What Are We Missing When We Criticize Other Christians?
I hopped on social media Saturday morning (thankfully, after a strong cup of coffee and powerful devotional time with the Lord), and I was shocked to see several different posts, shaming Candace Cameron Bure, for her new show, Fuller House.
It wasn’t just about her character’s choices on the show. Or about her wardrobe. Or about her choice to work in a worldly industry. But all over my Facebook newsfeed, believers were picking those actions apart and somehow not just speaking poorly of her behavior, but had crossed over to attacking her salvation, claiming someone who had made her “mistakes” couldn’t possibly be a Christian.
Couple these posts with mud-slinging of every political candidate running for President, and I just decided to delete Facebook from my phone for the day. I tried to walk away. I tried to put it out of my mind. But the more I did, the more I found myself praying for Candace and the more God began speaking to my heart.
Here are the five truths He kept bouncing around in my head:
- If it’s not up to us to decide, it’s not up for us to debate. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” – 1 Timothy 2:5
God is the only one who knows our hearts & can judge our personal relationship with Jesus Christ (Jeremiah 17:10). God is the only one who saves and condemns (James 4:12.) Personally, I’m so grateful that decision isn’t up to us. But if the decision isn’t ours, the debate doesn’t belong to us either.
- Dealing with the sins of others is to be done privately & for the sole purpose of restoration. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” – Matthew 18:15
The thing I found the most shocking about the majority of the posts I saw regarding Candace was that she was tagged in the post. The posts were simply public shaming, intended solely for her humiliation, not restoration.
I simply ask the question, “Is there any possible way God can get glory from that?” Even if we feel someone is making a poor moral decision, deciding to publicly shame them to inflate our own egos is every bit as sinful as whatever action someone else committed.
Because of God’s instruction in Scripture, the number of people whose sins we should comment on, if at all, is limited to people we know personally. If there’s someone we don’t know personally, we should stay in our lane by keeping our audible mouths shut. If we are genuinely burdened for someone we do not have a personal relationship with, we should spend our energy praying God would use someone in their life to speak the truth that they need in their life.
Many times, we need to remember the truth that sometimes, God can use our prayers more than He needs our voice. Speaking doesn’t have the power to change hearts in itself, but prayer does.
- It’s impossible to humbly accept God’s standard of grace for ourselves while pridefully holding others to a standard of perfection. ”For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Matthew 7:2
Remember, God’s grace doesn’t just stop at mercy. I once heard my pastor, Bruce Franks, say that mercy is simply not getting what we deserve [hell], but grace takes it a step further and gives us what we don’t deserve [heaven].
Maybe you’re thinking, “I just don’t have enough grace for all the mistakes being made in this twisted world.”
Exactly. None of us do. Only God does. That’s why the majority of the time, we need to release ourselves from most situations and allow God to deliver both the grace and the judgment at His discretion.
- Love is to be the underlying motive of everything we do. “By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35
After six years of full-time public ministry, I doubt it surprises anyone that I receive criticism and push back. Expect spiritual warfare, right (1 Peter 5:8)? Know that when you are doing anything in God’s name, persecution will come (2 Timothy 3:12).
But would it surprise you to know that 99.7% of the harshest criticism and personal treatment I’ve received comes from those who claim Christ?
Not counting conversations where people asked tough questions to genuinely understand more about the ministry. Not including difficult conversations that were intended for my good. I am simply referring to messages I’ve gotten from people who share they are also a believer in Christ, then continue to directly attack or question God’s calling on my life without the use of any Scripture and without the context of a personal relationship with me.
To break down the math, an average of two or three messages like this come in each week. Over six years, that adds up to just under 1,000 of these types of conversations.
But those same six years, I can only recall three incidences that involved non-believers.
Three as opposed to over nine hundred. Don’t miss the point. This is not about me. And I don’t experience near the scrutiny some of God’s warriors are faced with because they have many more eyes on them than I do. But I’ve talked to several other ministry leaders who have confirmed similar statistics in their own lives. I simply use that number to illustrate a point:
If those in ministry were not consistently tempted to be distracted, derailed or discouraged by our own brothers & sisters in Christ, how much further could the Gospel message be?
