He has the right to criticize, who has the heart to help.
I’ve always loved those words of Lincoln.* He knew the sting that criticism brings. Abraham Lincoln lived-and died-a target. He had more enemies than all of us combined, I’d bet. And he knew how to dish: stand-by-me friendship style.
In a “Temperance Address” he said, It is an old and true maxim, that a ‘drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.’ So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. And a soft tongue will break a bone.
When Criticism Comes Without a Heart to Help
I totally did not see it coming. I was broadsided, then they stung. Her words were very personal, strongly worded, and cut me to the core.
Not that those are bad, by the way. But it was dish and dash. The words were served up and she was gone.
In days and weeks that followed, I stretched and asked if we could talk, and try to work things out. But she didn’t reach back. Bitterness tempted me.
I did pray a lot. For me, for her, for pure hearts, for God to get glory out of this mess. And for power to practice what I preach about not being so thin-skinned that we crumble- or lash out-when criticism comes.
And I looked for the kernel.
Look for the Kernel of Truth
Since most criticism has a kernel of truth and we’d best sift to find it, not write it off or explain it away. So I sat and prayed on that a while.
And I sought out a kernel and found it. I asked a few friends if they’d seen what she’d seen. Now that you mention it, one said.
Around then, Marshall Segal’s “Guilty Until Proven Innocent” challenged me big. Try this, he said,
The Bible tells us to consistently test ourselves anyway, regardless of what others think or say (2 Corinthians 13:5). Don’t assume you are in the right. Ask yourself serious, probing questions about your faith and life. “[God] leads the in what is right, and teaches the humble his way” (Psalm 25:9). Why not, then, also use others’ critical comments as an opportunity to truly search yourself for anything out of step with the gospel? “Test [every potentially prophetic word against you]; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). With your Bible open, and your heart humble, try their words on, and see if they fit after all.
Best Practice: Serve it up with Love
If dish you must, be sure to serve it up with love.
Priscilla and Aquila didn’t dish and dash on Apollos when he was preaching wrong (Acts 18:18-28).
Paul didn’t dish and dash on the Corinthians. He wrote hard things (1 Corinthians 3, 2 Corinthians 2, 13), then came to be with them (Acts 20:2-3).
Jesus didn’t dish and dash on Peter. He said, “Get behind me, Satan,” then six days later he was one of three Jesus called up to see him transfigured (Mark 8:33-9:8).
God doesn’t discipline and convict and dish then dash on us. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit promise to be with us, never to leave us (2 Corinthians 13:11, Matthew. 28:20, John 14:16, respectively).
So let’s don’t dish and dash. Because, says Christopher Abel, criticism is best tethered to a helpful heart.
Criticism alone is distasteful at best. It’s lazy. It’s an easy way to make you feel better about your own life. But criticism tethered to a helpful heart is how the world is changed.
Critique the world. Challenge the status quo. Hold people to a higher standard. But don’t stop there. Have a heart to help.
A heart like Jan’s. She has a heart to help. She’s the friend who confirmed, when I asked, an hard truth in the criticism. And Jan stuck around. Her presence beside me is a tribute to God’s grace and a reminder to apply that kernel I found.
The Least Defensive People on the Planet
And if it’s all true about God never never leaving and no condemnation for us in Christ Jesus, then we should, as Segal says, be the least defensive people on the planet, because the gavel has fallen once for all and we are free.
Instead of being defensive or angry we should test every criticism offered, whether it’s served dish and dash or stand-by-me friendship style. Because, as Marshall Segal concludes,
Ultimately, there’s only one judgment that matters, and it’s not the courtroom of your friends’ opinion. Through Christ, God has already ruled decisively and eternally on your behalf and in your favor.
One hundred fifty years ago Lincoln saw the “storm coming.” He was bitterly attacked for his stance on slavery. In the face of critics on the right and left, Lincoln said,
If He has a place and a work for me- and I think He has- I believe I am ready. I am nothing, but truth is everything.
He has the right to criticize, who has the heart to help, is great. But, I am nothing, truth is everything, that might be better. At least when you’re the receiver.
Criticism is one of God’s gifts to conform us to Christ, and this gift won’t always come sweetly. But being conformed to the image of the Truth Himself is way more important than how the criticism was served.
Because I-my image, ego, I- am nothing. And Truth, who loves me and will never leave me, is everything.
Finally, brothers, rejoice.
Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace;
And the God of love and peace will be with you.
2 Corinthians 13:11