What does it mean to be critical? Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines the word "critical" as: "inclined to criticize severely and unfavorably." If you are dealing with a critical spirit, you are probably readily able to criticize people in a way that is mean-spirited and not useful for their benefit. Even if the information contained within them is true, critical comments that are biting in nature will not bring good fruit. God wants you to be truthful, certainly, but you must do it by speaking words that are edifying: "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29).
Not all criticism is bad. Take, for instance, critical thinking when studying any number of subjects, such as politics, history, or economics. It's important to think critically about the situations and issues at hand in order to figure out how to solve problems and not repeat the problems of the past. It's important to think critically about literature and art in order to fully grasp the deeper meanings contained within.
Someone with a critical spirit, however, will have a pronounced tendency toward negativity and complaining. They can claim to be merely offering a critical approach to solve a given situation, but it will come with a harsh edge and an unkind or poorly thought out delivery. This is a distortion of the value that could have come out of a place of truly beneficial critical thinking and judgement. While the Bible does instruct believers to judge situations rightly (John 7:24), they are to do so coming from a perspective of grace, remembering that they will be judged in the same way that they judge others (Matthew 7:1–5). If you are criticizing with malicious intent or from a place of hypocrisy or self-righteousness, you need to check your heart and seek humility. Only God is a truly righteous judge (Hebrews 4:12; James 4:11–12; Revelation 19:11), so believers should act with grace toward others. When you recognize the grace you have been freely given, it helps you bestow that same grace on others (Romans 3:23; 6:23; Colossians 2:13–15; Ephesians 2:1–10).
There are a few steps you can take to overcome having a critical spirit. First, guard your heart. The words you speak, whether they be kind or critical, are a direct outflow of the conditions within your heart. Luke 6:45 says: "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." Seek God and, in doing so, you will better understand His heart. This will help you to know how to check the motives of your own heart regularly. Know that you cannot discern with full accuracy what someone else is thinking or why they are doing what they are doing.
Something that goes hand-in-hand with this is that you must take responsibility for your thought life. It is not enough to recognize that you have struggles or issues within your heart and mind—you have to put in the effort to change them with God's help. When you work to renew your mind in Christ, you will need to develop positive mental thought patterns to replace the negative ones you have been accustomed to (Romans 12:1–2). It will require discipline, but it is well worth it. This does not mean you live in denial of difficult situations or negative things that are happening in the world or in your own life, but it means you adjust your default focus to be on "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8).
Finally, focus on forgiveness. As you seek the Lord and renew your mind, you will be able to recognize more and more how much you have been forgiven of. Throughout your life, you will be wronged unjustly—sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally—but when you remember God's great forgiveness and love for you, it will be easier to extend His love to others. This doesn't mean that you should not lovingly confront someone if they are living in sin, but it does mean that you need to forgive them no matter how they respond to you (Luke 17:3–4). While a person with a critical spirit tears others down, a person with a renewed mind and a loving heart that is ready to forgive builds up the body of Christ. First Peter 4:8 says, "Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8; see also Proverbs 10:12; Ephesians 4:1–3, 32; Galatians 6:1–5).
When you overcome having a critical spirit, you will find that your own life is blessed. You will be able to live a life full of thankfulness to God, building others up and being built up by them in return (Colossians 3:12–17).
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