What Should You Do When You Are Criticized Unfairly?

Once I heard a man criticize Dr. Bill Bright (essentially for being so successful) as he introduced him to speak. I watched very closely to see how Dr. Bright would respond.

The most amazing thing happened. Dr. Bright said, "Thank you, (name). My only regret is that you were not part of the team. We would've done so much more with your remarkable talents." And he really seemed to mean it. And he left it at that. It left an indelible mark on me.

Honestly, like what happened to Dr. Bright that day, most of the criticisms I've received felt like book reviews by someone who didn't read the book.

Ironically, as in the case of Dr. Bright, some of the harshest criticisms come from people trying to accomplish the same thing. Lawyers who compare themselves to those "other" lawyers. Presidential candidates criticizing each other. Ministry leaders putting down other "flavors."

Here is a good litmus test: How would Paul speak about Peter? What would Peter say about Paul?

Actually, We don't have to guess. We have their writings. We know from Galatians 2 that they worked together as colleagues, Peter to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles. Even when Paul called out Peter in Galatians 2, he didn't make it personal.

So how should you respond when somebody unfairly critiques your service to God?

I would suggest, why respond at all? Words can be very expensive when you feel mistreated. As it says in Ecclesiastes, "A fool multiplies words."

Instead, turn the other cheek. As it also says in Ecclesiastes, "Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you – for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others" (7:21).

Remember the three servants in the parable of the talents? They were given different amounts to invest. They were all trying to please the master. The issue was not how much they made, but whether or not they were faithful in the process.

And that's the issue we should be focused on – our own faithfulness. As in the parable, it's probably not a good idea to compare our performance with the other servants. We are not trying to hear, "Well done good servant. You outperformed your peers."

So what should you do when you are unjustly criticized? Proverbs 26:2 says, "Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse will not come to rest." You know this is true because you have heard someone criticized and you immediately knew it was true. But then someone else was criticized and you knew immediately it was not true. That's the work of the Holy Spirit delivering on the promise of Proverbs 26:2.

So just let the unjust criticism stand. You do not need to defend yourself. Just be faithful.

There's one more thing. Let's not fall into the trap of comparing our ministry effort to the ministry effort of others. That's like comparing two shades of blue. If you want to compare – and I'm not saying you should – compare yourself to someone who sows evil. But leave those who are getting up every day and doing the best they can alone.

That's how we can respond biblically when we are criticized unfairly. We can take the high road.