Changing My Critical Attitude Toward Others
Numbers 12: 1-9
Wayne Rice tells the story about a scene that played out on a construction site. Every day when the lunch whistle blew, all the workers sat down together to eat. And every day Sam would open his lunch pail and start to complain. He’d cry, "Not peanut butter and jelly sandwiches again. I hate peanut butter and jelly!"
This went on day after day until one of the guys said, "Sam, if you hate peanut butter and jelly, so much why not tell your wife to make you something different?" “What do you mean, my wife?” Sam replied. “I’m not married. I make my own sandwiches.”
Have you ever known someone that liked to complain and criticize? I’m not talking about every now and then grumbling, I’m talking about someone who seems to have the spiritual gift of griping? It seems that some people are only happy when they are making other people miserable.
Our text this morning comes from the Old Testament in the book of Numbers. The main theme of Numbers is the importance of keeping God’s commands. In chapters 1 through 10, the leaders obey God’s command to number the Israelites and set them apart for His service. By chapter 10 we see that it has taken a little over two years, but the Children of Israel are closing in on the Promised Land. Instead of being excited that they are about to realize the promises of God, they begin to complain and criticize. For the next 11 chapters we read of one complaint, one criticism after another.
In our time together this morning I want us to look at one of the scenes from the wilderness. If you have your Bible please hold it up and then open it up to Numbers 12:1-9. (Read Text)
Before we start unpacking this text we need to understand that there are two kinds of criticism. The first one is good. The second one is bad. The first one brings life while the second one brings death.
A good friend of mine used to say the only difference between constructive and destructive criticism is whether you are talking or listening. While I understand the sentiment of what he was saying I believe that there is a better way of figuring out if our criticism is constructive. We read in Proverbs 27:5-6 Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.
On Tuesday of last week Charles Siburt passed away. While I am not sure of your knowledge or relationship of Dr. Siburt, I found it interesting that this passage from Proverbs was used quite often as people were talking about how he impacted their lives. In my life I had 3 conversations with him and there wasn’t a single time that I walked away feeling great about myself. But what I have come to realize is Charlie was one of the few folks we get to meet in this life that love the church and her members enough to tell the truth. That’s why so many churches, us included, brought Charlie in to help them. When all else fails, try asking someone who will tell you the truth.
Now notice that Solomon didn’t say that an open criticism was more fun than hidden love, He said it was better. We all need someone in our life that loves us enough to tell us the truth. And it helps when this person is a friend, someone who is more concerned about your soul and less concerned about your ego. Someone who is willing to say tough things to help you to be all you can be for Christ.
The other type of criticism is destructive and that’s what we see in our text this morning. Destructive criticism is not very useful because it is general and negative. While it may let you know that you made a mistake, there is no suggestion made on how to do it better.
In our text we see that Miriam is speaking out of anger, frustration, and plain old envy. There is no implication that she is worried about anyone else, she was just worried about what was best for her. Now having a critical attitude shows itself in several different ways.
Look back at verse 1 where we read Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses. The first thing I notice about having a critical attitude is that My critical spirit will show itself against those with whom I am the closest.
Miriam and Aaron are not just two people traveling to the Promised Land with Moses. They are not just some faces in the crowd, or a couple that gets 15 minutes of fame in the pages of scripture. They are his sister and brother, his blood, his own family. I believe that first step to figuring out if I have a critical spirit is taking a good hard look at how I talk about those who are closest to you.
It’s very rare that a group of women go out together and begin to criticize another woman’s husband. It’s very rare that a group of men will sit down for coffee and begin to give all of the reasons that someone else’s children aren’t being good parents.
What I have noticed in my own life is that if I am going to be critical of a wife, I’m not going to be critical of Leslie Reed; I am going to be critical of Trista. I am not going to be critical of the people where you work; I am going to be critical of the people where I work. If I am going to be critical of a church, I am not going to be critical of Nederland Avenue or Westgate; I am going to critical of Park Central.
We get so comfortable and familiar with the folks that we are the closest with we have an opportunity to see all of their flaws. And we begin to notice them and it drives us a bit crazy.
Think about it this way; if you were to invite me to your house there would be things in that house that you would notice that I never would. It’s not because I’m clueless, it’s because I don’t see it every day. I don’t see the kitchen cabinet that won’t stay closed, or the squeak in the hardwood floor, or the scratch on the coffee table. But you live there you notice it and to you the sin is glaring.
So the first thing we need to do is be careful of how we speak about those who are the closest to us.
Next we need to be careful because our critical spirit will spread to others.
It is not an accident that in verse 1 we read Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses. In the way that it was originally written in Hebrew we see that Miriam was the first one to be critical of Moses. Her critical spirit rubbed off on her brother Aaron and then spread like a plague to the whole nation within 40 days. By the time we get to Numbers 14 we read that thousands of people are making critical comments about Moses and his leadership.
It was especially dangerous because of Miriam’s position among the people. Miriam was a godly lady who up to this point she had lived a life of faithfulness. She was the one followed baby Moses down the Nile River to make sure he was Ok. She was the one who arranged for Moses to be cared for by his own mother. We believe that she wrote the song of worship in Exodus 15 when they celebrated crossing the Red Sea. And in the camp she was known as a prophetess.