Think about it. Do you ever wonder why Christianity isn’t more of a force in the world? With the power of the one true God and the truth & life of Jesus Christ, why isn’t Christianity the fastest growing religion in today’s world?
Of course, we know that we have a real enemy who is relentless in pursuing his pointless battle, despite knowing his schemes are already void because of Jesus’ death on the cross. Though the war is already won, he remains persistent due to little victories he gets each day when he is able to derail and distract those who are pursuing Christ or keep others in darkness for another day.
We may not be able to harness Satan’s hustle ourselves, but we can certainly refuse to stall any Kingdom progress being made by silencing our critical spirits against other believers.
I’ll confess: I haven’t done this perfectly myself. One incident I remember in particular: There was a certain preacher I found myself constantly criticizing. I said things about how his teaching was “watered down” and referred to his sermons as “prosperity gospel.” Many times, I did this without being prompted. I initiated the criticism on my own.
But then, something happened. A couple I had been praying to come to Christ for 5 years started attending church regularly. I began seeing the husband share things he was learning from reading the Bible daily. The next time I saw them, his eyes lit up as he began gushing about his pastor & the truths he was learning.
I was elated. Overjoyed. I shed a few tears, thinking of all the prayers God had graciously answered. “So, what made you decide to attend church that first time?” I asked him.
Insert conviction. Turns out, the very pastor I had criticized in the past was who God had used as a gateway to peak the curiosity of this sweet couple. In a raw moment with God, I had to repent of my own critical spirit.
Now, we don’t have to condone the actions, beliefs or teachings of everyone who claims Christ, but we also don’t need to waste our energy condemning them.
Consider the attitude of the apostle Paul: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).
So publicly, let’s teach truth. And publicly, let’s rejoice whenever Christ is proclaimed, trusting His Word never returns void (Isaiah 55:11), and leave motives up for God to determine.
But publicly, we must also think beyond our selfish needs to be “right” or “better” than someone else and think with the person far from Christ in mind. If they see that we can’t even get along with one another, how would they ever become interested in linking arms with us?
- When we spend our time judging others, we miss fixing what’s wrong in our own heart that is separating us from God. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:3-5
Billy Graham once wrote, “It is always difficult and dangerous to attempt to list sins according to their degree of seriousness. In one sense, all sins are equal in that they all separate us from God. The Bible’s statement, “For the wages of sin is death …” (Romans 6:23), applies to all sin, whether in thought, word, or deed.”
All sin, whether we’ve made them little or big in our minds, separate us from God and should be dealt with according to that realization. The realization that we have all fallen short of the glory of God. And the more time we let go by where we concentrate more on fixing the sins of others rather than focusing on our own hearts, the further & further we will be separated from Him.
I left this point for last because if we get this one right, the rest will take care of themselves. The next time we feel the need to correct someone else, what if we instead asked:
“God, what’s wrong in my heart that I need You to correct first?”
This doesn’t mean sin can’t be addressed publicly. We should absolutely teach about the seriousness of sin. But it is possible to teach what God says about sin without shooting down the sinner. Sin is addressed publicly; sinners are addressed privately.
Almost two years ago to the date, Candace wrote these words on her blog:
“I’m not trying to please everyone, I only have an audience of ONE. That’s God. And while I take the responsibility of role model seriously, I’m not perfect. I never will be. I’m a human being with faults and a sinful heart by nature. Although some people see me as a “celebrity,” I’m a woman – just like you, I’m a mom – just like you, I’m a wife – just like you, I’m a daughter – just like you, I’m a friend – just like you and I have a heart – just like you.
I know I’m not a perfect Christian- are there any though? Nope, just Jesus if I recall. I’m not making excuses for bad or disobedient behavior, but can we please keep in mind that people are on their own journey with Christ and are all walking at different speeds and knowledge?”
Jesus is the only perfect example. Elevating anyone to the expectation of perfect will always disappoint because we will always fail. But He never does.
So whether others are sprinting or crawling after God, let’s commit to look to Jesus as our example, to examine our own hearts more than anyone else’s and to “consider ways to motivate one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).