Implications of the Word, Pt. 3
How to Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones from ‘The Critical Spirit’
Study Guide July 23, 2017
Pastor Clay Olsen
A couple guys went out duck hunting one day. One of them wanted to show his friend how amazing his new hunting dog was. His friend was a bit crotchety about most things, but he thought he’d like this new dog. Soon they shot down a duck in a pond, and the new dog went out to retrieve the duck and ran on top of the water both ways. So the guy said to his friend, “So, What do think of my new dog?” And the guy shook his head and said, “He can’t swim, can he?!”
Some people tend to carry a continual attitude of thinking about, talking about, and looking for what’s wrong with nearly every situation in life. They are prone to complaining, fault finding, and dwelling on the problems of life. They even have a knack for deflating the joy out of most happy situations and happy times. They tend to carry their unmet and usually unreasonable expectations around on their sleeves and then remind others about them as often as they can. In essence, they simply just exude a critical and grumbling spirit about them.
And in saying this, we might think we are describing unbelievers who have never tasted of the grace and mercies of God, and have never known of the great promises given by a loving God, to whom we each owe our eternal gratitude. But actually, this critical and grumbling spirit can even be found among God’s own people, which makes it even more offensive. Just look at one passage where God talks about the ‘grumblers’ among His own people. And notice how many times this grumbling spirit is repeated. Ex 16:6-9- “So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because He has heard your grumbling against Him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when He gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because He has heard your grumbling against Him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.” Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for He has heard your grumbling.'” NIV
I think it’s safe to say that a grumbling spirit is quite irritating even to a benevolent God. There used to be an old tongue-in-cheek saying, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”, even though there isn’t one. But even more, “It’s not wise to grumble against your Heavenly Father.” (Not wise at all…it’s even dangerous!) In fact, Moses recorded an example of just how badly a critical and grumbling spirit does annoy God…or maybe we should use the words ‘greatly displease’. Look at this: Num 14:26-31- The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “How long will this wicked community grumble against Me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very things I heard you say: In this desert your bodies will fall — every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against Me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.” NIV
It’s pretty clear that God was very disturbed by the grumbling of these people. And remember, we are talking about a lot of saved people; people that were cleansed from their sins. They were People of the Book, whose penalty for their sins was atoned for under the shed blood of the Passover lambs. Yes, there were also others in the group as a whole, who were unsaved. But God simply labels this presence of the sin of ‘grumbling’ among any of them as ‘wickedness’. And ‘wickedness’ is simply any ‘moral or spiritually objectionable behavior’.
That sheds quite a striking light on what this practice of fault-finding and complaining and basically carrying about a critical spirit really is, huh? It’s ‘wickedness’! What if we were to start thinking about having a critical, judgmental, fault-finding, grumbling spirit about us as actually being ‘wickedness in the eyes of God’? As Moses showed us: It is! And as Moses also showed us, for those who do grumble and gripe and complain and are destructively critical about people and things in this life, it directly leads to the forfeiture of things that would have been their experience in this life and in the promised land ahead. Remember, you reap what you sow, often in this life, but surely in the promised land ahead.
Listen to what the Apostle Paul had to say about that. Rom 14:10-13- “So why do you judge your brother or sister in Christ? Or why do you think that you are better than they are? We will all stand before God, and He will judge us all. Yes, the Scriptures say, “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘Everyone will bow before Me; everyone will say that I am God.'” So each of us will have to explain to God about the things we do. So we should stop judging each other. Let’s decide not to do anything that will cause a problem for a brother or sister or hurt their faith.” ERV
Now there’s a motto to live by, right? “Let’s decide not to do anything that will cause a problem for a brother or sister or hurt their faith.” Now, back to the ‘judging’ warning: What kind of ‘judging’ was Paul talking about here? He was not talking about this kind of judging: John 7:24- “Be honest in your judgment and do not decide at a glance (superficially and by appearances); but judge fairly and righteously.” AMP You see, here Jesus instructs that we are to judge things in life. Jesus has called us to judge things that people believe, say, and do, but not by how things appear to us, or by our own standards. We are to judge all of life and all the things of life fairly and righteously, meaning: not according to our own human standards, or our own opinions, but according to the standards and instructions of the Word of God. And that means that we are not to judge this way: Matt 7:1-2- “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” NLT
So Jesus tells us not to judge others according to our own opinions or expectations or personal likes and dislikes and so on. In fact, His warning about it leads to a question, as though God is saying to us, “Do you want Me to judge you the same way you judge others?” Strange how we tend to want mercy for ourselves, but judgment for others.
Here’s another question: Why should we think about ‘The Critical Spirit’ as something we should protect ourselves from? Well it’s because each of us has the potential for developing a destructive critical spirit. But thank the Lord, We also have the potential for developing a constructive co-operative spirit.
Now a constructive co-operative spirit can and is suppose to give constructive criticism when needed. That’s simply show we sharpen one another. But a critical spirit is one that dishes out destructive criticism. A critical spirit is habitually critical, and therefore habitually destructive. A destructive critical spirit taints the way they see and look at the world around them. It even projects bad intentions into situations and into other people, even when others had no bad intentions about the situation or issue at all. Destructive critical people have the opposite effect of edifying others around them, or building up their spirit and faith. Destructive critical spirits have more of a ‘tearing down’ effect on others, a discouraging harmful effect.
