Principles for Overcoming a Critical Spirit

October 20, 2019
Rod Thom
Romans 14
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“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 don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently. ”

 

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Romans 14, Principles for Overcoming a Critical Spirit:

Good Morning Church…

Today we continue our Roman Series “INSPIRING REVOLUTION” and in today’s chapter (Ch14) I believe Paul gives us some great principles to help us overcome a critical spirit.  These principles will help us love and get along with each other because a critical spirit does have the power to derail individuals and can also cause a lot of division in the church.

An Anglican Bishop was invited to dinner. During the meal he was astonished to hear the younger daughter state that a person must be very brave to go to church these days. “Why do you say that?” asked the bishop. “Because,” she answered, “I heard Dad tell Mum last Sunday that there was a Big Gun who thought he was a big shot in the pulpit, the singers murdered the worship, the drummer drowned everybody and the sound guy blew everyone away!”

Truth is that a critical spirit is often present in the local church (everyone has an opinion) and I think unfortunately the way we do church doesn’t help.  It feeds a consumer mentality; you come in, you sit down and you watch everything that takes place on the platform in front of you and if you come in with an attitude to observe and consume rather than an attitude to participate, it’s very easy to be critical of things that you don’t like or think should be done differently.  Hence the reason why the worship team especially, cops a lot of criticism.

So what is a Critical Spirit?  Let me try to illustrate:
At a professional tennis match, a judge/referee sits on an elevated chair to the side of the net between two competitors. The referee is hired for these very important matches because they have a reputation for consistent fairness and accuracy. When a ball falls outside the boundary line, the judge yells, “Fault/Out!” These judgment calls are appropriate and appreciated.  Most of the time!

The person with a critical spirit, however, hasn’t earned the reputation of being accurate or fair-minded. This judge sits uninvited and elevated above others, yelling “fault … fault … fault!” These calls are inappropriate and unappreciated.

— Criticizers judge others severely and unfavourably.

— Hypercritical people judge others with unreasonably strict standards.

— Fault finders look for and point out flaws and defects with nagging and unreasonable criticism, they are rarely able to find something that is positive in something or someone.

Let’s just pause for a moment:  Are you are thinking what I’m thinking?  Are you thinking right now about all the people in your world who have a critical spirit?  It’s very easy for us to see it (the speck) in other people, while we are carrying a plank around in our own eye. My Oma used to say, “If you can’t say something good about somebody/something, don’t say anything at all.” We have all heard that saying haven’t we? Yet, why do we find it so hard to live out?

This morning I want us to be self-aware, I want us to keep our eyes on the plank in our own eye and if we start thinking about someone else, I want us to say, “NO, the Spirit wants to speak to me about this today, not ???”  We need to Let God be God and let him work in and on others but most of all we need to be open to Him working on us!  Can we all agree on that?

Before we jump into the text I think it is important to give you some context….

1.  Chapter 14 has been written in the shadows of love unpacked in Romans 13:8 Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other.  Chapter 13 is all about loving one another and Chapter 14 is no different.

2.  We also need to remember that Paul is writing a letter to a new church, probably a small church meeting in a home.  The church in Rome was made up of very different people.  It contained Jews who wouldn’t touch any food that wasn’t kosher (didn’t comply with the strict dietary standards of traditional Jewish law) and it contained Gentiles who relished all food.  The worship day was also a struggle – Jews believed God’s Holy day was from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday.  Gentiles had begun observing Sunday as their day of worship because Christ rose from the dead on Sunday, so they called Sunday “the Lord’s day!”. Then there were all the religious Holy Days?  It was a bit messy.

How were these first century Christians going to worship together, eat and drink together, relate to each other and above all things, love each other?  Somehow they had to determine what was important, what was not and how to treat each other when they disagreed about unimportant and non-essential issues.

It’s into this context that Paul writes this chapter. And the reality is that today’s church is no different.

The church is much like the “one-room school house” that you used to find in a small country town. Usually there was one teacher and the school was filled with children from kindergarten to high school. The same is true for churches today. Our church is filled with people who are at various stages of faith and life. Some of us are in a state of exploring and have not yet made the step of faith. For some, we have been a Christian for many years, while others have just recently accepted Christ and have a lot to learn. Most of us profess faith in Jesus Christ, but we are all at different levels of understanding about our faith, scripture, the traditions and the workings of our particular church culture. I think that this is what Paul means when he uses language like weak and strong in the faith, he is not talking about someone’s susceptibility to sin.  We are all susceptible to sin.

