Responding To Criticism

SCRIPTURE: 2 Corinthians 11:5-15, NLT

5 But I don’t consider myself inferior in any way to these “super apostles” who teach such things.
6 I may be unskilled as a speaker, but I’m not lacking in knowledge. We have made this clear to you in every possible way.
7 Was I wrong when I humbled myself and honored you by preaching God’s Good News to you without expecting anything in return?
8 I “robbed” other churches by accepting their contributions so I could serve you at no cost.
9 And when I was with you and didn’t have enough to live on, I did not become a financial burden to anyone. For the brothers who came from Macedonia brought me all that I needed. I have never been a burden to you, and I never will be.
10 As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, no one in all of Greece will ever stop me from boasting about this.
11 Why? Because I don’t love you? God knows that I do.
12 But I will continue doing what I have always done. This will undercut those who are looking for an opportunity to boast that their work is just like ours.
13 These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ.
14 But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
15 So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve.

Introduction

All God’s servants suffer criticism. This is not a new thing: the Israelites were very critical of Moses and we know in retrospect that Moses was a phenomenal leader. A pastor can be p0litically correct, very careful, as soft as a butterfly’s landing but you will still be criticised and you cannot stop it. There are preacher haters in this world and they are going to be critical. I know pastors who were diplomatic and tactful and they got critized for being too soft and lacking boldness. I decided a long time ago, to be myself and to be honest. Have I come under criticism for my frankness? Sure, I am even despised by some but they are going to be critical one way or the other. I prefer to be criticised for being bold, direct and politically incorrect. A preacher has to pick his poison. You cannot stop criticism from happening.

Transition

Since it is impossible to stop criticism, the next question is: how do I respond to criticism? This will be our subject for tonight. Before we attempt to answer this question, let’s do a quick review of the criticisms against the Apostle Paul. Some of these criticisms are easy to spot and some are not.


  1. Paul’s authority [2 Cor. 10:7-8]

  2. Paul’s personal appearance [2 Cor. 10:9]

  3. Paul’s speaking ability [2 Cor. 11:6]

  4. Paul’s motive for service [2 Cor.11:7-11]

NOTE: All these criticisms are stinging, hurtful and severe.

I. WE SHOULD RESPOND CAREFULLY

Some criticism is face to face, person to person and this makes dealing with it much easier but most criticism is here say. The children of Israel murmured against Moses. This means they complained and grumbled in their tents. They didn’t confront Moses directly. Moses had a divine intuition that most of us don’t have and Jesus could read minds. I can’t read minds. I know intuitively when people are critical but I do not know the exact nature of their criticism.

Hearsay info is very unreliable. Sometimes the folks delivering the message give someone else credit for what they said or think. Plus there is the difficultly of getting the news right. When things are repeated, they get exxegarated most of the time. By the time the criticism gets to you, it may be much worse than it is so we learn over time not to jump to conclusion. Moses ignored a lot of criticism and sometimes, this is the best response.

Criticism can be distracting for a minister. We lose sight of what God has called us to do and spend all our time fighting brush fires. Like Nehemiah, we have to remain on track, focused and moving forward. Frieght trains do not stop for barking dogs.

This does not mean that we can ignore all criticism. There comes a time when it has to be dealt with but we deal with it caustiously and carefully. I have responded rashly before and I did more damage than good. We have to be careful.

II. WE SHOULD RESPOND PRAYERFULLY

Criticism can be both helpful and harmful. A lot depends on the nature of the criticism and a lot depends on our response. There is no way you are going to stop all criticism and it would be impossible to respond directly to all criticism but we have to be honest: there can come a point where it is hurting the ministry of the church. This is what takes place in Acts 6…

And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.

Most translation read… a complaint…NLT reads…rumbling of discontent. The Apostles believed that he should be dealt with because if was effecting the fellowship of the church. If the fellowship get damaged, all parts will suffer.

