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Crucifying Defensiveness

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Jared Wilson:

. . . Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?
– 1 Corinthians 6:7

The biggest problem in my life and ministry is me. And the biggest problem among my many idiosyncratic problems is the impulse toward self-defense and self-justification. The Lord has been working well on me over the last several years in this area, and I do think, by his grace, I have gotten better at suppressing this impulse, denying it, even going into situations I know will include much criticism directed at myself having proactively crucified it for the moment. But my inner defense attorney (a voting partner in the ambulance-chasing firm of Flesh & Associates) is always there, crouching at my door, seeking to rule over everybody by arguing in my quote-unquote “favor.”

Crucifying the defensive impulse is so difficult because it essentially means choosing to allow others to misunderstand you, misjudge you, and even malign you. (Of course, many times the painful things said are accurate, and so it’s another difficult necessity to listen well and to “test all things [and] hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).) But many times, especially for those in ministry or in other leadership positions, the criticisms and complaints are inaccurate, sometimes whole-cloth falsehoods, frequently petty, and these little injustices just pile up. The need to cry out in one’s defense rises up. But wisdom knows when to claim one’s rights and when to submit to being defrauded. For me, as I get older, and the longer I minister, the more I find myself being steered toward the latter.

Why would you and I do that? Why would we turn the cheek this way, go two miles with the guy demanding one? It’s certainly not very street-smart. It’s obviously not comfortable. But wisdom directs us this way, ultimately, because we believe that the consolation of Christ now and the compensation from Christ in the age to come will far surpass any “justice” we could gin up with our own self-interested rebuttals . . . even if we’re in the right. If Christ is our treasure, if Christ is our justification, why not rather be defrauded?

In many cases related to personal offenses, if not most, the best defense is neither a good offense nor a good defense, but simply sitting on the bench and, in love, refusing to play the game.

The cross and criticism

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“In light of God’s judgement and justification of the sinner in the cross of Christ, we can begin to discover how to deal with any and all criticism. By agreeing with God’s criticism of me in Christ’s cross, I can face any criticism man may lay against me. In other words, no one can criticize me more than the cross has.

If you thus know yourself as having been crucified with Christ, then you can respond to any criticism, even mistaken or hostile criticism, without bitterness, defensiveness, or blame shifting. Such responses typically exacerbate and intensify conflict, and lead to the rupture of relationships. You can learn to hear criticism as constructive and not condemnatory because God has justified you.”

— Alfred Poirier “The Cross and Criticism” The Journal of Biblical Counseling (Vol. 17, No. 3, Spring 1999) 17

(HT: Of First Importance)

Am I Receiving and Giving Criticism in a Godly Way?

Justin Taylor posts:

Alfred Poirier summarizes four points:

1. Critique yourself.

How do I typically react to correction?

Do I pout when criticized or corrected?

What is my first response when someone says I’m wrong?

Do I tend to attack the person?

To reject the content of criticism?

To react to the manner?

How well do I take advice?

How well do I seek it?

Are people able to approach me to correct me?

Am I teachable?

Do I harbor anger against the person who criticizes me?

Do I immediately seek to defend myself, hauling out my righteous acts and personal opinions in order to defend myself and display my rightness?

Can my spouse, parents, children, brothers, sisters, or friends correct me?

2. Ask the Lord to give you a desire to be wise instead of a fool.

Use Proverbs to commend to yourself the goodness of being willing and able to receive criticism, advice, rebuke, counsel, or correction. Meditate upon the passages given above:Proverbs 9:912:1513:10,1315:3217:10Psalm 141:5.

3. Focus on your crucifixion with Christ.

While I can say I have faith in Christ, and even say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ,” yet I still find myself not living in light of the cross. So I challenge myself with two questions.

First, if I continually squirm under the criticism of others, how can I say I know and agree with the criticism of the cross?

Second, if I typically justify myself, how can I say I know, love, and cling to God’s justification of me through Christ’s cross?

This drives me back to contemplating God’s judgment and justification of the sinner in Christ on the cross. As I meditate on what God has done in Christ for me, I find a resolve to agree with and affirm all that God says about me in Christ, with whom I’ve been crucified.

4. Learn to speak nourishing words to others.

I want to receive criticism as a sinner living within Jesus’ mercy, so how can I give criticism in a way that communicates mercy to another?

Accurate, balanced criticism, given mercifully, is the easiest to hear—and even against that my pride rebels.

Unfair criticism or harsh criticism (whether fair or unfair) is needlessly hard to hear.

How can I best give accurate, fair criticism, well tempered with mercy and affirmation?

