Be an Encourager—Not a Critic
by June Hunt
Periodically, someone in your life assumes the position of “heavenly sandpaper.” This person is an expert at finding fault, no matter how minute—and focusing on it. The result of such abrasion is anything but refining. Instead, hurtful words grate against the grain … strip away self-worth … and wear you down emotionally.
God holds all of us accountable for how we use words—especially words that wound others. Excessive, critical words do not come from the heart of the wise … neither do they reflect the heart of God.
“When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”
A. What Is a Critical Spirit?
At the Wimbledon tennis championships in England, a judge sits on an elevated chair to the side of the tennis net between two competitors. This judge has both earned the right to be a judge and been invited to be a judge based on a reputation of being accurate and fair minded. When a ball is served outside the boundary line, the judge calls, “Fault!” These judgment calls are appropriate and appreciated.
However, the person with a critical spirit has not earned the reputation of being accurate or fair minded. This judge sits uninvited and elevated above others, yelling, “Fault … fault … fault!” The calls are inappropriate and unappreciated. The Bible is not silent about those with a critical spirit … those sitting on a judgment seat, looking down on others.
“You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.”
• A critical spirit is an excessively negative attitude with harshness in judging.
• The English word criticism comes from the Greek word kritikos, which means “able to discern or judge.”
• Criticism has two different meanings.
— Speaking fairly with discernment in regard to merit or value (A literary critic gives a fair critique by analyzing, evaluating, judging and reporting.)
— Speaking unfairly with trivial or harsh judgments (A person with a critical spirit gives unfair criticism by faultfinding, nitpicking, carping, quibbling and complaining.)
“The tongue has the power of life and death.”
B. What Is Encouragement?
From our earliest years, we plead for approval … we cry out for encouragement, “Daddy, Daddy, look what I drew!” When learning to swim, we call out, “Mommy, look here! Look at me, look at me!” We all crave encouragement … we all need daily encouragers who use their words wisely. That’s why the Bible says,
“Encourage one another daily.”
• Encouragement is the act of inspiring another person with comfort, counsel and confidence.
• The word encourage literally means “to cause another to be confident.”
— En means “to cause to be.”
— Courage means “confidence.”
The encourager “causes” another person to have the confidence to change.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:11)
• In Greek the word for “encouragement” is paraklesis, which means “a calling to one’s aid to give comfort or counsel.”
— Para means “beside.”
— Kaleo means “to call.”
Christians are called to comfort others just as we have received comfort from God.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
(2 Corinthians 1:3–4)
The Holy Spirit is the paraklete for Christians, our Comforter and Counselor.
“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
If you are an authentic Christian, consider this—
The Holy Spirit has the power to comfort and counsel us to change. Since all true Christians have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit—His very presence—we are empowered to be an extension of the Comforter’s ministry. The supernatural power you possess as an encourager will inspire others who need to change to have the courage to change!
Any one of us can develop a critical spirit by focusing on the faults of others. Because none of us is without fault, those who convey a critical spirit can feel justified—justified using words that condemn. However, the tendency to call attention to trivial flaws prevents faultfinders from helping others change. They cannot extend the caring spirit of Christ. God never condemns in a way that wounds the spirit. He brings a sense of conviction that encourages and motivates us to change. You can become more like Christ by communicating with words and actions that demonstrate that you are a friend who cares.
“The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse.”
Nine Differences between
|A Critical Spirit
|A Caring Spirit
|Condemns the person as well as the action
|“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)
|Condemns the action, not the person
|Focuses on the faults of others
|“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Luke 6:41)
|Focuses on self-examination
|“A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.” (Proverbs 11:12)
|Refrains from ridiculing others
|Makes judgments based on appearances
|“Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” (John 7:24)
|Makes judgments based on the facts
|Assumes the worst without first hearing from the accused
|“Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?” (John 7:51)
|Assumes the best while waiting to hear from the accused
|Tears others down without seeing the unmet needs
|“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)
|Builds others up according to their needs
|Confronts others publicly
|“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” (Matthew 18:15)
|Confronts others privately
|Responds harshly when accused by others
|“Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.” (Proverbs 13:10)
|Responds appreciatively without quarreling when others give advice
|Lacks mercy toward others
|“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2:12–13)
|Responds with mercy toward others
|As the old saying goes,
“People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
III. CAUSES FOR A CRITICAL SPIRIT
A critical spirit doesn’t appear without reason. So where does it come from? When you see people with a critical spirit, look beyond the present to the past. What could have produced their critical spirit? And what continues to perpetuate it?