Most Baptist churches put a lot of emphasis on fellowship and there is nothing wrong with making it a priority. The reason for this is simple: if you have a fractured fellowship, it will damage every ministry in the church. Wisely, the Apostles dealt with this complaint.

Personally, we I am criticised, I withdraw to a quiet place and spend some time with the LORD. I could not survive without a refuge, a hiding place and a divine counselor. I am like David in the sense that I pour out my heart to God. This includes my fears, frustrations and failure. It is during this process that the LORD works on me. There have been times when He revealed truths to me that changed my life and it would not have happened a part from criticism.

For me personally, criticism is always humiliating. The true is: I need to be more humble and the LORD uses criticism to humble me. Sometimes I feel as helpless as a baby. A lot of the time, I realize that I do not need to respond. I do not need to defend myself. Jesus didn’t defend Himself. Take the humiliation, it will not kill you.

The Romans 8:28 principle works in the area of criticism: sometimes people say hurtful, ugly things that are designed to discourage you. They want you to quit and their motive is not pure. God was not pleased with the murmuring of the Israelites. It was a complaint that did not come from Him but had a Satanic origin. However, God can take a bad situation and bring good out of it if we respond prayerfully.

III. WE RESPOND GRACFULLY

This is where Paul’s response is go glaringly wrong. His hurt is obvious. I don’t know how anyone could read chapters 11-12 and not see the hurt. Paul made a huge sacrifice to get the gospel to Corinth and a sacrifice to stay with them for 18 months. Obviously, this sacrifice was not fully appreciated. It hurts when we are not appreciated.

Paul does several things that are unadvisable…

  1. He commends himself…[2 Cor.10:18] Paul knows not to do it but does it anyway
    • I don’t consider myself inferior
    • I am not lacking in knowledge
    • I was wrong to preach to you without expecting anything in return
    • I robbed other churches to serve you
    • I was in need when I was with you and you didn’t help
    • I was never a financial burden to you
  2. Paul brags…[after stating that we are not to compare ourselves to others [2 Cor. 10:12, 11:16-17]
    • Paul boasted about his independence [2 Cor. 11:9-10]. I never became a burden to you and never will. I will boast about it all over Greece.
    • Paul boast about his credentials [2 Cor.11:21-22]
    • Paul boast about his suffering and sacrifice [2 Cor. 11:22-27]
    • Paul boast about his experience [2 Cor. 12:1-7]

Paul knew that boasting is fruitless, futile and vain [2 Cor. 12:1] but he does it anyway. I thank God that the bible is an honest book. Paul was not perfect, but he was perfectly human.

Conclusion

I have two question for you to ponder…

  1. What does football and Christianity have in common? [most prefer to be spectators] The most criticised are those on the field: the officials, the coaches, the players. We prefer to hide in the crowd and remain anonymous but even those who hide will be accused of being cowards. No one is above criticism.  NO ONE!
  2. Since criticism is so hurtful, how can we respond gracefully? Corrie ten Boom had the right idea. Corrie was in one of the Nazi death camps during WWII. Her sister died while incarserated and Corrie was mistreated horribly by the German guards. After the war, she was speaking in a church and made eye contact with a former guard. Instantly, anger rose up in her heart. When he started toward her after the service, she grimished, she did not want to shake his hand or hear what he had to say but the LORD prompted her to stick out her hand and she listened as he ask for forgiveness. She didn’t want to forgive him but the LORD urged her to do so. She did it by imagining that her pain and abuse was a rose and once she converted it into a rose, she was able to lay it at the LORD’s feet as an offering. Once she gave her suffering to the LORD, forgiveness was easy.

We are called to suffer. To think that we can skate through our eartly sojourn without any bumps and bruises is unrealistic. All who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

gods-love-corrie-ten-boom

Advertisements

Under Fire

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 1:12-19

12 We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you. 13 Our letters have been straightforward, and there is nothing written between the lines and nothing you can’t understand. I hope someday you will fully understand us, 14 even if you don’t understand us now. Then on the day when the Lord Jesus returns, you will be proud of us in the same way we are proud of you.

