A friend of mine went to his wife and asked for feedback. The next day, I asked him how it went, and he said to me, “I don’t expect she’ll ever give me feedback again.” When she said what she thought, he got angry and defensive, even though he had asked for her opinion.
How do we fare with criticism? Do we listen when we get feedback? Or do we recoil when a friend offers a gentle suggestion, a thoughtful correction, or a blunt critique?
Let’s admit that not all criticism is valid. Sometimes a friend’s or parent’s critique is harmful, mean, or unwarranted. Jill faced this as her mother ripped into her whenever she made the smallest of mistakes. In his fits of rage, Peter would berate and belittle his wife and children. Sally was a perfectionist who couldn’t stand her coworker’s lackluster standards, so she dished out belittling comments.
Proverbs 15:31 says, “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.” This wise correction is not damaging or hurtful; it helps. It’s loving in its intention and accurate in its assessment. Though often hard at the time it’s given, it results in more joy or peace.
Most of the advice we get in life is a mixture—some good, some bad, and some mediocre. Would it be OK, then, to ignore criticism? Absolutely not. A settled disposition against receiving criticism is dangerous for our souls. Proverbs warns that those who hate reproof are stupid (12:1) and will die (15:10). Those who are open to it will find the path of life (10:17), gain honor (13:18) and wisdom (29:15), dwell with the wise (15:31), and grow in intelligence (v. 32).
What we want is an open posture toward criticism. How is that possible? We need humility that comes through Christ.
When we fear other people’s opinions, criticism is painful. If we are defined by what others think, we live and die by their opinions. But if we fear God first and foremost, we gain a right estimation of ourselves. Humility takes over. A lofty self-opinion is discarded. The prideful lose their arrogance. We see our own insignificance in light of who Christ is and what He’s done. We no longer live by what others think because God’s opinion matters more, so there is no reason to be afraid. Can we see how the humble adopt a posture that is open to correction? They think much of God and little of themselves, so a critique no longer is intimidating or frightening.
This kind of humility is only possible because of Christ. The God-man came, becoming a servant; facing persecution, beatings, and mockery; and He didn’t fight back (Isa. 53:3, 6). He knew the Father’s will was that He should die for us (John 4:34; 2 Cor. 5:21). If Christ could do all of this for us, who are we to self-righteously and arrogantly reject even the slightest of criticism?