C. H. Spurgeon used to urge pastors to have a ‘blind eye and deaf ear’ when it came to gossip and criticism. He said, “You can’t stop people’s tongues and therefore the best thing to do is to stop your own ears and never mind what is spoken. Judge it to be a small matter what men think or say of you and care only for their treatment of your Lord.”
Vance Havner said, “A bulldog can whip a skunk, but it’s not worth it.” The hardest thing for us to do is deal with criticism. We want to attack, defend ourselves, justify our actions, and put down our foes. The easiest place to take a cheap shot is in the pulpit. I’ve been guilty of it and you have too.
Recently I was reading an article on Jonathan Edwards who, because of his convictions was fired from his church. Amazingly, he never said anything negative about it and even remained in the church and preached every Sunday until they could find a replacement. Most of us would have taken that opportunity to point out our enemies, take a cheap shot and take matters in our own hands.
Someone said, “Constructive criticism is when I criticize you; destructive criticism is when you criticize me.” The question is not if you will be criticized but when. It’s coming. It’s inevitable. It’s life. Get use to it.
A. W. Tozer said, “Never fear criticism. If the critic is right, he has helped you. If he’s wrong, you can help him. Either way, someone is helped.” I’m afraid that a negative attitude about criticism can be worse than the criticism itself. If we don’t take it before the Lord and get His perspective, we can become bitter, angry, resentful and attacking others will be our mode of operation. If that happens, the critic wins.
I’m afraid all of us have used the bully pulpit at times. We’ve taken a text and departed from it so we can get a shot at our critic. Most often, it’s deflected off the critic’s hard heart and hit an unsuspecting member. Lehman Strauss said, “The formula for a blessed ministry is to simply preach, pray and plug away.”
We all need to remember that the final judgement belongs to Jesus, not to me, not my critics, not my supporters. We need to be dead to flattery and flattening. Remember Paul’s words to the critics at Corinth: “But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. (1 Cor. 4:3-5, NASU).
Before this day is out, someone will probably speak a negative word about you. Take it in stride. Take it to the cross. Die to yourself. Learn from it, but don’t chew on it. Watch your attitude about the critic and the criticism. Take a few minutes to meditate on these words from Peter’s first Epistle. The Word is the best medicine for the wounds we suffer as his servants. In 1 Peter 1:6 we read, ” In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ…”
Read carefully from Chapter two, beginning in verse twenty one, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
Take a moment to meditate on what Peter writes for his readers, and for us in Chapter three, verses eight through ten. “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” Now read beginning with verse thirteen, “Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.
Peter continues to instruct us in chapter four, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”
The best thing I can share with you today is a word from God’s Word. Keep your hands to the plow. Don’t give up. Never let a loser tell you how to win. Don’t wallow in the words of the critic. Bathe yourself in the Word and allow the Holy Spirit to wash away all the junk that wants to attach itself to your life.
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.