We need to always be aware of our position, and how that position will affect those around us. Will people follow us to be more Christlike or more critical? Miriam was critical and she lead a whole group of people to also become critical of Moses, the mission, and even God. One persons critical spirit lead other people to be critical.
Think about this way. At your job if one person get’s critical about the boss and begins to pick them and their decisions apart; it’s not long until everyone thinks that the boss is a jerk. Or when parents are critical, you see that same attitude reflected in their kids. And even in the church, when one person has a critical attitude about the shepherds, preacher, or song leader and before long the spirit of criticism overtakes the whole church.
It is so much easier for us to step down and be like the crowd than for us to step up and do what’s right. That’s why we must always be careful of the people we hang around with because they will impact how we live.
Proverbs 13:20 says Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says Do not be misled: 'Bad company corrupts good character.' And back in the Great State we say “If you run with the goats you smell like them.” And here in Texas I have been told, “If you lay down with the dogs you get up with the fleas”.
The biggest problem we have is that often my criticism is just as attempt to cover up to my real problem.
Numbers 12:1 says that “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.” The criticism was that Miriam and Aaron didn’t like that woman Moses married. You see we are Jews, our father was Abraham, and we were in Egypt because of our Father Joseph was sold by his brothers and God used Him to save the whole world from a famine. We have a history, we have a purpose, and now we are headed to get the promise that God made to us.
But this woman that our leader Moses has married is a Cushite. You know she’s not one of us. She is not a daughter of Abraham, she doesn’t have our history, our purpose, and she doesn’t deserve the promise that God made to us.
And while that sounds like she has a legitimate criticism, verse 2 reveals the real problem that Miriam had with Moses. She asked, "Is it only through Moses that GOD speaks? Doesn't he also speak through us?"
Miriam was being critical of Moses and his choice of wife, when the truth is that her real problem was that Moses was getting all the attention from the people and God. She was left with her own pity party thinking to herself what about me? I’m important, I’m just as important as Moses. You see while Miriam had a problem, it wasn’t with Moses it was with God.
Very often that is the case with us as well. Our criticism is the way that we act out. What we criticize is not the problem, it’s how we try to hide the problem. And we may try to dress up, bury, hide, or ignore the real conditions of our hearts, but our speech and actions will always betray us.
As we close this morning I want us to see what you and I were created for. In 1 Thessalonians 5:11 Paul writes “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
Instead of having a critical attitude, those who have been washed in the blood of Christ are called to be encouragers. But it doesn’t take a genius to know that being an encourager and building one another up is not something that just happens naturally. TIme and TIme again Paul had to instruct them to do it, but as we will see it is worth the investment of time and effort.
First, Encouragement is important because it helps us keep the faith.
We need encouragement to continue standing firm for Christ in the middle of a world that rejects Him; to keep believing in something that many people consider a myth. This world regards Christians as fools, guiding our lives by a bunch of fairy tales and chasing after our imaginary friend. But this does not take God by surprise.
In John 15 we read "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
Our world is pretty hostile to faith and far too often we are tempted to just give in and give up. We get tired of having our beliefs ridiculed by the world, the last thing we need is for our fellow soldiers to shoot us while we are down.
Our discouragement doesn’t come from just out there but in our own hearts as well. One of our most difficult struggles is the battle against sin in our own hearts. We need renewed strength every day, to follow Christ and not yield to temptation. We need encouragement from one another to keep running, to finish the race and not give up. Encouragement is essential to our spiritual health. We need it. We need to receive it from one another.
Secondly, Encouragement is important because it is so powerful.
When we get a compliment, we savor it, we turn it over and over in our minds, we repeat it to our spouse. We treat compliments like a starving man treats a filet mignon, because we understand the power that encouragement has in our own lives.
This morning I want you to understand that you have this incredible power! Your speech has the power to revive a weary soul and your words have the power to bring energy to someone who is battling with criticism. That’s the nature of being an encourager, and that’s what encouragement can do. Wouldn’t it be a shame to have such awesome power and not use it?
As we encourage others, we become encouraged ourselves. As we express appreciation, we become thankful. As we encourage someone to trust God, or own faith is strengthened. As we comfort others who are suffering, we ourselves find comfort and joy. That’s why Solomon said in Proverbs 11:25 “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”
While criticism communicates disdain and contempt, encouragement communicates love and compassion. Encouragement reminds people that God loves them, that He’s in control, and that He hasn’t abandoned them. Encouragement reminds folks that God never fails, that He’s always faithful. And while you’re reminding others of all that, you’ll find that you will come to believe it yourself.
Questions to Consider
This morning Jeremy spoke from Numbers 12:1-9. Read the whole chapter together.
How would you describe Miriam and Aaron?
How does the text describe Moses?
How do you react when you are criticized?
Does that reaction change when it is a member of your family? Another Christian?
What is the real problem that Miriam has with Moses?
How does jealousy turn into criticism?
Why is encouragement such a big deal?
Why does God want us to encourage others?
Discuss how you can act out these verses; Ephesians 4:29, Hebrews 3:13 , 1 Thessalonians 4:18, and Hebrews 10:24.