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Question:
I have always struggled with being critical about others. I have often regretted the things I say about other people that have then hurt my relationships. Why do I criticize others? What makes a person have that “personality”?

Answer:

Ephesians 4:29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (NASB)

There are many ways to answer this including giving you verses that talk about our speech and what is considered Godly communication. Our opening verse pretty much sums it up in words you have heard before “if you can’t say something good, keep your mouth shut”.

What I want to share is what I believe is the root cause of a critical spirit. Let me preface my comments with two things: 1) of course our sinful nature is THE root cause; and 2) I don’t present my thoughts as definitive in any way. No doubt there are many considerations in determining why a person is “critical by nature” or even why anyone of any personality chooses to criticize another at any given time.

For the sake of this answer, I want to leave out of the discussion the idea of “constructive criticism”. That is just another way of saying that we should “present the truth in love” and when that is our true motivation, it is certainly profitable and Godly. So let’s leave out all of the hypotheticals and “what ifs” and rare exceptions.

For this answer, I am defining criticism as pointing out a fault about someone; taking an opportunity to diminish someone in the eyes of another; or relaying some negative “fact” about another person in such a way that when honestly evaluated, is not edifying to that person (and criticism will rarely if ever fall into the category of “edifying”).

We’re talking about the down-home, every-day, run-of-the-mill,
everybody-knows-what-we’re-talking-about… critical comment.

Let me start by giving you the nutshell version: a person criticizes because they care too much about “self”. That’s the short and sweet.

Here’s what I mean by that… A personal criticism is a negative proclamation about someone meant to diminish that person because something about my “self” has been offended, ignored, let down or neglected; therefore in some twisted way the criticism reclaims what we feel like our “self” has been robbed of.

I criticize, complain or bad mouth because “I” am offended; because “I” am not getting what “I” deserve; because “I” am not getting the recognition “I” feel “I” am due. If you are a person who criticizes or is offended easily, and can’t see the connection between “self love” and your critical spirit, try asking yourself these questions next time you criticize someone:

  • Why am I criticizing this person?
  • Are they getting recognition I feel I deserve? (self-love)
  • Have they been elevated over me in talent or skill and I need to point out something negative to equalize their status with mine? (self-love)
  • Are they getting attention while I’m being ignored? (self-love)
  • Do I feel like I’ve been wronged by this person and people need to know the truth? (self-love)
  • Have my feelings been hurt and it’s not fair if they are not in some way punished for it? (self-love)
  • Am I pointing out a fault in someone else to divert attention from a fault in me? (self-love)
  • Does criticizing them result in some benefit, perceived or real, for me in the long run? (self-love)

Those are very tough questions to ask yourself, and it takes a Spirit-empowered honest look. I may not have hit on every possible reason, but I’m convinced of one thing: if you are someone who routinely criticizes others, complains, or is easily offended… it will most certainly come back to a motivation of self-love:

  • Love of your own way
  • Love of recognition
  • Love of your own opinion
  • Love of your own popularity
  • Love of your own reputation
  • Love of something that is SELF centered and not “others” centered

We hear alot today of “loving yourself”, accepting yourself, being comfortable with your self and “forgiving” yourself (which makes absolutely no sense theologically; how can we forgive ourselves when sin is always a violation of God’s law and/or the law of love towards others?).

Christians, let’s be clear about one thing: WE DON’T NEED TO LEARN TO LOVE OURSELVES. We are born with a bondage to self-love; that is the essence of the sin nature. Watch a room full of toddlers and tell me if they have any problem loving “self”. Look at the entire world both saved and unsaved, and tell me that we don’t live in a world of people consumed with their own self-interest?

The Christian life is about denying self, mortifying self and crucifying self. SELF is the problem. And “self-love” is the foundation of our sin. Choosing to love “self” rather than love God, is THE definition of sin.

Think about it. What possible reason could a Christian have to be critical of another person accept from a motive of self-love? God doesn’t cause criticism. The Spirit doesn’t guide you to it. Jesus certainly is not the reason, He was crucified for your criticism. Who does that leave? Self.

If you truly love the other person more than you love yourself,
how can you be critical of them?
How can you complain? How can you be offended?

The life of a Christian is DEATH to self. How can you care about your DEAD self? Don’t let today’s SELF-LOVE industry trip you up. Tell me what self love (or “self” centered anything) has to do with:

  • Matthew 10:38 – “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me .
  • Luke 14:26 – “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple .
  • Romans 12:1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice , acceptable to God, {which is} your spiritual service of worship.
  • Ro 6:11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
  • 1Corinthians 7:22 For he who was called in the Lord while a slave , is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave.

The Christian life is the death, giving up, sacrifice and rejection of everything about ME for the slavery of living for Christ. Salvation is a destructive, violent transaction (death first, then life) that involves the crucifixion of our own life in exchange for a life of humilty and submission to God. Salvation can NOT be earned in any way, but salvation is not easy or comfortable. Is it worth it?

2 Corinthians 4:8-18 {we are} afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death works in us, but life in you. 13 But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I BELIEVED, THEREFORE I SPOKE,” we also believe, therefore we also speak, 14 knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. 15 For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

This is the life of sacrifice, the giving up of everything about “self” which leaves no room for being critical of others. What is the real reason for criticism and complaint? Someone has somehow fallen short of what “I” want; what “I” deserve”; what “I” expect…. someone did not live up to MY standards or expectations. I am being robbed of what I deserve and I’m going to tell someone about it because I love myself and it will somehow make me feel vindicated.

The degree to which you are critical betrays the degree
to which you are consumed with SELF.

The critical person has not truly sacrificed “self” yet. They have not truly grasped their unworthiness but rather fought to see the “good” in themselves not wanting to admit how truly sinful they really are. They have not learned a proper self “hate”; that is to say a proper loathing of how sinful the human heart really is and how easily it is deceived about sin.

Romans 7.15-20 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.

This holy “self-hate” of sin and our natural tendency to sin is the true response to the Gospel. Self-esteem, self-love, self-acceptance and self-forgiveness is the stuff of human wisdom that does great damage to the true message of the Gospel: death to self! Life in Christ!

The more we recognize our predisposition for self love, the more we will run to God to rescue “me” from “myself”. And when we truly come to the place where self love has been vanquished, then we will have no cause to ever criticize another person, complain about life or be offended at another.

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