“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Eph 4:29)
So our Biblical command is to not allow anything out of our mouth that is not wholesome nor is not helpful. That is a tough standard. It is especially tough when we are in the place of having a responsibility to build someone up and we see something that needs to change or they could improve.
The majority of people struggle with sharing critical thoughts and insights. Few people do this really well, but I think more of us could if we just looked at it a little differently.
Here are some Biblical insights in how to do this Biblically…
- Earn the right to listened to. “that it may benefit those who listen.”
Some people have a problem with wanting to correct or better everyone. You only have this role with those people in which God has placed you in a relationship to do this with. If you do not have the relationship that allows you to speak such critical thoughts, perhaps you should remain silent OR if you believe God desires you to help that person, build the relationship first. This passage was not written to disconnected believers that only passed each other in the church or office hallways. It was written to people whose lives were deeply connected. You need to consider that as a boss too. If the only time your employees hear from you is about what you need and never includes any legitimate and honest concern about them, then know they are not prepared emotionally to be helped by you. If you want to develop people commit to them before you see their issues and decide you need to help correct them.
- Meet their needs not yours. “according to their needs“
Don’t allow your insights to be selfish. Often people will bring “criticism” with a “constructive” twist simply to try to get someone to do what they want or how they want. Fight this urge. Your role is not to make them do what makes your life easier and better. Your role is to help them live the life and live out the role God has for them better.
- The goal is construction not criticism. “what is helpful for building others up.”
It might be semantics but I think it is the key to the whole deal. We need to see our role as critical construction not constructive criticism. Make sure you have the right adjective and action in your life. Many people are not bringing their thoughts for construction but simply for criticism. Our relationship with one another is always to build each other up and never to tear each other down. Consider that the next time you want to make a snide remark about a Bible study lesson or a sermon or a song. Think about that in the context of church. Think about it in the work world. Don’t just complain in your review time, use it for the intended purposes. When you tear down…you sin. Insights are not sinful…selfishness is.
- Learn to limit your thoughts to the crucial.
“only what is helpful”
Often well-intentioned insight meant to be used by God to build someone else up is lost in our decision to share everything we observe in the other person or their actions. Perhaps you have seen someone do something that you thought was out of place and could really use some help seeing it, but instead of sharing that one issue you shared with them everything you think. The one important and Spirit-inspired insight is lost in an avalanche of undeserved criticism. Limit your insights to the real issues.
- Take responsibility for your words. “come out of your mouth”
If you say…own it. Don’t back out of what you meant to say. Overly critical people like to blame hurt feelings and problems on other people’s over-sensitive natures. If you say it, you have to own the consequences – whether you think they should be or not. What you said and how you said it is on you…not on them. This principle goes back to earning the right to be listened to. The more you truly know someone and actually care about them personally, the more you will know about how to share a needed insight. If you do not know them well enough to know how to talk with them, maybe you should stay silent until you do or at least admit that in the conversation and limit with them the role you have in their life. Share with them that you think you need to share something but that you are not really qualified to do so. People can take criticism in that context differently than when they are thinking “who does this person think they are?”
- Speak only what the Spirit gives you. “Do not let any unwholesome talk”
Some unwholesome talk is not acceptable. If you talk negatively about others to others…that is gossip. It is unwholesome. In church life this is usually found in the people that sit around and criticize preachers and worship leaders. People who think because they “care” about the church it is okay to talk with others in negative ways. Often this is also done in review times as bosses because the things we are sharing are things that frustrate us. The problem is we lose the ability to be wholesome because in both of these situations we lose the whole picture. That is necessary in wholesome talk. It is not just about that issue even if you think it is. It is about the person. It is always personal. Don’t lose the big picture. Never lose sight of the person or people. When you do your lack of the whole picture will rob your words of any wholesome intentions.
So my take on criticism is that it is not Biblical. It has no rightful place in the life of believers. But construction does. People who want to build up will. People who want to criticize never will. They will only tear down and tear away.
When you review someone as a boss or an employee or if you just feel led by the Spirit to share a critical insight into someone else’s life or action, remember your role and your purpose. Remember the person not the problem. Focus on yourself first and share only what God said to share. Let him do the rest.