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The Christadelphian | May 2010

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Silver and gold have I none
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning “The ten virgins” | Trevor A. Pritchard
  • Wisdom is the principal thing | Sally Wright
  • A neglected prophecy | Tom Barling
  • Why I do not vote | Peter Mason
  • God dwelling with men | Geoff Henstock
  • The sons of Korah 3 – The four rebel leaders | Jonathan Cope
  • Ezekiel – prophet to the exiles 5 – The calling of the prophet | Andrew E. Walker
  • Bringing the ark to Zion Part 2 | Dudley Fifield
  • Handling criticism | Stephen Whitehouse
  • “Great things” | Tom McCarthy
  • Signs of the times “What is man …?”
  • Israel and their land Further missile threat
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Handling criticism

IMAGINE the situation: during the early hours of the morning a sleepy and bemused parent is awoken by the piercing voice of one of the children shouting, “Don’t call me that! I’m not going to forgive you now”. This is then followed by a noisy and rather heated exchange between the two young children until finally order – and some much needed peace and quiet – is restored by a dazed, but now somewhat annoyed parent, when both siblings are sternly reprimanded. We may smile, but I am sure many of us are familiar with this story. With children this is always bound to happen – it is only natural; tantrums will inevitably erupt at the best of times.

But if we reflect on this charged and, in hindsight, laughable exchange, can we honestly say that we, as adults and brethren and sisters in Christ, behave differently all of the time? Do we sometimes behave like irritated (and in this case, overly tired) little children? Do we from time to time explode and lose our temper with each other? Do we occasionally say things which we soon regret? A verse of sound advice springs to mind: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). If only we carefully heeded this counsel, many of the problems we have encountered with each other would never have arisen in the first place. The apostle is encouraging us to listen more and speak less.

The power of the tongue

Now, as brethren and sisters in Christ, we know from the scriptures that our words can have one of two main effects: they can either build up or pull down. We have the power to use our words for good or bad, and this is of our own personal choosing. From the experiences of life, we are acutely aware of the potency of the tongue and the damage it can inflict upon others. Before even the blink of an eye, deadly words – like a poisoned dart – can be fired with devastating effect. Though such a little member, the tongue wields great strength and influence. How right James was when he said, “Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” (3:5). A lighted match, carelessly thrown, may start a fire which can cause severe destruction and our tongues are no different. Indeed, the same writer says elsewhere that the tongue can defile the whole body of a believer when it is used to slander, abuse, lie, blaspheme and swear.

So this is the power of the tongue and there are many lessons throughout God’s word showing how we should be deploying it to better use. But we want to consider how we cope when destructive words come our way. How do we respond and what do we do, especially when we consider them to be unfair and unwarranted? Do we similarly say, at least in our hearts, “I’m not going to forgive you now”? Do we quickly retaliate? Or do we try to restrain ourselves and seek the Lord’s guidance in prayer? The Master instructs us to apply the spirit of Matthew 18 when we feel that we have been wronged by another believer – that we are to “go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone” (verse 15). This is a scriptural injunction. We should not gossip, as the private matter will likely spread like wildfire and strife will undoubtedly be multiplied. This is therefore to be our first step: speak directly to the brother or sister concerned so that the issue can be sorted out, privately. But what else do the scriptures say?

“Take no heed unto all words …”

We know that there is nothing worse than being on the receiving end of another brother or sister’s harsh remarks, and it is often no easier when we have done something amiss, and the criticism is called for. We do not like criticism, do we? But what if we happen to overhear a brother or sister talking inaccurately or unfairly about us? Or what if a brother or sister quietly informs us that somebody else has been gossiping about us? What do we do then? We know what the scriptures say: we should apply the spirit of Matthew 18 and go directly to the person we have a problem with and speak in a Christlike way. But in reality this may never happen. Why is that? Before we even realise what is happening, the blood has rushed to our heads, our pride feels severely bruised, and we are soon informing the particular brother or sister what we actually think about them! We know this to be wrong, but sometimes our anger takes hold of the situation.

As we would expect, the Bible is full of helpful and practical advice in such matters. For instance, the wise man wrote:

“For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not. Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: for oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20-22)

Understanding the word “curse” is important for it means ‘to be slight, be swift, be trifling, be of little account, be light’. Nowhere does the writer provide us with specific examples of what might have been said. Maybe it was a defaming remark, an unwarranted comment, an angry threat, a joke at another’s expense or downright deliberate untruths. What was said is ultimately unimportant; it is how the receiving party responds that is important here. In these verses, the Preacher is informing us that no one is absolutely righteous; nobody is consistently good all of the time, never having transgressed. The only one who lived a sinless life was the Lord Jesus Christ, for he possessed “the tongue of the learned” (Isaiah 50:4), “neither was guile found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). Given this humbling fact that we fall woefully short of the high standard set in Christ – that we are all imperfect and continually require forgiveness from God – then this should provide us with a healthy perspective on our own failings towards others and when criticism, warranted or unwarranted, comes our way we should just take it in our stride. If the criticism is fair then we should rightfully act on it immediately; if undue, then let it go.

