• Acts 21: 17-29, 39
No one likes to be criticized. While we may be able to handle “a little constructive criticism” from a relative or trusted friend, negative criticism most often immediately raises our defenses. Our ego is stung and feelings are hurt which often can provoke us to direct our own negative criticism at the critic. Self-protection springs into action as we react to what is perceived as an attack. This is only intensified if we feel the criticism is unfair or untrue.
Whether it concerns our appearance, words, beliefs or actions, no one likes to be criticized. Yet, since we all will face criticism at various times in life, what we need to learn is that God desires for us to learn how to positively respond rather than negatively react when others criticize us.
Paul was someone who faced criticism almost on a daily basis. His letters are full of his written responses to criticism. The book of Acts records an account of when Paul was arrested in Jerusalem based on the accusations and criticism of others. As we study this story, we can learn how we might respond to criticism in positive ways that please God.
Some criticism is unfair (Acts 21:17-21)
As Paul took the gospel to the Gentiles, questions arose concerning the relationship between the Gentile believers and the Jewish Torah. Since this new religious message had grown out of Judaism, many felt any new believer should adhere to Jewish law.
Paul, however, did not think so and taught new Gentile converts they did not need to follow the Torah. Those who opposed Paul distorted his teachings and claimed he was telling Jewish believers the Torah no longer was valid.
This was simply not true. Paul himself continued to observe the Jewish law and religious feasts. He specifically had timed his journey so he could be back in Jerusalem for Passover.
Often, believers today are criticized as being narrow-minded or anti-everything. Most often these criticisms come from those who do not understand Christianity or who intentionally oppose it. They may be using these critical remarks as excuses for not believing. Believers need to be aware of this and find positive ways to respond.
Take positive action (Acts 21:22-26)
In light of the specific accusations against Paul, the leaders of the church in Jerusalem encouraged him to openly demonstrate his belief in the validity of the Torah by performing purification rites. They also encouraged him to assist other Jewish believers in performing the rites to show he recognized the authority of the Torah for all Jewish believers.
Since this did not violate the gospel and was in line with Paul’s religious practice, he gladly did so. Rather than reacting in anger and engaging his opponents in an argument or debate, Paul simply acted in a way that clearly showed their criticism was unfounded.
Many in the church today could take a lesson here from Paul. So often when criticized, people verbally react in such a way that does little good and usually damages their witness. Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who criticize us. This never is demonstrated through arguing, but can be practiced by living in such a way that shows the error in their critiques and may attract them to belief.
Some criticism is untrue (Acts 21:27-29)
Paul’s opponents simply would not be deterred from their attacks against him. Even as he was in the midst of observing the requirements of the Torah, they were looking for opportunities to hinder his witness and damage his reputation. Having seen Paul talking to a Gentile friend in the city, they assumed he had taken that friend into the courts of the Temple. No one had seen them in the Temple area, but merely made the assumption.
There are few things that can do more damage than accusations based on assumptions. Many lives and relationships have been damaged deeply by such careless words. Here again the temptation is to react in anger and become defensive. Often, this simply adds fuel to the accusations. As believers, we never should become involved in making or spreading such assumptions about others. And when we find ourselves the victims of untrue criticism, we need to be careful that our response is positive and does not damage our witness.
Make positive statements (Acts 21:39)
When the city leaders heard the uproar over Paul, they sent soldiers to break up the impending riot and arrest Paul. As they tried to arrest him, the people continued shouting their accusations. Verse 34 states no one could seem to agree as the people were shouting different things about Paul. As they brought him into the barracks, the tribune repeated one of the many accusations against him.
Paul calmly corrected him by politely stating the truth about himself. He did not criticize the tribune or the people who had made the accusation. In fact, he asked for the opportunity to speak with the same people who had tried to kill him.
When faced with criticism, especially when it is untrue, it can be easy to allow anger to take over. When that happens, we find we often become guilty of being overly critical of others. Paul teaches us to always control our temper and only speak the truth and those things which would build someone up, even if they want to tear us down.