Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:4)
Have you ever been around a critical person, one that seems to find fault in almost everything? A person like that can look at a beautiful work of art and notice only that the frame hangs off plumb. They may listen to a beautiful solo sung in church and notice only that the singer was slightly flat on some of her high notes, or perhaps her dress seemed inappropriate for performing before a church audience.
A critical person rarely offers any positive comments. When you encounter a critic, it does not take long before you begin to avoid that person. If forced by familial relationship to be around a critic you soon learn to keep quiet to avoid criticism. If you work with a critic or work for a critic you stop offering ideas or suggestions, and the critic will soon squelch all your creativity. We avoid critics. No one can put up with criticism for very long. Critics are not people we want to be around.
Criticism can be positive if the critic has your interest at heart. That kind of criticism is usually solicited. For example, when I write, I usually submit my writing to my editor, my wife, for review and critique. She usually offers some very helpful suggestions, which I gladly consider. Another example is when a researcher will submit a research paper for peer review to solicit critical input from his peers. “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17). That is not the kind of criticism I refer to here. The kind of criticism to which I refer serves only to bring others down, not to build them up.
Some Christians behave as though criticism is one of the “gifts of the Spirit.” They pride themselves in finding fault and conflate criticism with discernment – the ability to distinguish truth from error. When we examine the two, we find that they are not the same at all. One definition of “discernment” includes “discrimination; acuteness of judgment and understanding.” Criticism, on the other hand, is “the act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything, or the act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding.” While both include “judgment,” discernment requires “understanding;” criticism does not.
The Apostle Paul provides a short list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in his first letter to the church at Corinth. These include administration, diversities of operation (different kinds of work, the ability to get things done), the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, discerning of spirits, the ability to speak in other languages, and the interpretation of other languages.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul adds prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, and mercy. To the Galatians, Paul gives a list of “fruits of the Spirit.” These include love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.
Nowhere in the Bible is criticism seen as a good thing. Criticism may be a fruit of the spirit, but not of the Spirit of God. Looking back to the Garden of Eden, we hear the serpent criticizing God for withholding something good from the first couple. “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5).
If you find yourself being critical, stop. Rather than finding fault, look for the good. Paul encourages the Philippians, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Instead of criticizing someone, look for the good in what they do and encourage/exhort (“build up”) that person. If they suffer due to the consequence of some sin, rather than criticize, show “mercy” and “minister” to that one. You may earn the right to “teach” that one by your example and through your words and by your “gentleness, goodness, and faith.” Criticism helps no one. Criticism is not a “gift of the Spirit,” but rather it is a “tool” of the devil. Don’t be a critic. Be an encourager instead.