How to Receive Criticism

Dr. Steve Viars February 16, 2002

- it might be helpful for you to know how we come up with what we're going to speak on/lead our church family to study.
- there's a variety of answers…but one of them is, I like to read, and every so often I come across something that is so helpful, or so convicting, that I say something like, "I need to find a place in the preaching schedule for us to study this together."
- that’s the case with our topic tonight --- this past summer I read an article in the Journal of Biblical Counseling entitled The Cross and Criticism by Alfred Poirier that really challenged me, and so when one of our staff was going to be gone working on his doctorate, it provided a natural opportunity to work on this topic.
[Note to readers -- the article is included as a file attachment to this message]
- I also want to be sure I say something here that I assume is a given…but every so often it is worth repeating…If I [or any pastor] had to be perfectly applying a topic before I was qualified to speak on it, there isn't much I'd be speaking on.
- and that may be especially true of this area…
- I don't know if you would say this about yourself…but I would certainly be happy to go on record as saying that I think the reason this article impacted me the way it did is because I know I've got a lot of work to do here…
- so as we're going through this over the next couple of weeks, you'd say [or think], well PV, you need to work on this too---I'm painfully aware of that.

- let's begin by:

Introduction - Defining Criticism

- in the article, Poirier defines criticism as "any judgment made about you by another, which declares that you fall short of a particular standard."
- that’s a good place for us to start, because it is general enough to include a lot of different categories…
- for example, it doesn't say whether the judgment is fair or not [so the ideas of just or unjust criticism] can both fall under this heading…
- it doesn't say if the standard was a reasonable one…
- it doesn't say anything about tone of voice, timing, etc…because it is possible for a particular criticism to be fair as far as its content, but unfair regarding the process…
- we will try to ferret those kinds of things out as we proceed through this…but we purposely want to begin with a pretty broad definition, so we can get as many kinds of situations under this heading as possible.

- let's talk about this a little bit together to just warm up to the idea….INPUT

1.  What kinds of things are we often criticized for?

2.  What forms does criticism take?

3.  Why is criticism hard to take?

4.  Why is criticism hard to give?
- a possible flagship verse for all of this could be Psalm 141:5 - Let the righteous smite me in kindness and reprove me; it is oil upon the head; do not let my head refuse it…

- our plan of attack is this….we'd like to divide our two nights up over the issues of giving criticism and receiving criticism…
- neither category is easy…but I imagine there are some here who would say they find one easier than the other…[could take a poll]

- so tonight we're working on…How to Receive Criticism in a Way that Honors God
- I'd like us to organize our study around Four principles to help us handle criticism well.

- let me invite you to open your Bibles to the book of Proverbs first of all and we'll take our first couple points from verses in this book.
- we're going to begin with this…

I.  A Willingness to Receive Criticism is a Mark of the Wise.

- we're going to do this a bit differently tonight…
- we're going to read the passage first…and then I'm going to ask you to wrestle with the verse a little bit before giving the point…
- I actually have a secondary goal in that its important to work at thinking through carefully--what is the argument of the text?

- READ Proverbs 12:15

- INPUT - as in many verses in the book of Proverbs, there is a comparison set up…what is the verse saying about the fool in the first half ? 
- INPUT - so what is the opposite of that?

A.  The wise man recognizes his own fallibility.
- the way of the fool seems right to him….it is right in his own eyes….therefore there is going to be a real resistance to accepting criticism regardless of how its given.
- in fact, my guess is that all of have people in our lives that we would say things like…
- that person was very critical to me…they were very mean…they were very harsh…
- where, if the truth were to be known…it wasn't so much that they were being harsh as it was that we were being….foolish.

- now please look over at Proverbs 13:10 - READ
- through presumption comes nothing but strife, or "pride only breeds quarrels"…
- that is what's being contrasted to the second half of the verse…
- so what's the point?
B.  The wise man avoids quarreling.
- the argument of this verse is very important…
- on the one hand is the person who wisely receives counsel, and uses his energy to listen, to learn, and to change…
- on the other hand is the person who because of pride and presumption pours the time and energy into quarreling, being defensive, fighting, pouting, etc.

- a good question for all of us to ask is, what man am I more like?

