In today’s social media-drenched culture we find people making all sorts of personal claims and criticisms about themselves and others. To see a very public microcosm of this phenomena, watch Hollywood. The regular news cycle draws attention to various celebrities who engage in Twitter wars. One makes a comment or criticism, and then someone responds in kind. There are few who let comments and criticisms go unchecked. This type of conduct isn’t restricted to social media but likely goes back to our earliest days as children. How many of us either engaged in or heard others dish out schoolyard taunts and heard the verbally assaulted children offer their own ripostes. If someone called you a nerd, you might respond, “Takes one to know one,” or “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names never hurt me.” I think our common mentality is to hit back when stricken, or even in some cases to hit others preemptively. But is such conduct Christ-like?
This is an important question because as a minister, I promise and guarantee that you will be the subject of ridicule, criticism, slander, libel, and the like—and this conduct, sadly, can often come from other ministers, though a fair share of this can also come from other portions of the church. Try as you might to do things for all of the right reasons, there will be those who suspect you of subterfuge and ill motives. And when you hear or read the criticism, your first gut-reaction might be to respond in kind. Or perhaps you might desire to offer a thoughtful and respectful self-defense. To be clear, there are certainly those times and places where you can and should defend yourself. But more often than not, you need to give serious thought to taking it on the chin.
What do I mean? Give serious thought to how many times the idea of bearing one’s cross appears in the Scriptures. Think about Christ’s silence before his accusers. Think about the endless amount of slander that Paul suffered. Think of Paul’s instructions, for example, to the Corinthians to be willing to suffer wrongs (1 Cor. 6:7). To stand there and take criticism and remain silent and offer no response is not a sign of weakness but rather spiritual maturity.
All too often, I believe, we are simply too thin-skinned. We don’t want to tolerate the slightest hint that someone might not think as well of us as we do of ourselves. Other times I think people are all too interested in being vindicated immediately. We want everyone to know we are right and that others have wronged us. I had a number of counseling situations where people wrangled over petty matters and refused to be reconciled to others in the church all because they wanted everyone to know they were right.
Don’t get me wrong—I don’t like being insulted or criticized. Who really does? But on the other hand, don’t be too quick to defend yourself. Listen to the criticism. Is there any validity to it? If not, ignore it and move on. You can’t please everyone all the time. But more importantly, remember that everything in your life has a purpose. In this case, the wrongs that you suffer are not simply blows you bear, but instances where the Father is conforming you to the image of his Son.