A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
Love is the distinguishing mark of a follower of Jesus. This “new commandment” Jesus gave resembles the command to love the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:5) and neighbors as oneself (Leviticus 19:18) but added “even as I have loved you.” In Matthew (5:43-48), Jesus also included the instruction for us to love our enemies. Jesus’ teaching expands our understanding of what God’s love must look like as it is expressed in our daily lives. He gives us a responsibility to live God’s love out loud in radical ways.
What about when people criticize us? Well, if you’re not encountering criticism, you’re not building relationships, because relationships should involve value-driven discussions and daily living, which will cause friction among individuals. Of course, the friction should be handled in God-honoring ways. We should respect one another even when we disagree, but how often do we think respecting each other is refusing to disagree? How God-honoring are we when we’re on the receiving end of the criticism? Do we take it personally and have difficulty as we think someone no longer likes us, or do we callously respond as if we don’t care because we’re going to be who we are regardless of what anyone says or thinks of us?
God certainly gave us guidelines for criticizing others. We must be loving, gentle, and merciful. We are not excused from criticism; we are simply directed to criticize within God’s standards with His guidance. We are to accept and respond to criticism in the same way—within God’s standards—even when people criticizing us are not adhering to the same standards. Just because another Christ-follower is bending God’s rules does not make it okay for us to bend God’s rules, thus, fighting fire with fire.
We cope with criticism with the same standards by which we’re to give criticism.
Be loving—by God’s standards.
Be gentle—by God’s standards.
Be merciful—by God’s standards.
Be forgiving—by God’s standards.
Responding to criticism by God’s standards is not the same as hiding feelings. It’s setting aside feelings for truth. God gave us feelings to enhance experiences not to distort the truth of a situation. Let God reveal the truth of a situation. You don’t need to know the person’s motives. You don’t need to know how the person will respond. All you need to know is…God. God is truth, and when you invite and trust him to guide, your motives will become God-driven and your responses will become God-guided. You will cope with criticism with God and for God. He is at the center of your life and your relationships, including criticism. Let Him lead from the center. Let love be a distinguishing mark of your faith in God.
Dear God, help me to deal with the criticism in my life and not take it personally. Help me to see the truth of the relationship. I know people are hurting and struggling, and I know that sometimes people, including me, have to wrestle with You through situations to get close to You. Help me to stay true to Your standards, extending Your love within Your teaching and accountability. I know that You know all the details of everyone around me. You know their needs and can meet them much better than me. Use me in my obedience.