How To Tell If Someone Is Criticizing To Help Or To Tear Down?

No doubt the Bible teaches faithful Christians are to warn others as they have opportunity (Acts 20:20,26-27,31). They do so out of love for the soul they are rebuking (Eph 4:15a) and because they want to deliver their own soul (Ezek 3:18). But we all know there are those that criticize, not really to help the one they are criticizing, but to tear them down; many times, perhaps out of jealousy, mistakenly thinking tearing someone else down helps bring me up (James 3:14-18, Matt 27:18).

How can we tell the difference? When someone is criticizing us, how do we know if their purpose is to help us or to tear us down? One strong indicator is if they do as much encouraging (genuine complimenting) as they do criticizing. A person who truly has your best interest at heart recognizes that God puts as much value in positive encouragement as criticism (Heb 10:24-25). Godly love is kind, does not vaunt oneself, seeketh not her own welfare, rejoices not in the iniquity of others, but rejoices when it finds someone practicing the truth (I Cor 13:4-6). True love not only rebukes when necessary (II Tim 3:16), but will also “encourage … and build … up” (I Thess 5:11 NIV, Deut 3:28, Judges 20:22).

As an example of someone who tears down, I once overheard (because a speaker phone was accidentally left on) a “Christian” lady say about another Christian lady – “I think she does so many charitable deeds because she feels guilty for the way she lived previously.”  That’s a terrible judgment of motives (I Cor 2:11a) about someone who was trying hard to do the Lord’s work.  Just maybe this gossiping lady was being made to feel guilty by the work of the good deeds lady, so in order to rid herself of guilt she chose to tear down the good image of the lady she was gossiping about.  Jill Blakeway described such people this way “When a toxic person can no longer control you, they will try to control how others see you.  The misinformation will feel unfair, but stay above it, trusting that other people will eventually see the truth, just like you did.”

What is the lesson for us? Yes, rebuke others when necessary, but always to help them get better, not to tear them down. And find the good in people around you (there is always some), and point out those good things to the person (as we see done in Rev 2:2-6). Praise (commend ESV) them as Paul did in I Cor 11:2. Balance is a key to helping them to see that you have their best interest at heart when it is necessary to correct them. “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ” (Col 2:2 NIV).

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