Criticism can mean a lot of different things to many people. When I was an art major at the start of my college career, criticism meant having a professor and classmates evaluate my work – their criticism both good and bad. When I switched my college major to English, criticism was usually associated with analyzing literature, picking apart its grammatical structure and overarching themes. I’m sure criticism has a specific definition for you, too.

Let me define constructive criticism for you. It’s basically the idea that you are criticizing an action or person with the intent of helping to improve that action or person. In other words, I would use constructive criticism to let you know how you can improve your writing, speech, or work in general.

The thing with constructive criticism is that while it can be beneficial, it can also turn sour in a hurry if the motives aren’t where they should be. There is a huge difference between constructive criticism and just being mean. People can be mean in their criticism, attacking the person instead of the work (i.e. laughing in the person’s face), or attacking the work without any sort of helpful advice or comment on the content of that work (i.e. “This is awful!”).

I’m not saying that people aren’t entitled to their own opinions, but as Christians, we should be careful in how we receive and give criticism.

First, we should receive criticism with open and understanding hearts.

I’ve had to keep in mind that if a person is unnecessarily mean in their criticism, they may just be having an awful day, or they are dealing with some other circumstance that’s beyond my knowledge. This is often the case in online comments, where people can often say more of what’s on their mind, just because of the barrier between the writer of a post or comment created by a computer screen. However, it is okay to stand up for yourself if the situation calls for it. Back when I was a college freshman attending a Christian university, I made the decision to stay behind during a shopping trip. It wasn’t as though I was staying in my room, though; I would get out of the dorm later that evening, because that night was Wednesday, and I was determined to go to church, even when my suitemates did not. Was I criticized? Oh, yes. On the flip side, there are times when receiving constructive criticism is hard, even when it’s truly helpful, and it comes from someone who loves us dearly, whether that’s a parent, a friend, or another loved one. That’s often called discipline, and though it’s not something we always want to hear, we do need the nudge from time to time to keep us on the path we need to be, whether that’s in our work, service, or faith. Hebrews 12:11 spells this out clearly: “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Second, we as Christians should be vigilant in how we give our criticism of others.

We shouldn’t let our criticism deter others from pursuing relationships with God. If we judge sinners harshly, it is truly the pot calling the kettle black, because we are all sinners. Think of Jesus’ parable that He gave of a Pharisee and a tax collector, given in Luke 18:9-14. It does us no good to broadcast our faith if we bring down the lost, just because of their actions. If we’re the ones giving any kind of constructive criticism, we need to keep this in mind: having a relationship of some kind with the other person is crucial. You absolutely cannot attack someone if they are struggling, or if they’ve simply shared their words with you, whether that’s through verbal or online communication, or they’ll run away. This is also a basic rule to keep if you’re participating in any kind of evangelism. If they know that you love them and care about them, they’ll be far more open to hearing what you have to say and will be more likely to take your advice. Simply put: speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

In conclusion, we as Christians should handle criticism with care. We need to think outward and remember the feelings of those we are addressing, and we need to pray for those who criticize us harshly on no visible grounds. We need to build each other up with our words and actions, no matter the reason, no matter the circumstance. We’re all in the same boat.

For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thessalonians 9-11).

By Savannah Cottrell