- [could deal with use of "man" in this discussion]
- [could also ask the relationship between "A" and "B"]
- now please turn to Proverbs 17:10 - READ
- INPUT - How would you state the principle here, if you were going to word it from the perspective of the wise person?

C.  The wise man listens quickly and carefully.
- there are actually two issues here…
- depth - "a rebuke goes deeper…"
- speed - "than 100 blows…"

- so what's the overall point here---a willingness to receive criticism is a mark of the wise.
- now, is anyone else convicted other than me?…are you saying, PV--you're right, you did need to study this, or PV--you're right, we did need to study this.

- now, let's push this one step further…the Scripture also teaches that….

II.  The Wise and the Fool Reap According to their Ability to Receive Criticism.

- might say, ohh ohh, this sounds like more Proverbs verses coming…the ones under the first point were a lot….
- true, but friends, there are consequences for handling this area of life well, and consequences for handling it poorly.

- read Proverbs 13:13…
- NIV - He who scorns instruction will pay for it, but he who respects a command is rewarded.
A.  Fools pay for rejecting criticism, wise persons are rewarded for receiving it.

- INPUT - In what scenarios might receiving criticism result in being rewarded, and in what scenarios might rejecting it result in paying a price?

- read Proverbs 9:9
- this is a different kind of Proverb in that the point is made not by offering a comparison/contrast, but by repeating the principle in a slightly different way.
- INPUT - what's the point?

B.  Heeding criticism increases ones wisdom.

- How do wise people become wise?
- in part, by responding to criticism in a wise fashion.
- it really does have a "the rich get richer" ring to it…

- the point is---how you respond to criticism today is not a short-term issue…it has long-term implications…
- you're either building wisdom for the future, or foolishness….

- you might even want to think about it from this perspective…think about the last five times you were criticized…and think about where you'd like to be a year from now [regarding godliness and wisdom]….did your response to criticism take you closer to where you want to be five years from now, or further away?

- read Proverbs 15:32
C.  Heeding criticism increases ones understanding.
- the word translated "understanding" in verse 32 is the Hebrew word "lab", or heart.
- many times, it means "mind", the ability to process information---to understand something…
- cf. Prov. 15:21 [man of understanding], or 17:18 [man lacking in sense]
- in the Hebrew lexicon, Proverbs 15:32 is used as an illustration of the meaning "get a mind" [that is literally what the lexicon says]

- INPUT - How does that fit the topic of criticism?
- [some people "get a mind" by listening to criticism, some people don't expand their minds because they don't…]
- [cf. implication to the phrases "open minded" or "closed minded"]
- [cf. also how we tend to think "understanding" is a "hard wiring issue", a matter of intellect…perhaps its more a matter of how we respond to criticism]
- [deal with also how this needs to begin in the home…]

- [perhaps a motto for many of to adopt would be --- "get a mind"---don't miss the opportunity to expand our understanding by responding improperly to criticism]

- now this next point is where the Poirier article was especially helpful…

III.  Learn to Accept Criticism through the Lens of the Cross.

- While everything we've said here is important, it would be incomplete unless we talk about the "how".
- it is much easier to handle criticism [to do the things we've been studying] if we learn to do it through the grid of the cross.
- another way of saying this is---the cross of Jesus Christ is both your greatest source of criticism, and your greatest source of hope.
- that might need to percolate for a while, but let's look at some passages together.
- would you please turn over to Romans chapter 3?

- READ Romans 3:9-18

- now, would it be fair to say that those words fall under the heading of "theological criticism"?
- here are a couple of other passages that draw similar conclusions….

- Galatians 3:10 - For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM."

- James 2:10 - For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.

- the principle is….
A.  In Christ's cross, I agree with God's judgment of me.
- there is a sense in which the cross is a highly critical instrument…because it says of you…
- your best efforts to please God by yourself fall short…
- your righteousness is as filthy rags…
- you could never be saved apart from divine intervention…
- but its actually worse…because not only does the cross tell us that someone else had to die for us….it also tells us that we must die…
- the cross was an instrument of sacrifice for us, but it is also an example of sacrifice for us…

- so what did Paul say in Galatians 2:20?
- I am crucified with Christ….
- I had to be________? [put to death]
- Romans 6:6 - knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin;
- no one has ever, and no one could ever…criticize us as thoroughly as the cross of Christ.