15 Since I was so sure of your understanding and trust, I wanted to give you a double blessing by visiting you twice—16 first on my way to Macedonia and again when I returned from Macedonia. Then you could send me on my way to Judea.

17 You may be asking why I changed my plan. Do you think I make my plans carelessly? Do you think I am like people of the world who say “Yes” when they really mean “No”? 18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you does not waver between “Yes” and “No.” 19 For Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not waver between “Yes” and “No.” He is the one whom Silas, Timothy, and I preached to you, and as God’s ultimate “Yes,” he always does what he says.

INTRODUCTION

There was someone in the church, a male, [2 Cor. 2:5] who was highly critical of Paul. He was a trouble maker and his actions were dividing the church. Most of 2 Corinthians is a defense by Paul concerning the criticism coming from this man and his followers. Paul is offended, hurt and feeling misunderstood.

TRANSITION

Basically, the accusations are three-fold

I. PAUL IS BEING ACCUSED OF BEING INSINCERE IN HIS MOTIVES

[2 Cor. 1:12-13] We can say with confidence [pride, boasting] and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness [singleness, simplicity, sincerity,the virtue of one who is free from pretense and hypocrisy] and sincerity in all our dealings. 

Paul says, “I take pride in my sincerity, I have not been duplicitous, I have been sincere [NRSV, frank].” As much as we hate it, we cannot stop people from questioning our motives. I learned this the hard way some 40 years ago. After a difficult and painful deacons meeting, I tried to get some consolation from one of the deacons that I assumed was a sympathizer. I made a mistake, one that I vowed not to make again. I said to him, “Well they accused me of a lot of things but the one thing they cannot accuse me of is not loving people.” He said without a moments hesitation, “Oh, that is exactly what they are accusing you of.” I was stunned. I didn’t know how to respond. At first I thought he was wrong but after giving it a lot of thought, I wasn’t sure. His statement shattered my confidence. BUT, painful as it was, I learned a great lesson: you cannot control what people think and say about you.

II. PAUL IS BEING ACCUSED OF BEING AMBIGUOUS IN HIS SPEECH

We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you. Our letters have been straightforward, and there is nothing written between the lines and nothing you can’t understand.

Secondly, Paul said, “We depend on God’s grace, not human wisdom.” Not only was Paul sincere, he had been clear and simple. There was nothing written between the lines, no subliminal messages. Everything is simple and direct and should be easy to understand. Paul’s goal was not to mystify but to motivate. Paul was a PhD., an intellect, a theologian unparalleled but his goal was not to be high-minded or overly intellectual. He wanted the message to be simple and clear.

Years ago, I had a pastor friend who did not complete his college or seminary degrees. To compensate, he would use the dictionary to form his sermon titles and outlines. He called on Saturday night to tell me what he was preaching the next morning. One Saturday night I got a call from Rob, he said, “I am preaching on the vicissitudes of life.” I said, “What on earth are vicissitudes? He said, “I don’t know but they don’t either.” My curiosity was killing me so I looked it up, Rob could have entitled his message THE UPS AND DOWNS IN LIFE. Our goal is not to impress but to communicate truth. For every big word, there are three little ones that mean the same thing.

My kids and grand kids pick at me about my pronunciation of words and I admit it is pretty bad. I have a 12 year old that corrects me. I speak a southern slang. I tell folks that I am bilingual, I speak Red Neck and a bit of English. When my kids are upbraiding me at the dinner table about my diction, I always respond the same way: “Did you understand what I meant?” Their response is “Yes, but…” and I say, there are not buts, you either understood or you didn’t. I try to be clear in delivering His message. This is a goal for me but it was also a goal for Paul and they still criticized him.

