Have you ever been on the receiving end of someone telling you that you’re in the wrong? Probably most of us have at some point in our lives! We’ve also, most likely, been in a situation where we needed to rebuke a child, friend, or spouse for something – unrepentant sin, a way they hurt you or someone else, a poor habit that you’ve noticed. Since we are all sinners, we know that our relationships will be tinged with conflict at some point, and we will need to give and/or receive admonitions. Whether or not we do this well can glorify God and help all our relationships.
Proverbs 27:6 says that “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” How do we wound without being cruel? How do we receive correction about wounds we’ve inflicted? Both require grace. As somebody who has both given and received criticism (with limited success and lots of learning), here are some reflections on ways to do both well.
Giving Faithful Wounds to Others
- Pray about it. Prayer is the most vital first step to having a difficult conversation. Asking the Lord to give you the right heart and attitude will change how you deliver the message. It will also help you to be humble, kind, gracious – all things that we may be tempted to ignore as we are “wounding” others with truth that’s hard to hear.
- Read your Bible. What does the Bible have to say about your conversation? The Bible is the most honest book ever written – it tells the truth about God and it doesn’t shy away from the flaws in each human heart. This includes being honest about human relationships and conflict that can arise. In the area of giving faithful wounds, there are many examples – we can look to Nathan speaking to David (2 Samuel 12:1-14), Paul in all of his letters to the churches, Elihu speaking to Job and his friends (Job 32), and Peter speaking to Ananias (Acts 5:1-5). All these examples have different topics and endings, but we can look to them on how God may be calling us to speak.
- Write it down. This is a practical suggestion. How many times have you started speaking and realized that you don’t know precisely how to say what the Holy Spirit is laying on your heart? Even though we aren’t going to read from a piece of paper while we have a conversation with another person, writing down what you want to say will lend more clarity and organization to your thoughts.
Receiving Another’s Criticism
- Pray about it. The same first step to receiving difficult truth is the one required when it’s given. Pray about it. Ask the Lord to help you be humble, gracious, and kind as you process the feedback. Prayer allows the Holy Spirit to soften our hearts. It lets the truth permeate, helps dissipate any hurt, and opens our eyes to see how we can live more like Jesus.
- Listen, don’t speak. We don’t always know when someone will come to us with difficult truth. Regardless if it’s expected or surprising, our first reaction(s) can be to justify, rationalize, lessen, or absolve. It’s certainly not a bad thing to respond, but if a friend is coming to us with a grievance or sin they’ve noticed, we would do well to listen first. Remember James 1:19-20, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
- Don’t be bitter. One of the best pieces of advice my husband and I received during premarital counseling was to believe the best, not assume the worst. It was given in how we relate to each other, but can be applied to our relationships with other believers too! If I assume that someone who comes to me is just trying to make themselves look better, of course I’ll be bitter. However, if I believe the best and see that they may be helping me see an area of sin in my life, how much good can come! The Holy Spirit can help the relationship to become stronger, not weaker.
How we give and receive difficult truths is one of the best testimonies that we belong to Jesus. It’s one of the clearest ways to see how the Holy Spirit is working in our hearts and lives. Doing this well can be a megaphone to the world around us and an encouragement to the Church as a whole. Praise God that he helps us in our weakness and empowers us to give and receive faithful wounds!