A. Childhood Modeling
The most common cause of a critical spirit is living in a home where criticism abounds—where parents model a critical spirit before their children. Growing up in an atmosphere where criticism is the daily fare causes a child to adopt a critical spirit as an adult. After all, with children, “More is caught than taught.” Living with the grating sands of criticism causes heaviness of heart, and children will close the door to their feelings. Such parents provoke their child to anger, and the tendency for the child is to develop damaging patterns of criticism.
“Stone is heavy and sand a burden, but provocation by a fool is heavier than both.”
• A critical spirit will often surface because …
— Rejection is felt.
— Anger is triggered.
— Fear is pervasive.
— Stress is building.
— Self-control is lost.
B. Childhood Wounding
The children’s rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” could not be further from the truth. Critical words can be more catastrophic than a natural disaster. There may be no visible destruction, but damage to the spirit of a child is devastating. Many children who live with messages that wound their self-worth will resort to criticism as a means of self-defense. Painful messages played over and over cause hurt people to hurt people!
“I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.”
“You’re not worth consideration.”
“You’re not valuable.”
“You’re not acceptable.”
“You deserve to be put down.”
A critical spirit is a defense tactic. Typically, if one child hits another, the second hits back. Striking back when attacked is a natural defense … a natural protection. But because of their small stature, children are too small to protect themselves from the attacks of older children or adults. Consequently, they become skilled in verbal attack as a means of defense.
C. Youth and Adult Smoke Screens
Criminals are known to create smoke screens in order to commit their crimes. Likewise, police effectively use smoke screens to catch kidnappers, hijackers and other criminals. A smoke screen is a type of diversion or covering—an intentional hiding of the truth. Smoke screens are designed to obscure, confuse or mislead others. We’ve all used smoke screens because we didn’t want attention focused on our flaws. So we hid our wrongs behind a wall of smoke, shifting the spotlight somewhere else. If you have a critical spirit, you shift the spotlight from your own faults to the faults of others to make yourself look better.
The Smoke Screens
The following checklist will help you to understand the person who has a critical spirit. Additionally, it can be used as a personal test to see if there are any smoke screens in your own life. Do you ever …
Secretly believe you are better than others?
Make assumptions about others without knowing the facts?
Obtain revenge for a personal offense?
Kid with the intent to hurt?
Envy the success of others?
Shift personal blame to others?
Camouflage personal discontentment?
Rebel against and resist authority?
Employ sarcasm as a source of humor?
Elevate self by putting others down?
Nurture perfectionistic tendencies to make yourself look better?
What a picture Jesus paints of the faultfinder. Imagine a 2×4 wooden plank embedded in your eye! It’s too large for you to dislodge without immense discomfort. It’s too terrifying to think of other people prying out the beam. It hurts too much to trust even God in spite of His perfect touch. The solution seems simple: ignore it … deny it … camouflage it … create a smoke screen so that no one will notice it. But you can’t hide the beam from the Lord. And that’s why Jesus says,
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
D. Root Cause
You can go all the way back to the Garden of Eden to find the first critical spirit. God asked Adam to give an account of himself. Knowing of course that he had sinned, Adam blamed God for giving him Eve, then blamed Eve for giving him the infamous forbidden fruit.
“The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’ ”
Isn’t it interesting how shifting the blame to God or someone else is so much easier than taking personal responsibility for your own wrong choices. We all have three inner needs—the need for love, for significance and for security. Criticizing someone else makes us feel a sense of significance—a sense of power—at least for the moment. But that feeling won’t last.