Paul’s prayer:  I hope someday you will fully understand us, even if you don’t understand us now. Paul was a great teacher. I study his writings and letter all the time and every time I study them, I understand something that I didn’t before. His teaching is simple, yet profound. I cannot understand why the Corinthians did not appreciate him.

III. PAUL IS BEING ACCUSED OF BEING FICKLE IN HIS PLANS

[2 Cor. 1:15-18] Since I was so sure of your understanding and trust, I wanted to give you a double blessing by visiting you twicefirst on my way to Macedonia and again when I returned from Macedonia. Then you could send me on my way to Judea. You may be asking why I changed my plan. Do you think I make my plans carelessly? Do you think I am like people of the world who say “Yes” when they really mean “No”? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you does not waver between “Yes” and “No.” 

According to Warren W. Wiersbe and Randolph Tasker, Paul changed his mind [plans] twice. He first promised is found in 1 Corinthians 16:5-9…

 PLAN A–I am coming to visit you after I have been to Macedonia,  for I am planning to travel through Macedonia. Perhaps I will stay awhile with you, possibly all winter, and then you can send me on my way to my next destination. This time I don’t want to make just a short visit and then go right on. I want to come and stay awhile, if the Lord will let me. In the meantime, I will be staying here at Ephesus until the Festival of Pentecost. There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.

PLAN BI wanted to give you a double blessing [joy, benefit] by visiting you twicefirst on my way to Macedonia and again when I returned from Macedonia. Then you could send me on my way to Judea. [2 Corinthians 1:15]

Paul made three visits to Corinth:

  1. The initial visit [A.D. 50]–Acts 18:1-18
  2. The second visit [A.D. 55] –I Corinthians 4:19, 16:5-8
  3. The Third Visit [A.D. 57]–II Corinthians 12:14, 13:1

According to most scholars, Paul wrote before the A.D. 55 visit. There are a lot of details that are fuzzy and I don’t think anyone other than the LORD knows exactly when or how many visits Paul made: the POINT of the scripture is clear. The Corinthians were accusing Paul of being fickle, because he changed his travel plans once and perhaps twice. I would learn toward the latter.

Paul responds with questions…

  1. Do you think I make my plans carelessly? NLT. The NRSV reads… Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Going back and forth, unable to make a definite decision.
  2. Do you think I am like people of the world who say “Yes” when they really mean “No”? Accusing Paul of being indefinite, unclear, wishy-washy, etc. My wife tries to micro manage my affairs especially related to cell phones. I would get my own phone but she insist that she do it. When my contract ran out I was debating whether to stay with Apple [who I want to boycott] or switch to Samsung. I was taking my time, talking to different individuals and I was getting conflicting reports. I told her to wait until I decided but she didn’t, she took it upon herself to order the Samsung. When I scolded her for jumping ahead of me, she accused me of being wishy-washy. This did not go over well. I have been called a lot of things but up until that point, not one has ever called me wishy-washy. I may make the wrong decision, but I make decisions. In this case, there was no rush. Paul did not take kindly to being labeled wishy-washy and I don’t blame him.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion: Paul said, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not waver between “Yes” and “No.” He is the ONE I preached to you, and as God’s ultimate “Yes,” he always does what he says.

The bottom line is that we humans, despite our effort and good intentions, cannot always keep our promises. Paul had some unexpected things to come up and he was providentially hindered. He was not breaking a promise intentionally, but he lacked the power to follow through with his original plans.

THE FIRST RULE OF MISSION WORK is be flexible or you will get bent out of shape. It is fine to plan a mission trip to the second or third world but you need to understand the fact that they do not use clocks the way we do. In Mission work, you have to go to Plan B and Plan C at times.

Should we think things through before we make promises? Yes, I think so but sometimes we get caught up in the moment and make a promise we can’t keep [Peter]. This is the bad news, humans are not 100% reliable but JESUS is the ultimate PROMISE KEEPER. Paul said, “Jesus Christ, the One I preached to you is God’s ULTIMATE YES. He always keeps His promises.

[All sermons are unedited]