It’s Monday Grace!
“No matter what I do, it isn’t good enough!”
“I am so tired of constantly being criticized by Christians.”
If you ask ten unbelievers about Christians, chances are that several of them will comment on some aspect of criticism. If you ask ten Christians about other Christians, chances are that most of them will comment on criticism. Putting others down, commenting negatively on choices and behavior, gossiping about almost anything—these seem to be regular practices in the church.
Some of that reputation is undeserved, of course. There are churches where all are welcome without comments. There are believers who are kind and accepting without being judgmental. But almost all believers have received criticism in the church. Why?
Being judgmental is seen as a spiritual gift, a mark of superiority and righteousness. I remember a man arguing with me that condemnation is an important part of the church’s message. He believed that he should condemn behavior he didn’t think was right. This particular man also believed that when he became convicted of something in his life, he had the responsibility of convicting others.
Why does this happen? Shouldn’t we support each other and encourage each other in church? Yes, there are verses that call us to admonish each other, but that is always to be done in humility and love. It is done to lift others up, not put them down. Seems like people have forgotten that.
Last week I wrote about comparisons and how they come out of wrong teaching. Criticisms come from the same source. When the preacher stands before the congregation to point out the wrongs of others, he models judgment for the people. He gives them permission to do the same thing in their own circles.
Some of the criticism comes out of the culture of comparison. In order to avoid having others put me down, I criticize you and put the focus on you. By pointing out the behavior of others’ kids, or financial irresponsibility, or lack of church service, I direct attention away from my own failings in those and other areas. The only way to win the comparison game is to find others worse than you.
But I think there is more to it than this. Some people seem to think that calling attention to the sins of others shows God that they believe. They hope for some spiritual points from Him for doing right.
The example is too familiar. Pastor X has a moral problem. He lusts after women and enjoys porn. Of course, this brings him down in the sight of God, he thinks. Since he lives and works in a performance system, he knows that he is not measuring up. What can he do? He can redouble his criticisms of others. He can scold the women of the church for the way they dress. He can rail against sex on television and movies. He can scold the men for lustful thoughts. He can warn the young people against compromise. He can teach people about God’s expectations in marriage. His options are many.
Now, all these “good works” don’t overcome the evil of Pastor X’s heart, but they make him feel like he is moving in that direction. If God weighs him in the balance, the criticisms and scoldings should help offset his own sin. This is the performance system at work.
We read something like that and can hardly imagine someone thinking that way, yet this is the basis for so much of the criticism we hear. Criticizing someone else makes us feel like we have done something against sin, even if we are committing the same sin ourselves. At least we have done something. That ought to count somehow. Eventually, this becomes an unconscious habit. Criticism comes very easy to some people, and often those people have a lot of their own stuff to hide.
I believe the Lord has taken the right to judge others away from us as individuals. There are calls for authority to judge and to act, but individuals are to love each other. Yes, we can and maybe should express concern when we see someone hurting themselves and others, but real concern rather than judgment.
Once we accept that the Lord has honestly and completely forgiven us, that He has already paid the price for all our sin, we can accept that He has done the same thing for someone else who belongs to Him. If we trust that He is working in our lives to help us live according to who we are in Him, then we can trust that He is doing the same for others.
In other words, I don’t need to put others down to lift myself up. Jesus has already lifted me (and them) up. He is my hope and my life. His performance is the only performance that will be counted.
There is one Master. We are all accountable to Him. We are not masters of each other. And the one Master has given us His righteousness and has made us holy. He has forgiven our sins and accomplished everything that is needed for our salvation. Here’s how Paul said it:
Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.
“God is able to make him stand” by the love and the blood of Jesus. Whatever the judgment looks like, you and I will stand, not cower in fear, because of Jesus. We are under grace.