“My sense of significance is enhanced when I show how others are wrong. The fact that ‘I am right’ justifies my criticism of others.”
“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1)
When I am critical of others, I am only judging the sin in myself. Apparently, God thought I was significant enough to create me with His plan and purpose for me. Because Christ lives in me, continually extending His mercy toward me, I will reflect His mercy by encouraging the hearts of others.
“We urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14–15)
IV. STEPS TO SOLUTION
All of us need some “heavenly sandpaper” in life, but we don’t need so much rubbing that we’re left feeling discouraged, demeaned or depressed. God uses close relationships to teach us truth about ourselves. That is why we all need to be open to the possibility that criticism often reveals specific areas in our lives that need to be refined. When we are criticized, we can choose to ask God if we have a habit that He wants us to eliminate. But if criticism proves to be unfounded, we still need to demonstrate loving encouragement to those who have been our critics.
“A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.… Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.”
(Proverbs 19:11, 20)
A. Key Verse to Memorize
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
B. Key Passage to Read and Reread
The tongue, though small …
|• can be powerful like a bit, turning a large horse
|• can be forceful like a rudder, steering a huge ship
|• can be dangerous like a spark, igniting a great forest
|• can be devastating like a fire, burning the whole body
|• can be a corrupting force of evil, instigated by hell
|• can be a restless evil full of deadly poison
|• can be both praising and critical of others
|• can be the instrument revealing whether the heart is impure
C. Enlarge Your Heart to Become an Encourager
Suppose someone said to you, “When I think of you, I think of Jesus.” How would you feel? In the deepest part of your heart, would you like to be like Jesus? If so, what was He like? Do you see Jesus as having a judgmental spirit? People were drawn to the Lord because He was an encourager, not a critic. He didn’t focus on their faults. Instead, He knew their needs and offered to meet them. When you experience authentic salvation, the Bible says you have “Christ in you” (Colossians 1:27). If you truly want to be like Christ, enlarge your heart to become an encourager.
“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”
• An encourager has a humble heart … a heart that sees its own shortcomings.
— Humble your heart to see your own sin, your imperfections and your immense need for God’s mercy.
— Rather than measuring yourself by human standards, measure yourself by God’s standard—the perfect Savior.
— Instead of making sure that others see how significant you are, make sure others see their significance to God.
— Pray, “Lord, may I see my sin as You see it—may I hate my sin as You hate it.”
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23–24)
• An encourager has a compassionate heart … a heart that actively cares about the lives of others.
— Look closely at the life of Christ to learn His compassionate way of confronting the truth.
— Consider the woman caught in adultery—a crime for which stoning was the punishment—yet Jesus did not condemn her, he looked beyond her fault and saw her need, then compassionately met that need. (Read John 8:3–11.)
— Look at the woman at the well who had been married five times and was living with yet another man. Jesus knew everything about her and saw her need, then He compassionately met that need. (Read John 4:5–42.)
— Pray that you will not be a critical stone thrower, but a compassionate “needmeeter.”
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)
• An encourager has an understanding heart … a heart that learns and draws out the hearts of others.
— Don’t listen only to what people say on the surface. Listen for the needs and feelings beneath the surface … feelings of being unloved, insignificant or insecure.
— Learn the “language of love” that the other person understands—a thoughtful note, a favorite food, an unexpected kindness, reaching out to one of their loved ones.
— Ask, “What can I do to improve our relationship?”
— Listen carefully and repeat or rephrase back what you hear: “I understand that you think I continually interrupt you. You want me to let you finish expressing your thoughts. Is this correct?”
— Pray that God will give you a discerning spirit as you seek to draw others out.
“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” (Proverbs 20:5)
• An encourager has an accepting heart … a heart that offers a sense of security.
— Realize that everyone has an innate fear of rejection and a deep yearning for acceptance.