- Poirier says this --- If I know myself as crucified with Christ, I can now receive another's criticism with this attitude: "You have not discovered a fraction of my guilt.  Christ has said more about my sin, my failings, my rebellion and my foolishness than any man can lay against me.  I thank you for your corrections.  They are a blessing and a kindness to me.  For even when they are wrong or misplaced, they remind me of my true faults and sins for which my Lord and Savior paid dearly when He went to the cross for me.  I want to hear where your criticisms are valid."

- now, it doesn't stop there…
- Pastor Goode used to tell us…don't tear people up without putting them back together.
- what we've said thus far about the cross is very true…but it is also very incomplete…
- because while the cross is truly an instrument of criticism…it is also an instrument of mercy.
- are you still in Romans chapter 3?
- let's read some more….READ Romans 3:21-26

- the blood of Christ purchases a righteousness for us that is far superior to anything we could have conjured up on our own.
- when you come to Christ, it is not simply having your sins forgiven---you also have the righteousness of Christ laid on your account…
- that’s what verse 26 means when it says that God can be both just and justifier of the one who believes….
B.  In Christ's cross, I agree with God's justification of me.

- that’s why we would read a verse like Romans 8:1 - There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
- that’s why the chapter would go on and say…[read 8:30-31-39]

- Poirier - In light of God's judgment and justification of the sinner in the cross of Christ, we can begin to discover how to deal with any and all criticism.  By agreeing with God's criticism of me in Christ's cross, I can face any criticism man may lay against me.  In other words, no one can criticize me more than the cross has.  And the most devastating criticism turns out to be the finest mercy.  If you thus know yourself as having been crucified with Christ, then you can respond to any criticism, even misplaced or hostile criticism, without bitterness, defensiveness, or blameshifting.  Such responses typically exacerbate and intensify conflict, and lead to the rupture of relationships.  You can learn to hear criticism as constructive and not condemnatory because God has justified you.

- the point is --- on one hand, the cross makes you worse than you would have ever guessed, and on the hand, it makes you better than you would have ever guessed…
- so when someone criticizes you…its not nearly the big deal that some of make it out to be…
- because the cross has revealed more about my inadequacies than any human evaluation ever will…
- but also because my stand before God and man is not based on my own righteousness anyway…it is based on the imputed righteousness of Christ…which can never be marred…

- the upshot of that is…when we are struggling with criticism, often we need a healthy infusion of the cross…
- because you cannot say anything to me that has not already been said…
- and because my joy, satisfaction, my security, my stand is not based on my righteousness [or the appearance of me being right], it is based on the unchanging righteousness of Christ…
- so the revelation of my failures and shortcomings are not as threatening because its not about me and my righteousness…it's about Him and His.

IV.  Learn to Apply these Principles to Both Just and Unjust Criticism.

A.  Just

1.  Repent quickly

- cf. I John 2:1-2

2.  Rejoice in God's forgiveness and cleansing

- I John 1:9, Psalm 38

3.  Take steps to change

- Prov. 28:13

4.  Thank God and your critic

[could read Poirier article -- bottom of page 19 and top of page 20]

B.  Unjust

1.  Look for the nugget of truth

- Matthew 7:3

2.  Speak honestly with your critic.

3.  Do not be overwhelmed or discouraged.  Focus on the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Dr. Steve Viars


Senior Pastor - Faith Church

Director - Faith Legacy Foundation


B.S.: Pre-Seminary & Bible, Baptist Bible College (Now Clarks Summit University)
M.Div.: Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min.: Biblical Counseling, Westminster Theological Seminary

Dr. Steve Viars has served at Faith Church in Lafayette, IN since 1987. Pastor Viars leads and equips Faith Church as Senior Pastor with a focus on preaching and teaching God’s Word and using his organizational skills in guiding the implementation of the Faith Church mission and vision. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith Church ministries. Dr. Viars serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation. Steve is the author, co-author, or contributor to six books and numerous booklets. He and his wife, Kris, were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and three grandchildren.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

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