Years ago Alfred Poirier wrote a piece on “The Cross and Criticism“—first published in The Journal of Biblical Counseling (Spring 1999): 16–20—that I think is worth revisiting.

Poirier defines criticism broadly, referring to

any judgment made about you by another, which declares that you fall short of a particular standard.

He writes:

The standard may be God’s or man’s.

The judgment may be true or false.

It may be given gently with a view to correction, or harshly and in a condemnatory fashion.

It may be given by a friend or by an enemy.

But whatever the case, it is a judgment or criticism about you, that you have fallen short of a standard.

Here’s the key point of his analysis:

A believer is one who identifies with all that God affirms and condemns in Christ’s crucifixion.

In other words, in Christ’s cross I agree with God’s judgment of me; and in Christ’s cross I agree with God’s justification of me. Both have a radical impact on how we take and give criticism.

Here are four points that he makes:

1. Learn to critique yourself.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • How do I typically react to correction?
  • Do I pout when criticized or corrected?
  • What is my first response when someone says I’m wrong?
  • Do I tend to attack the person?
  • Do I tend to reject the content of criticism?
  • Do I tend to react to the manner?
  • How well do I take advice?
  • How well do I seek it?
  • Are people able to approach me to correct me?
  • Am I teachable?
  • Do I harbor anger against the person who criticizes me?
  • Do I immediately seek to defend myself, hauling out my righteous acts and personal opinions in order to defend myself and display my rightness?
  • Can my spouse, parents, children, brothers, sisters, or friends correct me?

2. Ask the Lord to give you a desire to be wise instead of a fool.

Use Proverbs to commend to yourself the goodness of being willing and able to receive criticism, advice, rebuke, counsel, or correction.

Meditate upon these passages: Proverbs 9:9; 12:15;13:10,13; 15:32; 17:10; Psalm 141:5.

3. Focus on your crucifixion with Christ.

While I can say I have faith in Christ, and even say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ,” yet I still find myself not living in light of the cross. So I challenge myself with two questions.

  1. If I continually squirm under the criticism of others, how can I say I know and agree with the criticism of the cross?
  2. If I typically justify myself, how can I say I know, love, and cling to God’s justification of me through Christ’s cross?

This drives me back to contemplating God’s judgment and justification of the sinner in Christ on the cross. As I meditate on what God has done in Christ for me, I find a resolve to agree with and affirm all that God says about me in Christ, with whom I’ve been crucified.

4. Learn to speak nourishing words to others.

I want to receive criticism as a sinner living within Jesus’s mercy, so how can I give criticism in a way that communicates mercy to another?

  • Accurate, balanced criticism, given mercifully, is the easiest to hear—and even against that my pride rebels.
  • Unfair criticism or harsh criticism (whether fair or unfair) is needlessly hard to hear.

How can I best give accurate, fair criticism, well tempered with mercy and affirmation?

The following attitudes are essential to giving criticism in a godly way:

  • I see my brother/sister as one for whom Christ died (1 Cor. 8:11; Heb. 13:1).
  • I come as an equal, who also is a sinner (Rom. 3:9, 23).
  • I prepare my heart lest I speak out of wrong motives (Prov. 16:2; 15:28; 16:23).
  • I examine my own life and confess my sin first (Matt. 7:3-5).
  • I am always patient, in it for the long haul (Eph. 4:2; 1 Cor. 13:4).
  • My goal is not to condemn by debating points, but to build up through constructive criticism (Eph. 4:29).
  • I correct and rebuke my brother gently, in the hope that God will grant him the grace of repentance even as I myself repent only through His grace (2 Tim. 2:24-25).