— Recognize that God accepts you just as you are … even with all your faults.—Choose to be a channel through which God extends His acceptance to others.
— Pray for God to reveal the ways you communicate rejection and the ways to reach out with a heart of acceptance.
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:7)
• An encourager has an appreciative heart … a heart that sees God-given worth in everyone.
— Recognize that the worth of something is most often established by the price paid for it.
— Look at how the Lord established worth in every person by paying the highest price with His life. With His blood, He paid the necessary ransom to redeem you from the penalty of your sins.
— Treat every person—especially your most problematic person—as someone with God-given worth.
— Pray that you would see others as God sees them and value them as He values them.
“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6–7)
• An encourager has a praising heart … a heart that praises the positives.
— Refuse to be a pharisaical faultfinder. The Pharisees even found fault in the faultless Son of God.
— Avoid the temptation to “catch” people doing something wrong. Instead, comment on what they are doing right.
— Instead of praising outer characteristics (good looks, attractive clothes, etc.), praise inner character: “I see that you really have wisdom … perseverance … thoughtfulness … integrity.”
— Pray that you will see something positive in every person, then faithfully make that your focus.
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
• An encourager has an exhorting heart … a heart that doesn’t wound with words.
— Reconsider the saying “Talk is cheap.” … Talk is costly when it tears others down.
— Before speaking words of criticism, ask a wise friend to evaluate your content and tone. Realize that after critical words are spoken, you can never take them back.
— Inspire those needing change with your belief that they can change: “Don’t give up.… God will guide you in the way you should go.… I know you can make the right decisions.… I believe you can experience God’s best.”
— Present your words to God as His instrument for good, and pray that He will put His words into your mouth.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)
• An encourager has a discerning heart … a heart to see the deepest unmet needs of others.
— Instead of judging the inappropriate action of another, understand the need behind the action.
— Realize that people who sling cutting words reveal that they have at least one unmet inner need … the need for love, for significance or for security.
— Realize that people don’t always mean what they say.
— Pray that your critics will allow the Lord to meet their deepest inner needs.
“My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
• An encourager has a wise heart … a heart that relies on the Spirit for truth.
— Seek God’s wisdom by reading a chapter a day from the Book of Proverbs. This book of wisdom was written by Solomon, whom God gifted with supernatural wisdom. (Read 2 Chronicles 1:7–12.)
— Write down every verse from Proverbs that pertains to the tongue.
— Determine to see God at work in every circumstance and trust Him for wisdom to know how to respond. (Wisdom is the ability to look at life from God’s point of view. The only way to do this is through the Spirit of Truth, who resides in every believer.)
— Pray that God’s Spirit will teach you spiritual truths and move you to speak these truths in love.
“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” (1 Corinthians 2:13)
D. How to Respond to the Criticism of Others
Human nature says respond “in kind” to others—curse for curse, blow for blow. One of the clearest challenges of Christ is not to respond “in kind,” but to respond “in the Spirit.” To be Spirit controlled rather than situation controlled is not natural to human nature. Being Spirit controlled becomes natural to the new nature that a believer receives at salvation—the very nature and mind of Christ. Undoubtedly, to counter evil for evil is natural, but to counter evil with good is the supernatural work of Christ within you.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
• Be assured that you can accept others in the same way Christ accepts you.
“Lord, I thank You that You accepted me when I was undeserving and that You continue to accept me even when I fail. Because of Your acceptance of me, I can accept others and even those who fail me. I will choose to accept my most severe critic as a divine creation of God.”
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:7)
• Be open to the slightest kernel of truth when you are criticized.
“Lord, if there is any truth in the critical words said about me, please convict my heart so that I might confess it and cooperate with You to change it.”
“A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a fool.” (Proverbs 17:10)
• Be willing to consider the criticism. If it is true, this person is God’s megaphone to get your attention.
“Lord, I accept this criticism as Your way of teaching me something I need to know. Please reveal to me what it is You are saying to me through the criticism.”
“The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15)
• Be able to receive criticism without being defensive.