So with all that in mind let’s look at the text and let’s look at some principles that will help us overcome a critical spirit.  I’m purposefully going to use the message this morning because I believe the late Eugene Peterson was one of our best modern day biblical scholars, a fantastic pastor who has done all the work for us today.  He has done a masterful job with his exegesis and translating the Scriptures in a way that will help us better understand today’s text. So let’s read the text and I will highlight 7 principles that will help us overcome a critical spirit.

Romans 14 The Message (MSG)

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 don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

OVERCOMING A CRITICAL SPIRIT

PRINCIPLE 1: Welcome people who don’t see things the way you do and treat them gently

It’s easier said than done, because we tend to naturally drift towards people who are like us and think the same. This is a big one missing in our highly opinionated world, the conversation with a vegan!  I don’t get it but I learnt some things that day and I made a friend.

2-4 For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

PRINCIPLE 2: Let God be God and let Him do what He does best, transforming people’s hearts and lives

You don’t need to sort it by being critical and rude. If there are corrections to be made don’t play God. He will!

5 Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.

6-9 What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

PRINCIPLE 3: In Non-essential Beliefs, we have liberty and in Essential Beliefs, we have unity

Let’s not get hung up on the grey things, the things that are not going to keep us out of heaven. If you are interested in reading about our beliefs feel free to hop on line and have a look.

10-12 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. Read it for yourself in Scripture:

“As I live and breathe,” God says,
    “every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
    that I and only I am God.”

So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.

13-14 Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.

PRINCIPLE 4: Focus and take care of your own life before God

Don’t get in the way of someone else making life more difficult than it already is for them.

15-16 If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don’t eat, you’re no longer a companion with them in love, are you? These, remember, are persons for whom Christ died. Would you risk sending them to hell over an item in their diet? Don’t you dare let a piece of God-blessed food become an occasion of soul-poisoning!

17-18 God’s kingdom isn’t a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness’ sake. It’s what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy. Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ. Do that and you’ll kill two birds with one stone: pleasing the God above you and proving your worth to the people around you.

PRINCIPLE 5: Single-mindedly serve Jesus – this pleases God and the people around you

Focus on your mission and get on and do what He has called you to do.

19-21 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. You’re certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper to wreck God’s work among you, are you? I said it before and I’ll say it again: All food is good, but it can turn bad if you use it badly, if you use it to trip others up and send them sprawling. When you sit down to a meal, your primary concern should not be to feed your own face but to share the life of Jesus. So be sensitive and courteous to the others who are eating. Don’t eat or say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love.

PRINCIPLE 6: Use encouraging words, share the life of Jesus

Encouragement is so powerful.  Criticism is often so subjective but encouragement is targeted, specific, beautiful and powerful.  Criticism is often a ceiling but encouragement is a platform.  Criticism often feels like being pounded by rocks but encouragement is a rock you can jump off.  If you want something or someone to thrive, encourage, encourage and encourage. Is there someone you can encourage before you leave this morning?

22-23 Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others. You’re fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you’re not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you’re out of line. If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong.

PRINCIPLE 7: Like 4 & 5 – Focus on and cultivate your own relationship with God and don’t impose it on others

How are you cultivating your own relationship with Jesus?  Is your faith growing are you becoming more like Him?

How did you go with those 7 principles? Was there anything that God highlighted to you?

The interesting thing we noticed as we sat with the text this week is that these principles can not only help you overcome your critical spirit but they can also help you deal with a critical spirit that’s coming at you.

Let me paint you a picture:  you are one of our worship leaders.  You’ve just spent all week preparing, praying and practicing for our worship gathering.  The service goes really well but the first conversation you have when you jump off the platform (BTW the worst time to get your point across) is with someone who didn’t like a particular song and proceeds to tell you everything that is “theologically” wrong with it.  It feels like an attack rather than a conversation and at that point you have some decisions to make.  Do I judge them for their lack of knowledge, because there is nothing “essentially” wrong with the theology of the song?  Do I judge them for their lack of understanding and for judging the song writer’s intentions?  Do I get my back up and treat them the way they are treating me? or …

–  Do I welcome people who don’t see things the way I do and treat them gently?
–  Do I let God be God and let Him do what He does best; transforming people’s hearts and lives all the while being open to what God might want to say to me through this person?
–  Do I see the conversation for what it is and agree to disagree because it’s a bit grey and non-essential?
–  Do I use encouraging words not harsh ones?
–  Do I continue to single-mindedly serve Jesus, cultivate my own relationship with God, learning to hear His voice and understanding His mind and heart?

Can you see how these principles work both ways in overcoming a critical spirit?  I trust that the Holy Spirit has spoken to you in some way today.  I hope that there is at least one thing that you can take with you into this week?

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