During a time of prayer and fasting in early 2012, I was radically changed by a simple phrase. “Stop being critical” and I realized that was a deeper issue than I could admit in the past. A critical and religious spirit can be difficult to deal with, especially if it is you who possesses it.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. – Ephesians 4:29 ESV
When reading Ephesians 4:29 I always referred to it as anything verbal we commit to. We need to remember that Jesus pointed out that if we hate someone, we commit murder (Matt 5:21) or if we look upon someone with lust, we commit adultery (Matt 5:27-29). With this in mind we do ourselves a biblical disservice by not guarding our thoughts as much as our words.
At our church, we are about to start a new series called “That Guy” and the first message is about critical people. I will not steal any thunder from my pastor on this topic, but I really wanted to just write some thoughts about having a critical spirit. In recent years I have had some waking up to do and God clearly brought me out of what was some serious legalism in my ministry focus.
The Early Church
The big test for a critical spirit comes when our non-essential theology is challenged. I love how the leaders of the early church made rules and philosophy, they made boundaries as far as sex, idols and the life of Christ but did not push their customs or personal preferences. Peter had his own struggle when going to visit Cornelius (Acts 10), a Gentile, but God had other plans. When Peter was confronted about what was good to eat, he questioned it but quickly communicated the message to his brothers.
There were Jews who supposedly converted to Christ but ran around the known world preaching a legalistic message, a fusion of OT Law and the new grace through Christ. This proved to be toxic! A Critical Spirit is toxic to everyone around it and we must be diligent to avoid possessing it. A critical spirit blinds us to the plan of God around us.
Let me first say this very clearly, we ALL struggle with criticalness at some point. However, a critical spirit is the next level, it becomes what one is characterized by. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- When I look at other believers, am I comparing them to me?
Comparison is an evil game that puts you in the loser position, all the time! It is one thing to look up to believers who have a proven walk with God and emulate them as far as character and wisdom. It is wrong to look at other believers to find fault and find ways to show you are better than they are.
So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due. 1 Corinthians 4:16 NLT
Besides, when we compare we are placing ourselves as judge and we just read what judging does for us all. This is not a license for believers to tell their brothers and sisters in Christ to lay off the advice and concerns they may have. We are called to keep each other accountable.
- When I pray for others, do I lift their sins and shortcomings as if God did not know?
Prayer is the most important communication we have with God, but we can often make it a personal gossip session. Don’t get me wrong, if a believer is committing clear sin and they are not convicted about it, pray they see and their eyes would be opened. DO NOT make that the power of your prayer for them, pray deliverance, victory, strength, obedience to God, blessing as God sees fit. When we focus on what is wrong with everyone, we tend to easily feel good about ourselves and get puffed up with pride.
- Do I struggle when others are blessed with an answer to prayer I have been praying for personally?
Ok, that was wordy! Do you celebrate the blessing and success of others even when you are still in your holding pattern for an answer? I remember years of ministry where I would see my peers see blessing and success in ministry and I would struggle with it because I was waiting for my breakthrough.
Let’s lay this out very clearly, our jealousy in these moments fuel a critical spirit and can damage relationships beyond repair; furthermore, it robs you of your blessing. Instead, see at as a clear picture that God is in control and you are just “working in line” for your breakthrough.
The worst is when the leaders of smaller churches instantly call out larger church leaders because they must be doing something that compromises the gospel. This is SO toxic and only hurts the smaller church.
They must have made a deal with the devil to grow a church that quickly! As for us we will never compromise!
For some churches that compromise can be technology or type of preaching, membership criteria or just about anything. If you find yourself saying or doing this, stop, before it consumes you.
- Do I give, serve and praise because I feel you have to?
This happens for many of us who grow up in church. We give because we fear we could become like those who do not, we serve and praise because it makes us feel loved, important and in the eye of those who can propel us forward. Wow, I know, this was a low blow.. it is true. The problem here is this stems from a religious, critical spirit and eventually this will cause burnout and a downward spiral spiritually.
- Am I bitter around new people, leaders and believers who have influence?
Do you find yourself down when you are around new staff at a church? Maybe you have tried to get close to a new attender and they kept you a at a distance and have flocked to others instead? You heard the church was hiring for a position and you and your peers start to think that you are perfect for the position. You never get considered, and worse yet they hire outside the church. Pride is hard to root out and often pride is fuel for a critical spirit. You will be hurt by people, because people hurt people. This does not give us license to hold on to bitterness and most of the time we cannot see the bigger picture.
There is so much more I can write on the topic, but hopefully this provokes a self-check. Have you struggled with being critical or have something to share on the topic? Go ahead, would love to hear from you.