* * *

Read the whole article here.

Cheer up! You’re worse than you think

I love this application of the gospel by Bob Glenn:

One of the occupational hazards of pastoral ministry is that you are often the subject of people’s destructive criticism, gossip, slander, misrepresentation, foolish inferences, ignorant speculations, and the like. And any pastor who’s being honest with himself – even a hard-nosed guy like me – will admit that the hurtful things people say are just that – hurtful. They hurt.

How do you heal the hurt? How do you prevent the hurt from festering, from becoming a root of bitterness toward your enemies?

The answer is to remember this: you are far worse than your enemies make you out to be! They don’t know the half of it.

Now they may not be correct or truthful in what they are saying about you, but you (and your spouse) could tell them things about yourself that would make their mouths hang open in shock and disbelief. You could tell them things about yourself that would make their petty criticisms pale in comparison. After all, what is wrong with you is so wrong, that it took the one perfect person who ever lived to die for you and suffer God’s wrath for you.

Now I know that this may not seem all that encouraging – in fact, you might think that it would only make matters worse. You’re already wounded. Why pour salt into the wound?

And let me say that it would be very discouraging if you stopped with bringing to mind what a mess you are. So don’t stop short. Go farther. Go all the way to the cross and realize that even though you are far worse than your enemies think you are, Jesus went to the cross willingly. He was not reluctant to die for you: “No one takes my life away from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18)! Even though you are a million times worse than any of your enemies know, Jesus doesknow, and he loves you anyway. The cross proves it.

The late Jack Miller used to put it this way: “Cheer up! You’re worse than you think.” In a strange way, this does put a smile on my face. As bad as people may think I am, I’m worse than they think, even worse than I think, but Jesus knows me fully and loves me so much that he went to the cross in my place.

Giving and Receiving Criticism in Light of the Cross

My thanks to Justin Taylor for this:

Some notes below from Alfred Poirier’s excellent article “The Cross and Criticism,” first published in The Journal of Biblical Counseling (Spring 1999).

Definition:

I’m using criticism in a broad sense as referring to any judgment made about you by another, which declares that you fall short of a particular standard.

The standard may be God’s or man’s.

The judgment may be true or false.

It may be given gently with a view to correction, or harshly and in a condemnatory fashion.

It may be given by a friend or by an enemy.

But whatever the case, it is a judgment or criticism about you, that you have fallen short of a standard.

Key Point:

A believer is one who identifies with all that God affirms and condemns in Christ’s crucifixion.

In other words, in Christ’s cross I agree with God’s judgment of me; and in Christ’s cross I agree with God’s justification of me. Both have a radical impact on how we take and give criticism.

Application:

  1. Critique yourself.
  2. Ask the Lord to give you a desire to be wise instead of a fool.
  3. Focus on your crucifixion with Christ.
  4. Learn to speak nourishing words to others.

How to give criticism in a godly way:

  • I see my brother/sister as one for whom Christ died (1 Cor. 8:11Heb. 13:1)
  • I come as an equal, who also is a sinner (Rom. 3:923).
  • I prepare my heart lest I speak out of wrong motives (Prov. 16:215:2816:23).
  • I examine my own life and confess my sin first (Matt. 7:3-5).
  • I am always patient, in it for the long haul (Eph. 4:21 Cor. 13:4).
  • My goal is not to condemn by debating points, but to build up through constructive criticism (Eph. 4:29).
  • I correct and rebuke my brother gently, in the hope that God will grant him the grace of repentance even as I myself repent only through His grace (2 Tim. 2:24-25).

Criticism

From Marcus Honeysett:

Recently a church leader friend reflected with me that he is on the receiving end of criticism that he feels is not only unmerited but also comes from people who don’t know what they are talking about. Most church leaders will relate to that. I certainly do at this moment in time.

This previous post on worship being the antidote to criticism helped me as I reflected on it this morning. Criticism dries up our spirits unless we take it to the Lord, throw ourselves on his mercy and ask for his help. If you are currently being criticised then receiving grace today is even more vital for you than it normally is (and it is normally overwhelmingly vital!).

Worship is the refuge that allows us to respond to criticism well rather than defensively. Worship is the means by which God is allowed to be bigger in our perspective than our critics. Worship allows us to not be precious about us and our reputations because we are absorbed not with ourselves but with him. Criticism isn’t nice, but criticism that gets out of perspective is debilitating. Worship puts our perspective right, bastions our hearts, makes us rejoice in God and find our happiness (that criticism would wish to destroy) in him.

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