Criticism is inevitable. At certain times we will all face another person’s analysis or rebuke of our behavior. The best kind of criticism comes from friends, from those who know us and love us best. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:5-6). In his little book True Friendship, Vaughan Roberts offers three tips for responding to criticism, and especially this kind of criticism—the kind that comes in the context of friendship, of iron sharpening iron.
We should expect criticism. We should expect criticism because we are sinful, so far from the holiness God requires and so far from the holiness we desire. If anything we ought to be surprised that we receive so little criticism. We should also expect criticism because friendships—especially close friendships—invite it. Criticism may arise from a negative spirit, but it can also arise from love. Our best friends must have an open invitation to offer criticism of our lives. Is there no one in your life who offers you critical feedback? Then it may be that you have chased off your friends by responding poorly and pridefully in the past. Expect to be criticized from time to time, and give your friends an open invitation to do so.
When we receive criticism, and especially when that criticism stings or seems outrageous, we need to examine it to see if it is true. It may be that our friends have a faulty perspective, but it may be that they have a better perspective that we do. George Orwell was right when he said, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” Humility admits that others may see what we cannot or will not see ourselves. Roberts says, “We should resist the instinctive temptation to defend ourselves or attack the critic, but rather consider whether there is truth in what is being said.” Prayerfully examine that criticism to see if it is true and fair.
There will be times the criticism will be painful but true. In such times, we will need to endure that criticism as we respond to it by making changes to our lives. There are times the criticism will sting because we come to believe the criticism is unfair. In either case, we need to keep ourselves from responding in kind or lashing out at the one who criticized us. We must resist the temptation to gossip about that person or to sever the friendship. Far better, we must endure criticism just as Christ Jesus patiently endured all the criticism that was heaped upon him. As always, as ever, he is our model.