— Admit to any truth in the criticism.
— Agree when you are in error.
— Ask for further correction.
“Lord, I admit that I [state the offense]. I agree that I was wrong. Please continue to use others to put me on a correction course when I’m off track in my attitudes or actions. And please continue to transform me more and more into the character of Christ.”
“A mocker resents correction; he will not consult the wise.” (Proverbs 15:12)
• Be determined to speak well of your critic.
“Lord, I yield my tongue to You. I ask that You place a guard over my mouth so that I will only speak the truth in love to [name] and always speak well of [name] to others. I pledge to focus on the good in [name] and not on the bad.”
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Romans 12:14)
• Be committed to pray for your critic.
“Lord, I commit [name the person] into Your hands. I pray that [he/she] will learn to love the way You love and to have a peace that is Your peace. I pray that [name] comes to experience Your love, grace and truth in profoundly deep ways, and in so doing, becomes a blessing to many.”
“But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
• Be aware that as a follower of Christ, you will be criticized.
“Lord, I want to be like Christ. Just as Jesus was unjustly criticized, I should expect to be criticized. Rather than feeling rejected, I choose to rejoice in the privilege of suffering in this way, and I thank You for rewarding me by calling me blessed.”
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matthew 5:11)
• Be encouraged that you will be disciplined by God because you are His child.
“Lord, thank You for loving me and dealing with me as a loving Father by disciplining me when I need correction. I choose to receive all discipline from You as a sign of Your devotion to me and of Your acceptance of me as Your child.”
“And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.’ ” (Hebrews 12:5–6)
• Be dependent on the Lord’s perspective to determine your worth and value, not on the opinions of others.
“Lord, thank You for establishing my worth and value by dying for me and adopting me into Your family. I will not live for the approval of people, for I have Your approval, and that is all I need. Thank You for loving me.”
“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)
• Be discerning regarding the accuracy of the critical words of others.
“Lord, help me not to accept all critical words as true, nor to reject all words as lies. Enable me to discern the false from the true. Put a hedge of protection around my mind so that I reject the lies. Allow my heart to accept constructive criticism that You may bring freedom to my life and change me.”
“The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction.” (Proverbs 16:21)
|A critical spirit toward others is a cry for significance within yourself. Verbal abusers bash others in order to feel better about themselves.
Yet when you see your significance as a child of God—when you learn how dearly loved you are by the Lord—instead of tearing others down, you will be fulfilled in building others up.
Encouragement Communicates Care
On this day …
Mend a quarrel.
Search out a forgotten friend.
Dismiss a suspicion and replace it with a trust.
Write a letter to someone who misses you.
Encourage a youth who has lost his faith.
Keep a promise.
Forget an old grudge.
Examine your demands on others.
Fight for a principle.
Express your gratitude.
Overcome an old fear.
Take time to appreciate the beauty of nature.
Give God the praise.
Tell someone you love them.
Tell them again, and again
Backus, William D. Telling Each Other the Truth. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1985.
Crabb, Lawrence J., Jr. and Dan B. Allender. Encouragement: The Key to Caring. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984.
Crabb, Lawrence J., Jr. Understanding People: Deep Longings for Relationship. Ministry Resources Library. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987.
Getz, Gene A. Encouraging One Another. Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1981.
Howard, J. Grant. The Trauma of Transparency: A Biblical Approach to Inter-Personal Communication. A Critical Concern Book. Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1979.
Hunt, June. Counseling Through Your Bible Handbook. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007.
Hunt, June. How to Forgive … When You Don’t Feel Like It. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007.
Hunt, June. How to Handle Your Emotions. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.
Hunt, June. Seeing Yourself Through God’s Eyes. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.
Jantz, Gregory L. Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse. Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1995.
McGee, Robert S. The Search for Significance. 2nd ed. Houston, TX: Rapha, 1990.
VanVonderen, Jeff. Families Where Grace Is in Place. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1992.
 Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Critical Spirit: Be an Encourager—Not a Critic (1–17). Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.