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 one man would open his lunch pail and start to complain. Not peanut butter and jelly sandwiches again. I hate peanut butter and jelly! This same scene played out every day for a month until one of the other guys asked the complainer, If you hate peanut butter and jelly, so much why not ask your wife to make you something different? The complainer replied, What do you mean, my wife? 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 unspiritual gift of griping? It seems that some people are only happy when they are making other people miserable.
In the scripture that was read for us this morning from Proverbs 27:5-6, Solomon implies 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. They may be right.
I love that Solomon tells us the truth. He 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.
Unfortunately, a majority of the criticism we face is destructive and 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.
This morning I want us to spend some time in a text from the Old Testament in the book of Numbers. If you haven’t spent a lot of time in the book of Numbers, the main theme of the book is the importance of keeping God’s commands. It starts off a little slow, the first 10 chapters deal with them counting the Israelites, but by chapter 10 we see the Children of Israel are closing in on the Promised Land. It has taken a little over two years since they escaped Egypt and 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 about one complaint, one criticism, after another.
So let’s start this morning by hearing the word of God together. I want you to look with me at Numbers 12:1-9. (Read Text)
People have always acted like people, and here we see Miriam speaking out of anger, frustration, and envy. There is no implication that she is worried about anyone else, she was just worried about what was best for her. This is not constructive criticism, Miriam is merely focused on herself, and how she is feeling, and what she wants. Miriam is a good example of what happens in our lives when we are dealing with our own critical attitude.
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 me.
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 Sabrina Bragg; 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 Golden Springs Baptist, or St. Marks; I am going to critical of Greenbrier.
We get so familiar with some people, that we have the chance 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. Miriam was the first one to be critical of Moses and 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. She was the one followed the baby Moses down the Nile River and arranged for him 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. She was a Godly woman who was known as a prophetess among the Israelites-.
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 will 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.' When we lived in Texas we would say, If you lay down with the dogs you get up with the fleas and my grandfather would translate this verse, If you run with the goats you smell like them.
So we must be careful about the people we allow to hold influence in our lives, because we will allow their influence and personalities be seen in our lives as well.
The biggest problem we have is that often my criticism is just an attempt to cover up my real problem.
Numbers 12:1 says that Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife The criticism was that Miriam and Aaron didn’t like that woman Moses married. They reasoned, 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. On the surface it sounds like a legitimate criticism.
Psychology Today had a interesting article back in August of 2016 by Dr. Leon Seltzer. The article was based on his research dealing with people who had psychological disorders. He found an interesting connection. He writes “that many psychological dysfunctions can be accurately understood as “maladies” of self-absorption. From a variety of phobic, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive impairments, to many depressive disturbances (including bipolar disorder), to various addictions, to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and to most of the personality disorders, self-absorption can be seen as playing a major (if not dominant) role. So any effective treatment of these dysfunctions needs to include significantly reducing these obsessively self-centered, and self-defeating, tendencies.” Basically our real problem comes from the fact that we are too self focused, too self centered.
On the surface it seemed like Miriam was criticizing Moses, because he had married outside of their faith. From a distance it seems that Miriam was trying to defend their faith, and keep the people in a right relationship with Jehovah. But God reveals her heart in verse 2 and we see that Miriam is dealing with her own “malady of self-absorption”. 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 what about me? 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.
Our text this morning not only reveals the struggle of critical people, but Moses shows us how we must deal with people who unfairly, or fairly criticize us. In verse 13 we read, And Moses cried to the Lord, “O God, please heal her—please.
When someone criticizes us, talks about us behind our backs, or just generally belittles us our first response is not to get even, but to get one better. Our human brokenness doesn’t want an eye for an eye, if you knocked out one of my teeth then I want to knock out two of yours. But as we have seen in the pages of scripture, if you are going to wear the name of Christ then you have been introduced to a better way.
Peter was writing to early Christians about dealing with the struggles and pain of living a life of faith. He wanted to remind them not only of their calling, but how to live out that calling. In 1 Peter 3:8-9 he writes Now, this is the goal: to live in harmony with one another and demonstrate affectionate love, sympathy, and kindness toward other believers. Let humility describe who you are as you dearly love one another. Never retaliate when someone treats you wrongly, nor insult those who insult you, but instead, respond by speaking a blessing over them—because a blessing is what God promised to give you.
There is an old adage in Church Family Systems that hurt people hurt people. There is a lot of truth in that statement. Most of the people who are hurting you are dealing with their own pain. In His letter Peter is not excusing bad or hurtful behavior, rather he is instructing us to enter into the pain of our brothers and sisters so that they can find healing.
When we have been criticized we want to pull away from the people who hurt us. Pain is not an enjoyable experience. When we are in pain we usually try to numb it or bury it because it is too difficult to feel it. Brené Brown says, “The problem is that we cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb pain, we also numb joy.”
While you might think the best thing to do is to move on when you have been hurt, to bury the pain of the offense. The truth is that unless we deal with the pain we end up being passionless and miserable. We think that it will be easier to just pretend that we have not been hurt. And that’s a horrible way to live when in Christ you have been offered abundant life.
Let me remind you that you were created to do the difficult things in this world. You have been given the strength from the Holy Spirit to work through your own pain and hurt, so that you can remind other hurting people that they are loved by God. People who are critical need someone to come close to them, even though their very actions push people away. What they want most in this world is to be heard and understood.
Peter is reminding us that the way we turn our enemies into our family is by speaking a blessing over them, by showing them love and compassion. The way we deal with those who are hurting us, is to enter into their hurt and help them find healing. Our calling as members of the body of Christ, is to care for the people who are hurting and also care for the people who are hurting others. In other words we are called to confront criticism by modeling love in the model city.
The best way to change my critical attitude towards others, is to acknowledge my pain, and your pain, and then ask God to rekindle the fire in our spirits so that we can be involved in His work of love and salvation.
This morning I want God to have the last word. So if you will please stand, I want to share Paul’s advise from Romans 14: “Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you do not agree with – even when it seems they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently. (10) So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. (19) So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault.” (Romans 14:1, 10, 19)