The Preacher therefore wisely advises, “Take no heed unto all words that are spoken”. No one is wise at all times; foolish words and unguarded expressions will regrettably drop from our lips on occasions. We are painfully aware of this truth. Therefore we should not take to heart every word that has been said about us; we should not overly examine or closely scrutinise every syllable or store away in our memory banks every last unpleasant and hurtful word – only to retrieve them at a moment’s notice when we want to remind the offending party of what they once unadvisedly said. We should simply let go of the words and let them leave us, forever. We should not hold grudges but, when it comes to blatant negativity and playground childishness, be forgiving and of short memory.

“Forgive us our debts …”

Yet the standards that pervade today’s society could never be described as ones of forgiveness, longsuffering or patience but of retaliation and revenge – a ‘get even’ mentality, often at any cost. Showing restraint is readily seen as a weakness. We know that human nature is competitive and full of pride; it feels it has to win, to be right. Seeing that we all share this nature, it is difficult to withstand unlawful and unwarranted criticism, but we must be able to forgive and forget. The true quality of discipleship in Christ and of self-restraint is powerfully displayed in our ability to take it patiently with forbearance and longsuffering. A person who is longsuffering is not quick to retaliate or promptly punish someone who has insulted, offended or harmed them. We must be willing to wipe the slate clean everyday, not allowing feelings of hurt and revenge to eat at us like a poison. As part of the model prayer, Jesus tells us, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Our sins are debts to God, which we, the debtors, cannot pay. God is willing to wipe our slates clean if we humble ourselves before Him. We ask for forgiveness through the Lord Jesus Christ. When we forgive others, God can see His own image reflected in us. As His children, we then must be willing to forgive and forget no matter what.

The verse in Ecclesiastes continues with the words, “for oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others”. It is also helpful when receiving criticism to bring to mind the many times that we have passed an unfair comment about somebody else, sometimes even a brother or sister in Christ, or been guilty of the same thing. So how can we expect others to be perfect all of the time when we are so far from perfect ourselves? However perfect we may want the brotherhood or ecclesial life to be, it will never live up to such unrealistic expectations this side of the kingdom, because our ecclesias are made up of human beings, all sharing our human nature.

The rebuke of the wise

Constructive criticism that is rooted in scripture is spoken in deep and genuine love for the other person, with the sole intent of helping that brother or sister to the kingdom of God. It will therefore be a godly rebuke and correction, spoken with the other’s spiritual well being firmly at heart. When on the receiving end of such words, Solomon wisely instructs, “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:5). Some hurtful words are for our ultimate good, however hard they are to stomach at the time. Constructive criticism instructs, corrects, warns and ultimately can save lives – even eternal life in the kingdom age. Generally speaking, constructive criticism should address a specific area that needs improving. It does not call into question the whole person, but focuses on a particular aspect of that person’s character or spiritual life. When listening to such direct feedback, we may feel our confidence and self-esteem shrink with every word that is spoken, but this should not really concern us. In order to develop, we must learn to take everything in our lives with much patience and longsuffering.

“Follow peace with all men”

And what do we achieve by being patient and longsuffering with each other? What is the result of forgiving and showing proper restraint in these matters? What happens when we accept the sharp words of others, or, if they are unreasonable, by simply letting them go so that we are free of them? We find peace. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts:

“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” (Hebrews 12:14,15)

We should actively strive for peaceable relations with everyone at all times, especially with our dear brethren and sisters. Having this kind of peace will instill within us a profound spiritual calm so that whatever storm confronts us on our way to the kingdom, we find that we are not rocked to and fro and brought to a state of turbulence; but rather we remain unmoved. Such a peace comes through our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and by taking on his character of love and humility. For our Lord did not react to curses and false accusations from others; he was without fault, utterly sinless in deed and action. So maybe next time, if we hear a brother or sister in Christ criticising us, or saying something unfair or even inaccurate, we can apply Matthew 18 in the spirit of Christ and thereafter be glad that they do not know us better, because then they would probably have even more to criticise!

stephen whitehouse

 

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