Friday, July 28, 2006

Critical Spirit

Dear Pastor Lawyer,

I’ve noticed a pattern in Reformed believers that I’ve also noticed in myself that I think is sinful. It is a critical spirit and a judgmental heart. I’m wondering how I might go about fixing it in myself. Can you help?

Bob Randal

Dear Mr. Randal,

The opposite of a critical spirit is humility. In Galatians 5:15, 16 says, “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the of the flesh.” A critical spirit shows itself in people by biting and devouring one another. While we see this in many people around us, unfortunately we do often see it in our own Reformed circles. Paul tells us, however, that the antidote to biting and devouring one another (because of a critical spirit) is to walk in the spirit (live humbly with God).

If I am person with a critical spirit I assume that the others around me cannot do a thing as well as they ought, or, really, as well as I think they ought. It assumes a judgmental, arrogant attitude toward whoever the critical spirit is aimed at. From there it goes to making comments or conjectures, or backbiting, or other worse behaviors toward the person who “just can’t get it done right.”

But when we compare ourselves with the standard God sets (Love God with all our heart, all our mind, all our strength) we realize that we don't measure up at all. When this happens, we realize that we need grace from God, if we are to go on. When we actually get grace, we really needed it. When that happens we should step back and understand that since God has given us grace, when we didn't measure up, we can afford to give grace to those around us who don't appear to measure up.

This principle shows itself in a number of areas of our lives. For example in Matthew 18 we see a story of a man who was forgiven much, but was critical of his servant who owed him little and threw him into jail. The story is about forgiveness, but isn't this really the same thing? The one who won't forgive, wants the person who doesn't measure up to suffer for his sin, or short fall, so he won't forgive him (he has a judgmental, critical spirit). Suppose the thing the person did wasn't sin. Suppose it was a wife who didn't wash the dishes quite fast enough. But you react to her slowness with a comment. But God has just forgiven you for the sin of speeding down the freeway. You have sinned against the eternal and infinite God, but your wife has simply gone a little slower than you would have liked. You have actually sinned, and now you condemn your wife for something that isn't sin at all. In Jesus' story in Matthew 18 the one who wouldn't forgive, though he'd received infinite forgiveness, was thrown into prison. So, forgive, relent. Realize that you've been given great grace, who are you to be critical of those who offend you?

Another area of life where this applies is to realize that maturity comes to those who persevere for a long time in a certain direction. God gives grace because we aren't where we ought to be, or could have been had we not spent so much time doing our own thing. But everyone matures at different rates. Because we trust in a sovereign God who brings each of us along at his pace, we can't condemn our children for not being as mature as we are. If we can rejoice in the fact that God has matured us to the level he has (and we should), we can certainly rejoice in the fact that God has brought our children along as far as he has.

This application goes far beyond our own family. 7 years ago, I didn't believe in paedobaptism, now I do. God was patient with me and allowed me to change and grow as he brought me along in the faith. How, then, can I turn around and condemn a fellow believer who hasn't come to that same conclusion about baptism when he might simply not have come along at the same rate as me? I can't. I must be gracious to my brother who isn't as far along as I am in all the same areas and rejoice that God has him right where he wants him.

Another thing to think about here is that God may have brought that brother further along than me in some area that I'm not aware of. I might need to humble myself and learn something from that brother who knows more about another area of the Christian life than I do. God is building the kingdom one brick at a time and not all the bricks are exactly the same. But God is the builder, not you and not me.

This is what "Love covers a multitude of sins" means (1 Pet. 4:8). We must humble ourselves and let God be God in other people's lives as well as our own. And while doing it, we must love those who are not as "smart," or as "wonderful," or as "quick" as we are. Humility works hard to have an accurate view of ourselves before God and when we compare ourselves with Christ instead of our brother, we realize we really aren't that hot and don't have very good reasons to be critical in spirit.

In the end the root of a critical spirit is a proud and arrogant heart. The cure for a critical spirit is to look into the face of God, through Christ, by the Holy Spirit and realize that we aren't what we thought and that the things in life that we thought were important just aren’t. Knowing God, being a humble servant, striving after godliness, and sacrificially loving our families is important. There's nothing greater.I hope this helps.

Pastor Lawyer

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