We all know what it is like to be critical. Criticism in and of itself is not a bad thing. There is a cautious constrictive criticism and there is a careless censorious criticism. Cautioned criticism is regulated by the desire to be helpful, whereas censorious criticism is regulated by the desire to be destructive. The story of a young lawyer has been told:
“A lawyer was speaking to another lawyer and asking him how should he handle cases in court. The older lawyer said, ‘Well, if the law is on your side, emphasize the law. If the evidence and the facts are on your side, emphasize the evidence and the facts.’ ‘But what if neither are on my side?’ ‘Then attack other lawyer.'”
Criticism becomes bad when it is driven by an ungodly motive and carried out in an ungodly way. This ugly form of criticism begins with a critical heart, which then manifests itself in verbal attack. This verbal attack tends to start off by complaining and then follows with abusing. If this level of criticism is unbridled, it can end with physical abuse like fighting. The issue goes back to the heart and why the person is critical to begin with. Jesus said,
“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
In John 8:48-59, the religious leaders criticized the Lord Jesus three times (8:48, 52-53, 57). This is not the first time that this has happened. But on this occasion the comments were getting more personal and ended quite intensely. What was the cause of such anger? The cause of this criticism was the previous conversation that had just taken place. Jesus had made it clear that because they are of their father the devil (cf. John 8:44), they are not in tune with God’s desires and nor do they know Him. This sparked a series of criticisms that climax with an attempt to take Jesus’ life (John 8:59). This is really serious! The most amazing thing in this this passage is the way Jesus responds to such ungodly and uncalled for behaviour. The apostle Peter got to spend three years watching and walking with Jesus. Looking back on His perfect life Peter said concerning Jesus,
“When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
That is a powerful description of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we will see an example of that in our passage. We need to also understand, that though this is what happened to our Lord, if you identify with Him, those things that are directed toward Christ will in varying forms come towards His people (Col. 1:24).
How can we deal with criticism in a way that honours God? We will consider this in our next post.