Acts 28: 1-4
Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, ‘This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.’
1 Samuel 17: 28
When Eliab, David’s eldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, ‘Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.’
You’ve really got to feel sorry for Paul. He’s just survived a storm and a shipwreck, his fourth shipwreck while spreading the Gospel. He’s now trying to help gather wood for the fire when out comes a snake. It bites him and fastens onto his hand.
Notice the snake bit the hand that was feeding the fire. Often I tell other pastors: “When you light a fire, sometimes it brings out the snakes.” The same applies to our individual lives. When you start to get things stoked up in your life, when you start adding fuel to your spiritual fire - it tends to bring out the snakes. Most often the snake comes in the form of criticism from others. That’s what we see here.
What does everyone do while there’s a snake hanging from Paul’s hand? Do they help him? Kill the snake? Support him? Encourage him? No, they stand back and judge him, condemn him and criticise him.
A few minutes ago Paul was the hero. He brought everyone through the storm, it was because of him that they survived the shipwreck. Now he’s a murderer under the judgement of the gods!
And what was he doing when he was bitten? He was just trying to help everyone, serve them by gathering sticks for the fire. How quick we can be to ignore all the good someone has done and become critical of them because we see or hear something negative about them.
The truth is that nobody likes criticism. None of us wants to be judged by others and talked about negatively, especially when we’re only trying to do the right thing. Criticism gets us at the very core of who we are. It can go round and round in our minds and totally consume us. It can hurt us deeply, discourage us and set us back in life. Criticism can bring all our insecurities to the surface.
But the simple reality of life is this: If you are going to step up, serve, give, lead or do anything remotely significant with your life – you will be criticised. There is no way round it. Don’t we see that with David when he stepped up to fight Goliath? It was only then that his brother turned vehemently against him. Even Jesus was “despised and rejected by men” (Is. 53: 3) and constantly faced criticism because he wouldn’t uphold the religious rules of his day.
As Aristotle said:
“Criticism is something you can avoid easily – by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing.”
If you are going to do anything to make a difference in this world, then at some point you will make decisions that will upset some people. This is especially true if you’re in any sort of leadership role. As John Maxwell says: “The price of leadership is criticism.”
Leaders are the easiest to criticise because they are often the most visible. Most people can hide their weaknesses but a leader’s flaws are on public display for all to see.
1 Thessalonians 5: 12 says:
… encourage one another and build each other up…”
Instead of focusing on other's perceived weaknesses, why don’t we determine to encourage them for their strengths? They are probably more aware of their flaws than anyone. What most of us need, is not someone to tells us where we have failed, but friends who will affirm us and support us in spite of our deficiencies. Who will think the best and speak well of us when we have been less than perfect.
William Arthur Ward wrote this:
“Flatter me, and I may not believe you.
Criticise me, and I may not like you.
Ignore me, and I may not forgive you.
Encourage me, and I will not forget you.”
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