“You who are slaves must accept the authority of your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel. For God is pleased with you when you do what you know is right and patiently endure unfair treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right” (1 Peter 2:18-24, NLT).
I spent some time today meditating and reflecting on Peter’s words concerning Christ’s response to criticism and insults. Set in its proper context, Peter is addressing those who were slaves. It might be helpful to know that during the first century in the Roman Empire, approximately one half of the world was enslaved to the other half. Peter was not writing to an obscure group, rather he addressed a common and significant problem in culture. In his attempt to bring some measure of comfort to those who were suffering at the hands of their cruel task masters, Peter pointed the readers to Christ and his example. As I reflected on this passage, I penciled out four simple words of advice that we can use when we face criticism or insults.
1. Begin with a Self Check
Peter’s premise is built upon the innocence of Christ. I won’t spend anytime here arguing human depravity or the sinlessness of Christ. But I do think that our first response to criticism is to pause and look inward for the shred of truth that may lie within. We’re not innocent in the sense that Jesus was innocent. However, sometimes we receive criticism that is inaccurate, unfair, and undeserved. We can use some simple diagnostic questions to evaluate the criticism or the insult, such as…
…Is the criticism accurate?
…Is the criticism fair?
…Is there a possibility of misunderstanding or miscommunication?
…Can I see the issue from the critic’s point of view?
To live authentically and effectively in today’s society requires a high degree of honest self evaluation.
That being said, I think this is a good place to evaluate the criticism or insult as to whether it is “truth” or mere “opinion.” We live in a day that does not know how to deliver the news without commentary and editorial opinion. Our addiction to cable news has changed our value system to the degree that we no longer can easily distinguish truth from opinion. Unfortunately, many people place equal value on opinions as they give truth. All of the editorial license, I believe, has escalated criticism and insults in our homes, schools, places of employment, and even our churches. When criticism comes, we have to own our own stuff. But be sure to winnow out the opinions and get to the truth. There is a difference!
2. Resist the Temptation to Retaliate
Even though Jesus was completely innocent, Peter pointed out that He did not retaliate or seek revenge. Jesus withstood the criticism and insults (and far worse, for that matter) without taking matters into His own hands. It’s hard enough for us to restrain ourselves when the criticism we receive is accurate. There’s something about our fallen state that desires to save face and have the last word. But it’s even harder to restrain ourselves when the criticism is inaccurate or unjust! The example Jesus set for us was to not retaliate or seek revenge when we suffer unjustly at the lips of others.
3. Trust God, Who is the Righteous Judge
I believe Jesus was a man of unparalleled self control. It would be easy to excuse our behaviors of retaliation and revenge by citing our lack of self control. But I don’t think self control or will power is the issue. Jesus was able to restrain himself in the face of criticism because his deep trust in God’s justice. Peter wrote that Jesus was able to leave all of it in the hands of God as an act of faith that God would settle all accounts at the end of the day. He did not retaliate because he did not need to. So the question is this: do you want to settle the score? Or would you prefer God settle it?
4. Be Redemptive in your Behavior
Jesus left the matter in the hands of God, the righteous Judge, and continued to behave in a redemptive fashion. He did not give his critics power over his life or his purpose. Undeterred, Jesus moved on, expressing grace and mercy, regardless of how others responded. Because Jesus chose to live in a redemptive manner, he empowers us to be redemptive in the face of those who insult and criticize unfairly or inaccurately.