t fun to experience.  Some may enjoy giving it out, but I don’t know too many people (if any!) that actively look for criticism, especially when it is is not justified.

On one hand, we might accept a coach’s suggestions on how to improve our skills.  We might even hear out an expert at work, showing us where we can do a better job.  On good days, we look at the teacher’s comments, and see where we could have gotten a better grade.  (On other days, though, we just glance at the score and proceed to forget all that we learned because the test is over.)

When criticism is inaccurate, though, it usually just makes us angry.  If someone were to criticize us for being lazy or unreliable for being late when, in fact, our car broke down out of cell phone range, we’re probably going to react negatively.

What about when “criticism” is true, though?  Are there times when we should embrace the results of what we have done, whether good or bad?

The book of 1 Peter talks about reactions to our behavior in a couple of places.  1 Peter 2:20 is one example, and here’s another:

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
1 Peter 3:14‭-‬17 NIV

Peter mentions “suffering” here, but the reality is that many people in this world (and especially in my country) typically don’t actually suffer for doing good.  For those of us where some unwarranted criticism is about as bad as it gets, we should pray regularly for those who do suffer for their faith.

There are two scenarios, in this passage.  In the first case, when followers of Jesus (including me) don’t listen to His message, along with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and – as a result – we don’t live in a righteous manner, then consequences (whether criticism or more serious suffering) might be earned.  If I am lazy at my job, and don’t get my work done, I can expect to be fired.  If I treat everyone else poorly, I should anticipate not having many friends around when I need help.  In the same way, when I choose to live in a way contrary to God’s plan, it makes sense that other people living in a sin-broken world would look at that and be offended (since God’s plan is what we were made for, and anything outside of that isn’t good for us, for others, or for society in general).

It’s good news that Jesus didn’t die for righteous people: He died for sinners like you and me!  Even though that is the fundamental basis of our faith, though, we are still called to do our best (with His help) at living in a righteous manner.  While some will criticize when a Christian makes a mistake, I know that I – for one – make my share of choices that deserve negative consequences.  I earn criticism…or worse.

In the second case, those who live like Jesus may still experience bad consequences for doing good things.  This might sound counter-intuitive, but a fallen, sinful world is hostile to righteousness.  Some people will try to pull you down to stave off their own guilt.  Others will create suffering in others because they are full of hate.  Still others are being led by evil forces that are opposed to God.

You could find yourself being criticized after standing up for the truth.  You could find yourself losing opportunities (whether social or economic) because you no longer participate in certain activities.  Still, with your integrity and your relationship with God intact, remember that a righteous life can not only be a testimony; it can lead to opportunities to share the reason for your hope.  Ironically, when evil forces cause you to suffer because they want to stop the spread of the gospel, you may very well foil their plans by continuing to do good, as the distinctiveness of righteousness attracts attention and builds a platform to share good news.

So, don’t panic if you are criticized or if you are in a situation where something you did is having unpleasant long-term results.  Instead, pause and think back about why you are experiencing this.  If you are suffering for doing wrong (especially if you sinned intentionally), admit it to God and ask for forgiveness.  He can provide restoration, although sometimes you will need to either be a part of fixing the problem, or you’ll just need to live with its consequences for a while.  On the other hand, if you are suffering for doing the right thing, and you have peace with God about it, just remember that you are in good company.  I don’t think that God is a fan of suffering, but when you are doing so while following His will, you have a chance to testify to both His faithfulness and your own faith in Him.

Finally, if you are criticized without cause, and you continue to bear up under that with hope, note that our response (to those who ask) should not be criticism, but an answer “with gentleness and respect”.

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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