Some newspapers have a column that gives readers a chance to anonymously comment on local events and people. Sometimes the notes are positive commendations and other times they are negative criticisms. One such column was titled “Bouquets and Brickbats.”
We would all appreciate getting a bouquet of compliments (or you might be glad for a single carnation of encouragement!). However, when a brickbat of criticism comes our way we feel hurt.
I recall being affirmed by our congregation on a “Pastor Appreciation Sunday” initiated by Focus on the Family. On the other hand, pastors are often demoralized by criticism from people in their churches. Some have left the ministry disillusioned by rejection from their flock and/or opposition by wolves.
How do we handle praise and compliments? How do we react to criticism and complaints? Such occasions are important opportunities to gauge our source of spiritual life and identity.
Bouquets of Compliments
First, let’s consider how to handle “bouquets.” Proverbs 27:21 states, “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but a man is tested by the praise he receives” (NIV). How does praise test a person? We are told that, “A man who flatters his neighbor Spreads a net for his feet” (Prov. 29:5). The snare of flattery is the temptation to take credit for what we really owe to God and others. For example, if you are complimented on unchangeable physical features like the color of your eyes or your height, don’t take credit for it–give glory to your Maker! (Psalm 139:14). After all, we are God’s creation and under His providence so we should deflect praise to Him.
An extreme example of the snare of flattery comes from the demise of that fist century tyrant, Herod Agrippa I [grandson of the Herod who killed the innocents in Bethlehem (Matt 2:15-18)]. Agrippa executed the apostle James and arrested the apostle Peter with the same intention (Acts 12:1-3). God’s patience with this unbeliever was exhausted when the king gave gave a speech to the people of Tyre and Sidon. Luke records, “So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. And the people kept shouting, ‘The voice of a god and not of a man!’ Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died. But the word of God grew and multiplied” (Acts 12:21-24).
This snare of pride can also seize Christians. We dare not be like the egotistical church leader Diotrophes who, because of “loving to be preeminent,” opposed the apostle John (3 John 9). Successful ministry leaders need to guard their humility and not believe their “good press.” Bouquets should be received with gratitude–with a heart that gives thanks to God for the privilege of being a branch that can bear fruit by the Vine (John 15:1-5). The banner over the life of the the Lord’s workman is “Soli Deo gloria”–“all glory to God.”
Brickbats of Criticism
Next, how are we to handle criticism? “Brickbats” may be the more common experience of many of you. Let’s divide this test into two kinds of criticism–constructive and destructive.
When we hear constructive feedback, we are challenged to notice the wisdom of Proverbs: “Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you” (Prov. 9:8). The wise person appreciates constructive criticism because they humbly admit that they are in the process of growth and can benefit from positive admonition. Just as drivers need to be aware of “blind spots” over their shoulder when they navigate busy roads, so disciples can welcome constructive insights from others.
My wife spent a week as a chapel speaker for a Christian youth camp. Linda was impressed that at the week’s conclusion the camp director invited constructive criticism from the workers. He realized that each leader had a different vantage point and may have noticed areas of weakness that could be strengthened. Such a leader is secure in his walk with God and is more concerned with the quality of ministry that personal feelings.
A more painful encounter is the brickbat of hostile criticism. Sometimes this negativity takes the form of persecution. The Lord Jesus reminds us, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11,12). We are repeatedly warned of the likelihood of being opposed and afflicted because of our identification with Christ (Phil. 1:29; 1 Pet. 4:12).
When the deacon Stephen was martyred, he was so full of God’s grace (by the power of the Holy Spirit) that with his dying breaths he uttered a petition for forgiveness of his murderers! And the Scriptures give extensive testimony to the apostle Paul’s opposition by unbelievers. Although he was whipped and imprisoned in Philippi and mocked at Athens (Acts 16:22-24 17:18,32), Christ assured him of His presence and support in Corinth: “Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city’ (Acts 18:9,10). We as His people can be assured of His presence and support as well!
What may be most difficult of all is experiencing hostile treatment at the hands of Christians. Unfortunately, we can fall victim to such negative criticism either through misunderstanding, a confusion of roles, or plain old flesh patterns. Military personnel call the tragedy of an accidental attack by one’s own side as “friendly fire.” Satan is waiting in the wings to exploit such spiritual abuse by tempting wounded believers to grow bitter and retaliate (2 Cor. 2:11). If we encounter such rejection, we need to draw upon God’s grace and “overcome evil with good.” May we become part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
We need to value our relationship with God more than the opinions of others. People can be so fickle! Remember how the people of Jerusalem hailed the Lord Jesus with praise on Palm Sunday, yet a mob in the same city cried “crucify Him!” only five days later! And Acts tells of the people of Lystra who wanted to worship Paul and Barnabas after the miraculous healing of a crippled man, yet ended up stoning Paul when his enemies from a neighboring city arrived (Acts 14:14-20). The opinions of others are like shifting sands, so don’t use them to calculate your worth!
The abiding life gives the disciple of Christ an inner equilibrium than can stabilize him/her from the effects of vain flattery as well as the effects of negative criticism. How reassuring that in Christ we are “accepted in the Beloved One” with “no condemnation” and the promise that “all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Eph. 1:6; Rom. 8:1,28).
Paul kept a balanced view of bouquets and brickbats. When criticized by opponents in Corinth (a church God used him to plant), he responded:
“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God” (1 Cor. 4:2-5).
You find inner security by looking to Christ to meet your ultimate needs.
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Rom. 8:31-34).
So when bouquets come your way, lay them at the feet of the Champion of our salvation. And when brickbats come sailing through the air, catch ’em and assemble an altar of praise to our God.
Copyright 2000 by John Woodward. 2nd edition. Permission is granted to copy for non-commercial use. Biblical quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson.
For further reading on healing from mistreatment, see Surviving Friendly Fire: How To Respond When You’re Hurt By Someone You Trust, by Ron Dunn; Healing for Those Who Have Been Crucified by Christians, by Gene Edwards.