On the other hand, constructive spirits build others up, even if they may have to admonish or rebuke or confront another person about a wrong or about a sin as defined by the Bible. That is still being ‘constructive’. And the difference between what is constructive and what is destructive is called ‘discernment’. The ironic thing is though, that most people that are destructive critical people tend to think they just have a lot of discernment! No, they don’t have a lot of discernment…they have a lot of ‘deception’! And that is one of the real problems and challenges when it comes to trying to change a critical spirit, because by the time they have developed that habit, it is so ingrained in them that they have also become very insensitive to any admonition about having a critical spirit. A habitual critical spirit is one of the hardest things to change. And that is why it is so important to protect yourself as early and as often as you can from the dangers of developing a ‘critical, grumbling, fault-finding, judgmental spirit’. And in protecting yourself from it you are then also protecting your loved ones and others around you from having to be exposed to the destructiveness of it.
Let’s take one example of this. And this is one of the most important principles in parenting children. Eph 6:4- “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” NIV Now, this caution applies to Mothers as well, but Fathers tend to fall into this ‘exasperating’ of their children more often. First, what does it mean to exasperate? To exasperate is to extremely frustrate, aggravate, infuriate, and discourage. Parents who tend to carry a critical spirit also often tend to exasperate their children. How so? By giving them harsh commands or by needless anger, or by unreasonable expectations that leave children thinking that it’s never enough to please them. Therefore, at some point in their life they stop trying, or they refuse altogether.
When children are exposed to a critical and destructive spirit in their parent or parents, they lose trust in in their parents, as well as confidence in their parents, and often even in themselves. When parents attitudes are severe it sours the temper of a child to where every instruction becomes a further irritation in the midst of whatever crumbling relationship they have left. Parents exasperate their children by lording their position over them in such a way that even when the parent is right about an issue, their harsh and angry spirit speaks louder than the issue of what is right and wrong. Therefore, all the child hears is that the parent is stronger and in authority for the time being and that they don’t really have much choice for the moment. So the child will simply shut down further, until they do have more choices. The presence of a harsh spirit in a parent deepens the sense of being wronged in the child and they become exasperated by it.
Strangely enough, ‘Critical Spirit’ parents are rarely convicted by the Apostle Paul’s instructions here. And again, that’s because by the time one has developed a critical spirit he or she has also developed a callousness on their spirit which desensitizes them to such admonition. Meaning, that if this admonition does convict you it’s because you are sensitive to these matters; meaning that you are basically a parent that does have a constructive co-operative spirit about you, and therefore you are sensitive and careful about your own past or present parenting; meaning that you are not the one the Apostle is admonishing here because you have not exasperated your children. Rather, you should be commended for trying to bring them up under under the training and instruction of the Lord.
Now, if the children have still chosen a contrary way, a prodigal way, just remember; wonderful faithful parents can still have a prodigal child or children. Recall that the Prodigal son’s father was a faithful godly man, but the son chose a contrary path, an unfaithful path for himself. That wasn’t the Father’s fault there. Also remember that even God has some prodigal children. The point is that God and other people can recognize by your words, your temperament, and by your spirit when you have a constructive co-operative spirit. So this warning is not for constructive spirit parents…it’s against destructive and critical spirits.
Now, no doubt you are aware that even among God’s children there is a bit of a tug-a-war going on between these two spirits; the destructive critical spirit and the constructive co-operative spirit. Gal 5:17- “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” NASU But we are to not only be aware of this conflict in our natures, but we are to be aggressively rooting out the destructive spirit within us and exercising the constructive spirit within us. We’re like a field or a garden; we have to regularly uproot the weeds of the flesh from growing out of our old natures; the weeds of grumbling, complaining, fault-finding, judgmentalism, self-pride, spite, harsh words and actions, and so on. And remember something about weeds: they grow most when you ignore them. So we can’t ignore these weeds and assume that we are above having them grow in us. Rather, we have to regularly come before the Lord like the Psalmist and say: “Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Ps 139:23-24 AMP And then we have to realize that often God uses His ‘body’ on Earth, His Church, our Brothers and Sisters in the faith, to answer our prayer. That was the wisest man on Earth’s counsel to us from Prov 15:31-33- “To be counted among the wise, you must learn to accept helpful criticism. If you refuse to be corrected, you are only hurting yourself. Listen to criticism, and you will gain understanding. Wisdom teaches you to respect the Lord. You must be humbled before you can be honored.” ERV
Wise Christians are open to helpful criticism and wise Christians are careful to only give helpful criticism, not destructive criticism. And may God help us all to know the difference.
Eph 4:29-32- “Don’t say anything that would hurt another person. Instead, speak only what is good so that you can give help wherever it is needed. That way, what you say will help those who hear you. Don’t give God’s Holy Spirit any reason to be upset with you. He has put His seal on you for the day you will be set free from the world of sin. Get rid of your bitterness, hot tempers, anger, loud quarreling, cursing, and hatred. Be kind to each other, sympathetic, forgiving each other as God has forgiven you through Christ.” (God’s Word Version)