How different would things be if we were motivated by love for others and if we approached the giving of criticism from the perspective of regarding ourselves as the foremost of sinners. If we were able to do this, the watching world might just see more of Christ in us and begin asking for the reason for the hope that is in us.
Years ago, I confronted my wife about something in her life that I thought she needed to change. I put time into formulating what I should say. I even prayed about it and asked the Lord to give me the right words. But it wasn’t until an hour or two after I had confronted her—during which time she patiently explained how insensitive and mean I had been in doing what I had done—that I actually understood how destructive my criticism had been. It had accomplished the exact opposite of what I had intended.
I think that the vast majority of the criticism that is offered today in Christian circles is like that. It is destructive rather than constructive. It tears the other person (or people) down rather than building them up. Why is that? Why are we as Christians so poor at giving healthy, constructive criticism to others?
While I am sure that there are many answers to this question, I am also sure that one of the main reasons we struggle so much in giving constructive criticism is because we think that “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) necessarily means that we should say everything that we think or point out everything that we see. Perhaps we don’t really believe that God will in fact bring to completion the good work that He has begun in someone else’s life (Phil. 1:6), or perhaps we don’t trust the Holy Spirit’s timing, and we see ourselves as being indispensable to this particular person’s sanctification. Or, it may even be that we don’t believe that the Holy Spirit will actually lead His people “into all the truth” (John 16:13) until and unless we step in to help Him out.
In all of these situations, we are playing God. We are putting ourselves in His place, and we are seeking to do what He says He will do. We need to remind ourselves that the most important part of the phrase, “speaking the truth in love” is the last two words. Love does not do what is easiest or most convenient; it does not do what is best for ourselves. It always does what is best for the other person. If we say everything that we think or point out everything that we see, we may be loving ourselves quite well but we are probably not loving the other person at all.
That was certainly the case for me when I confronted my wife many years ago. I didn’t have her best interest in mind. I had my own interests in mind. I knew that I had problems of my own, to be sure, but I didn’t have the particular problem that I was seeing in her—or so I thought. Pointing out her problem made me feel better about myself and about my problems. It made me feel like I was better than she was. If I had been driven by my love for her, instead of my love for myself, I may still have approached her about the specific issue, but I would have done it quite differently.
For one thing, I would have been slower to speak and quicker to listen and to understand what she was going through (James 1:19).