This post on criticism is an excellent application of Romans 12:3: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3 ESV).
How I perceive myself makes all the difference in how I receive and respond to personal criticism.
When a pastor is on the receiving end of criticism and correction, temptations are never far off. In my experience, the higher my estimation of myself, the closer those temptations are. Criticism contradicts my high view of myself—so I am tempted to respond sinfully.
How differently the Apostle Paul responded to criticism!
We read of Paul’s response in 2 Corinthians, a very personal epistle. In chapters 10–13 Paul responds to the criticism leveled against him. He could have defended himself with an account of his incredible personal experiences or with his years of service to the church. Yet he chose to respond to the personal criticism with words like these:
Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. (2 Corinthians 12:6)
This passage deserves a re-read. In case you didn’t get Paul’s point the first time (and I certainly didn’t), perhaps the following comment on the passage by Dr. Don Carson will help you comprehend its full weight:
What is remarkable is the way Paul’s stance differs from our own. Many Christians today, even Christian leaders, go through life fearful that people will think too little of them. They quickly become irritable if someone, especially a junior, is praised more than they. But Paul goes through life fearful that people will think too much of him.*
Paul was fearful that people will think too much of him!? That’s not a fear that I am familiar with. Too often my concern is that people think too little of me—that they don’t share my high estimation of myself.
Yet the question every pastor must eventually answer in his own heart is this: Am I concerned that others have too low an estimation of me, or that they will have too high an estimation of me? How I respond to personal correction often reveals which concern rules my heart.
The first concern can ultimately be traced back to the presence of pride in the heart.
The second concern can only be explained by the active grace of God in the heart.
* D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1996), 80