When we are criticized, most of us react immediately by getting defensive. We deflect the criticism or conjure up a reason why the critic doesn’t have the right or authority to speak about us. We figure out something that they’re doing that’s wrong so that we don’t have to listen to them. For most of us, this reaction is almost immediate and automatic—before we even consider whether or not what was said was true.
It struck me as I was reading my Daily Bible that criticism is hard to hear—especially when someone is trying to point out the sin in our lives. The devil does not want us to listen, and he will distract us with any tool he can!
There were two significant times in David’s life when he stood in need of correction.
The first was when had sinned with Bathsheba. Do you remember how the prophet Nathan got his attention? He told a story about a rich man who took advantage of the poor man. At the conclusion of that story in 2 Samuel 12, Nathan pointed his finger at David said, “You are that man!”
The second story was less familiar to me. It is in 2 Samuel 14 when David is estranged from his son Absalom because of his murder of Amnon. Joab, his general, arranged for a wise woman from Tekoa to pretend to be a mourner. She comes to David and tells her sob story, that one of her sons killed the other, and now her town is planning on executing the one—and all she wants it not to lose another son. David is drawn into her story and then she reveals the true point: David is doing the exact same thing.
It’s interesting to me that these two wise people realized that we recognize sin in others before we recognize sin in ourselves, and they used that fact to help people they cared about do right.
Two applications come to mind.
First, it is possible to be too direct. It strikes me that much of Jesus’ teaching was subtle and nuanced. Sometimes it was his silence that drove the point home more than even his words. Perhaps we would do well to learn subtlety and use it wisely when we teach others.
Second, when we recognize sin in others, we’d do well to immediately look back into our lives. Since we’re not great at seeing it ourselves, perhaps the lives of others will provide us a mirror for self-examination.