Some people are going to look for dirt in a snow storm! In America today, there is a growing number of people who are hostile towards Christianity. I can’t say that we haven’t somewhat brought it on ourselves in some ways. However, I would also want to share with the unbelievers that as Christians we are not perfect, we are simply forgiven, and God desires to forgive you as well. This situation isn’t unique to America however, Paul was dealing with antagonistic people during his ministry as well. Just as we see even today, Paul’s greatest critics were from inside the church rather than outside of it. What a sad commentary that we seem to enjoy shooting our own. It breaks my heart to see Christians attacking each other. As chapter 9 of 1 Corinthians opens Paul finds himself defending himself. I wish this wasn’t the case, but the truth is, there are always going to be doubters, critics, and antagonizers. They did it to Jesus and so we should expect them to be there against us as well. In fact Jesus told us they would be in John 15:20. So how can we deal with our critics?
The first way is to make sure that we are living a life that isn’t giving them ammunition. There is never a justification for attacking a brother or sister in Christ, but we need to be honest, sometimes we bring it on ourselves. Verses 1 and 2 of the chapter are what Paul calls his defense in verse 3 against those that say things against him. If you are going to talk the talk, you better walk the walk. We spend so much time trying to protect our reputation, that we forget to work on our character, and yes there is a difference. Our reputation is what people think about us. Our character is what God knows about us. Our character is really who we are. And frankly sometimes our reputation is much better than our character. It is ok for people to examine our lives. In fact the Bible encourages it. None of us are perfect and therefore we need to be held accountable for our actions in a loving way.
The second way to deal with a critic is to love them. One of the greatest ways we can love them is by sharing the Gospel with them. 1 John 4:20 has some startling words for us when it says, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” If we can freely and willfully attack a brother or sister in Christ or be attacked by one, we need to really question, are we (or they) really in a believer. Many will say, well we are not to judge anyone. I agree that we should never cast judgment on whether or not a person is genuinely saved, but the Bible says in Matthew 7 that we will know them by their fruits. So while we are not to judge their salvation, we do need to be a fruit inspector. While Diana and I were on our honeymoon nearly 10 years ago, I was astonished at the number of “PKs)” (Preacher’s Kids) we ran in to. It wasn’t until then that I really started to believe, just because someone says they are a Christian, doesn’t mean they really are one. When I first came to Westlake, I asked the congregation not to be offended that when I came to visit them, I asked them to share their testimony. I wasn’t doubting any of their salvations, I just wanted to make sure as much as possible that they were saved (one of the fruits of salvation is that we will share the Gospel). And so we need to demonstrate love to them, and not respond in kind, even when that is what we want to do.
Finally, one way to deal with a critic is to take it to the Lord in prayer. I heard Dr Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church-Woodstock, Georgia teach one time on this. He shared that he used to get anonymous letters or hateful e-mails. He said at first they really hurt him, but then he learned how to handle them. He would print them off and take them to his next prayer time. During that prayer time, he would ask God, “is there anything in this letter that you want to talk to me about?” This is kind of a combination of the first two points. But sometimes even though it is done in a wrong fashion, sometimes the criticism is correct. Again we must make sure that we don’t set ourselves above correction. If we live a life that glorifies God, critics will line up around the block to shout things at us, but in the end they won’t have anything to hit us with.
By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him