Acts 28: 3-4
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.’
Proverbs 27: 6 (NLT)
Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.
Proverbs 15: 21 (NLT)
If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.
Paul had been gathering firewood when a snake emerged from the flames and fastened itself onto his hand. Immediately the crowd turned on him, determining that this must be punishment from the gods because of some past misdeed on his part. Yesterday we reflected on how criticism can be so destructive in our lives and take us off course from what God has called us to do. So how do we deal with criticism? That depends on a few factors. Who did it come from, why was it given and how was it given?
First ask: ‘Who did it come from?’: Who or what was the source of the criticism? Sadly there are some people who are just nasty and negative about most things. Whatever is new, whatever is different, whatever is not the way they would do something – they will find a way to tear it down.
Then there’s others who just feel like they have to have to have an opinion about everything - even if it’s nothing to do with them. They’re a little bit full of their own self-importance.
Finally there’s many who are actually really decent, good people.
So ask yourself, “Who did the criticism come from? Is this common behaviour for them? How well do I know them and trust their judgement?”
In this case it was from people Paul hardly knew at all and they had no idea of his character or his past. They are simply speculating and jumping to superstitious conclusions.
Often, when we’re criticised, it says much more about the other person than it does about us. A while ago I was speaking to a friend who had just been harshly criticised by someone and it was starting to really get to them. As we talked it through and chatted about the person who had made the critical comments, we realised that they really weren’t in a good place emotionally. They were hurt, bitter, angry, insecure and struggling with depression. As someone once wisely said: ‘Hurt people hurt other people.’
The second question to ask is: ‘Why was it given?’ As far as you can tell, what was the motive behind the criticism? Was it given to help you, to warn you, or just to tear you down?
Was it given from a place of love from someone who really cares about you and wants to see you succeed? Or from someone who doesn’t really care about you or even wants to see you fail?
Also honestly ask: Is there any truth in what they have said? This is where it can be good to ask a few other honest friends for their opinion.
The third thing to ask when criticised is: ‘How was it given?’
Did someone write you an anonymous letter because they didn’t have the courage to tell you to your face?
Was it someone talking about you behind your back to someone else?
Did someone just explode with anger and tear you to shreds, seemingly for no reason whatsoever?
Or did someone call you and say: “I’d really like to chat to you about something – can we meet up for a coffee?”
How, and from whom, criticism is given has a huge impact on how we receive it.
One thing I have tried to do is turn my critics into coaches. By honestly reflecting on criticism from those who I know are genuinely trying to help me, it has helped me improve in different areas of my life and prevented me from repeating behaviours which aren’t helpful. As Proverbs 25: 12 says:
“To one who listens, valid criticism is like a gold earring or other gold jewellery.”
However, like Paul here, who is trying to help others when he is bitten and then accused, there will be times when criticism feels completely unwarranted and unfair. We’ll see how Paul handles that tomorrow. Jonas Salk, developer of the Salk polio vaccine, had many critics in spite of his incredible contribution to medicine. Of criticism, he observed,
“First people will tell you that you are wrong. Then they will tell you that you are right, but what you’re doing really isn’t important. Finally, they will admit that you are right and that what you are doing is very important; but after all, they knew it all the time.”
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