The Bible warns us all to avoid those who would stir up dissention and start quarrels—those with a critical spirit tend to do such things, focusing only on what is negative. Let’s also discern when criticism stems, not from a desire to promote what is right and true, but from a critical spirit seeking to tear down and destroy.
I’m sure you’ve met people who like to consider themselves particularly discerning. But so often, there seems to be a fine line between discernment and just being critical. So, how can you tell the difference between a discerning person and a critical one?
Discernment is both the ability to tell the difference between right and wrong and – as Spurgeon famously put it – the difference between right and nearly right. However you cut it, discernment is about telling things apart. It is concerned about knowing the difference between what is right, good and true and what is veering off course.
Criticism is not so much concerned with the difference between right and wrong. Someone with a critical spirit is merely concerned with what is wrong. It is not about telling the difference between what is good, right and true and what is not. It is more interested in pointing out everything that it perceives to be wrong, inaccurate or not entirely on point.
Given these differences, how do you tell the difference between a discerning person and one with a critical spirit? Fundamentally, I think it is in this. The discerning person will also discern what is good, right and true because that is their primary concern. Whilst they may speak about what is less good and evidently not right, they will also have a good word to say about many godly people, good Bible teachers, people who are rightly dividing the Word of truth. The discerning person will have both good words and critical words to say.