I watched a video recently decrying the feminization of men in the modern church. The speaker valued things like aggression and even anger as masculine and admirable. A while back a blogger wrote an article challenging the “idolatry of unity” – we cherish love and unity to the point where we are afraid to condemn sin and challenge error in the church. Perhaps there is a nugget of truth in these observations, but there is much to be wary of and much to reject. The fact is, as I noted in my first post, the Bible says much more about love and unity than it does about confrontation, about “calling out” of sin and error. These are necessary, of course, but the heart of Christianity is love, unity, compassion, and kindness.
There is nothing feminine about these character qualities. They are not markers of weakness but of the willingness to put pleasure and self aside in the service of others and for the glory of God. They are also key ingredients to any criticism we might lodge against a brother or sister in Christ.
I would make two assertions I consider to be truisms.
- The vast majority of criticism in the SBC is classified as unloving, regardless of how it is offered.
- That classification has unfortunately been fair, all too often.
We are, by and large, bad at giving criticism and bad at receiving it. Most of us have offended on both ends. We tend to be harsh when giving criticism and defensive when receiving it. But neither extreme option is a good one. We cannot go the way of the discernment bloggers who have embraced evisceration without mercy nor can we shy away from speaking our convictions. Baptist polity only works if godly people speak when they see something that is not as it should be, but do so in love.
We must find a way to criticize, to speak our convictions, and to do so honestly, but also to do so in accordance with the character and commands of God.
Love is best defined in 1 Corinthians 13 – in a clear and concrete way. It is not a matter of emotion but of action. Love is essential and it does certain things but not others. Love is demonstrated in how we act. A brief perusal of the Love Chapter may serve as a good reminder.
Love is Essential
My words and my actions count for nothing if they are not marked by love, according to 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. Discernment is useless and theological precision is meaningless if not accompanied by love. A successful and growing church accomplished without love is fleshly and insignificant. None of our earthly works are significant in the Kingdom if they are not accompanied by love.
So, the question is, how can we criticize what someone else says or does and still be acting in love?
As I look back on 12 years of blogging, as a commenter, a blogger, and an editor of this blog, I see too few successes and too many failures. Social media tends to bring out the worst in us. The fact of our failure should not cause us to shy away from our opportunity. Blogging, Facebook, Twitter – social media has given us an opportunity to voice that which seems wrong in the Southern Baptist Convention and it is essential we learn to do so in accordance with biblical truth, not in violation of it. Our frequent failures do not negate our responsibility.
First, let us look at what love is and isn’t. After we have defined love we can figure out how to criticize our leaders and their actions into that.
Two Things Love Always Is
- Love is patient – this word means to put up with the faults and failings of others. People who walk in love do not act as prosecutors, seeing the worst in others and magnifying their faults. They are patient, enduring wrongs. We must never criticize to settle scores or get back at those who have spoken against us. The heart and soul of biblical love is forgiveness.
- Love is kind – this is the flipside of patience. Instead of striking back against those who hurt you or insult you, you respond in kindness – seeking to be a blessing to the one who has offended you. God acted in kindness toward those who rebelled against him, seeking and saving the lost.
Note that there is no limit to love. “I was nice the first 7 times you offended me, but now you’ve gone too far.” Love (as we will see later) keeps on loving, and being patient and kind. This is a tough one to apply, but a goal that cannot be ignored.
Eight Things Love Never Is
- Love is not envious – it is not jealous of the blessings God gives others. (This is often a hard one.)
- Love is not boastful – brag, pump oneself up. There are few things more contrary to the love of Christ than self-centeredness, self-promotion, self-importance, and especially seeking to build your platform by tearing others down.
- Love is not arrogant – puffed up with one’s own self-importance. More concerned with my ego than God’s glory.
- Love is not rude – A rude person gives no thought to how his actions affect others. He simply vents his emotions, spills his anger, and cares nothing about anyone else. A man or woman of God seeks to be gentle, not to hurt others.
- Love is not selfish (does not insist on its own way) – in many ways, a summary. When I am walking in love, I don’t have to win the argument or get my way. It isn’t about me.
- Love is not irritable – this word means many things, but primarily, it speaks of being easily provoked, having a quick fuse. When we are operating in love, we are not quick to take offense.
- Love is not resentful – this is the BIGGIE, folks. Literally, this says, “love does not record the wrong” or “love does not regard the wrong.” That is why several translations go with some version of “love does not keep a record of wrongs. Do you have a long list of grudges going back weeks, months or years that affect the way you deal with others?
I’ve encountered several people who seem to literally violate this, keeping a file of screenshots and conversation logs of every offense they have received – from years before. “In 2008, you said this.” If you have such a log, are you not in direct violation of the Scripture? We are called to live in grace, to love in spite of our faults, to bear with one another, and to love sinners as Christ did. You cannot both love sinners and keep that log of past offenses.
- Finally, love is not happy when sin wins out. It is not weak-kneed or tolerant of evil. The truest form of love is the proclamation of gospel truth, and it rejoices when the gospel is proclaimed and when souls are won to Christ.
Four Things Love ALWAYS Does
Verse 7 is powerful. God’s love seeks us and pursues us when we do not deserve it when we have not earned it; no more than that, when we have rejected God and run from his grace. But his love is stronger than our sin.
When we live in love, we must remember that “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” How much sin, mistreatment, insult, and injury does love bear? Not a little or a lot. ALL THINGS. Love believes that God by his Holy Spirit can produce the fruit of repentance and restoration in others. Love trust the Holy Spirit to do his job and just keeps believing that the process will continue. Love hopes in God and looks to eternal things, not just the things of this world. And love endures unbelievable wrong, injury and pain to accomplish that.
I am bad at love! I tend to resent all things, lose faith, lose hope and give up. But that is the flesh, not the Spirit. By the power of the Spirit who dwells within, I am to continue to seek to walk in love and become more like Christ.
One Thing Love NEVER Does
Love never fails. It never ends. It is permanent. It doesn’t quit, give up, or throw in the towel.
How many times have I failed since I was saved 55 years ago? How many times has God given up on me? I’m not sure of the first number (it is high), but the second is ZERO! He doesn’t quit, he doesn’t consign us to the flame, he doesn’t despair of us. Since he completes what he starts, we are secure in Christ.
Since God doesn’t give up on me, I cannot give up on God’s people. That is why criticism must be couched in real love. This tendency we have to give up on people, to consign them to hell’s flames and excise them from the company of the redeemed – it is not of God. God saves sinners and they continue to sin. As Israel sinned and God continued to draw them, he continues to draw us. Patience and persistence is the godly way.
Our criticism must always be an act of love and patience, rooted in faith and hope that God’s ultimate victory will occur in that person’s life, not in the idea that he or she is beyond hope.
Remember, when you are feeling you must critique, rebuke, criticize and correct, do so in love, because the greatest of these is love!
Criticizing in Love
It will be in future posts that I give specific thoughts about how to criticize in love – I am nearing the length here where William will begin to chide me!
Social media is a gift of God which we can use to speak our convictions, a blessing for which we can give thanks to God. It is right and good, both biblically and Baptistically, that we offer criticism to our leaders. You do not have to be part of the “elite” to do so. In Baptist life every one of us is authorized to speak.
But when we speak, it must be out of a heart of love and for the purpose of influencing people toward Christ. When our hearts are wrong our criticism will be destructive. Only by doing things God’s way – in love – can we accomplish God’s work. We must walk in the Spirit, not the flesh, and be guided by love.
Criticizing in love is never easy, but it is the way of God.
Fight the wolves, but be careful not to injure the sheep in the process.