Criticism & Being a Stumbling Block

stumbling block

A couple of years ago, one of my mentors told me that you’re never more tempted to sin, than when you’ve been sinned against.

I think it makes a good quote deserving of all caps…

 

YOU’RE NEVER MORE TEMPTED TO SIN,

THAN WHEN YOU’VE BEEN SINNED AGAINST

 

I went to her after I had gone through a time when I was being criticized by a woman running a gossip/slander blog that has now since become private.  Every post I made, this woman found a way to turn it into something to mock… right down to attacking my husband and children.  Other women, even Christian ones I looked up to previously, jumped in on the mocking and gossip, and it was weird to see that even the supposedly Christian ones were doing this.  It lasted for a good half a year before I confronted her at her blog source, only to have the confrontation end in more pain and frustration.  Talking about it being sin with other people was labeled as “gossip.”  It was a very interesting time as I tried to figure out how to handle slander (being called a whore, slut and a bitch by a Christian man) as well as this being tailed for half the year by this Christian woman.  What was even stranger were the other Christian women who regularly commented on these posts mocking what I was writing, yet they couldn’t see they were doing anything wrong.

It’s really sad that we humans operate this way, myself totally and thoroughly included.  It’s part of our “normal” sin nature, but it’s so ugly and harmful, I surprise even myself with how easily I can give in to this temptation.  And rest assured, I’m talking about myself here, having a sin nature is not fun.  It is kind of shocking how bad we can be when we’re not actively guarding our mouths and minds and spirits.  It reminds me of Paul in Romans 7:18-22, where he wanted so badly to do good, but would sometimes find himself backsliding into the flesh behaviors that he hated in himself.

18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

21I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

I think it’s crucial to be honest that everyone has these feelings and temptations from time to time, even a man as godly as Paul.  I believe that, ultimately, it’s how we choose to deal with the temptations that matters in the long-run.  We have to strive to be like Paul and avoid and flee temptation, repent when we do give in to sin, and then allow for enough grace for ourselves and others when or if we backslide.

Last week I was wondering why someone would focus so much energy on giving in to sinful temptations… specifically, the temptation to engage in destructive criticism about another person (aka: Gossip & Slander).  I did an experiment to try to get someone engaging in it to see what they looked like, and to understand it within myself.  I succeeded in making them understand how bad it looked, the experiment definitely worked.  Overall, it was enlightening… and scary at how once you start (even if you think you’re only going so far) it can quickly go down hill.

I think I’ve found the answer… the root of why criticism can lead to being a stumbling block, and it comes from this quote at the beginning of the post that was told to me by my mentor:  “You’re never more tempted to sin than when you’re sinned against.”

 

Being a Stumbling Block through Criticism

stumbling man cartoon illustration

Romans 14 has always fascinated me.  I’ve written on it before, here , but I wanted to look at it again from a different perspective.

There used to be a pretty benign young woman who commented fairly frequently here.  I always had a feeling that she was trying to get me to change my views on each post I made – she was always so full of constructive criticism and gave it out freely.  Everything about me was up for criticism from this young woman – from the way I dressed to my diet and breastfeeding.  A lot of it was good, and I’d take it and make necessary changes, or try to see if I was getting it truly wrong, but overtime, it started to feel more like purposeful fault-finding or destructive criticism, and I felt myself changing inside toward her as well.

It got to the point where I would find myself starting to see flaws in her posts and arguments, whereas I’d never argued with her before over her writing.  And instead of minding my own business (something I’ve written about before!), I’d feel rightful in pointing them out to her publicly – in a “constructive” way like she did though 😉 .  I knew it was probably not the right thing to do, even if I couched it in “constructive criticism“… it’s a little much to be “correcting” someone all the time so why was she doing this?  I justified my fault-finding habit at her blog by telling myself that well, SHE was doing it to me, so why can’t I do it back to her?  Let’s just say being criticized by her nearly every week affected me lol.  I actually still try not to go to her blog because all I see are the flaws and faults in her biblical arguments.  It’s amazing how the way we act toward others has so much power over the way they in turn feel tempted to deal with us.

Why are humans like this?

I think Romans 14 holds the key to this.  Criticism, especially over issues that don’t really matter that much, make us become stumbling blocks.

“Therefore let us stop criticizing one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.”  (vs 13)

Why does the Bible warn us that criticism can be a “stumbling block” to other believers?  I think the answer is that when it’s not done in love, or even when it’s done over and over again in a constructive way, it’s actually sinning against the person you’re criticizing or leading them to exasperation with you.  So when you SIN against that person, you’re TEMPTING them to sin back.  Or if you’re trying to just constantly correct someone on their convictions (which Romans 14 tells us blatantly not to), you’re going to make them tempted to view you negatively.  This is especially true if you’ve been overly harsh or engaged in sinful destructive criticism, you’ve just become a stumbling block for that person, making it harder for them in their spiritual walk.

stumbling block2

Wow, right?  Pretty scary how criticism, even when we think it should be “constructive,” can be so hurtful and harmful to our Christian brothers and sisters in damaging their walks with God.

Pretty serious stuff.  Now that I carried out my own psyche experiment on this topic, I think I understand even more so just how important this post was in the past.

Instead of being a stumbling block, why not become a stepping stone to helping build others up on their spiritual journies?  I’m talking to my own inclinations here 😉

stumbling block3

Good food for thought.

Stephanie

 

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There is Wisdom in Being Peaceful (Avoid Arguments, Mind Your Own Business, Seek to Live a Quiet Life)

The Beth Moore’s women’s bible study group I’m in just continues to give and give – there is so much to be said for when you seek wisdom, and put yourself in a place where you’re likely to receive it, you will chase it as it unravels like a rolling yarn ball.  A few weeks ago, we studied the verse 1 Thessalonians 4:11

Seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.

I’m sure we’ve all seen why this verse is important, we may have just not connected the dots (or even knew that such verse in Scripture existed).  But hands down, it is off-putting to see any person, but especially a “Christian” going against this verse in their social interactions with others.  I’ve been terribly guilty of this before, out of sheer ignorance that it was really wrong for me to be debating issues with a persuasive agenda in mind (what other agenda is there when it comes from a debate? None).

Definition of Debate1) a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward; 2) argue about (a subject), especially in a formal manner

Synonyms: discussion, discourse, parley, argument, conterargument, dispute, wrangle, war of words, argumentation, disputation, dissension, disagreement, contention, conflict, negotiations, talks

There were times 2-3 years ago, that I thought I needed to debate against Catholicism, because I honestly wanted to help those dutiful believers under that religion that strays so much from biblical truth, to see how wrong some of their doctrines truly were.  There are times when debate may be necessary in cases like that, even in pointing out false or unfounded doctrine; however, the way I was personally going about this “mission” was terribly misguided and ended up hurting many people, possibly even pushing people away from what I was trying to get them to look at.

I wasn’t exactly rude (except if you count in a very pushy, arrogant way! Ie. sometimes debating itself is rude in certain circumstances), but I was too wrapped up in the debate itself to care about the effects it would have on my personal relationships with the very people I proclaimed to “care about.”

Just like how we are not supposed to argue about extra-biblical preferences or opinions such as “Should Christians Participate in Halloween?” or “Should Christians Have Christmas Trees Since They Were Used By Pagans?”  I also feel that we should be extremely cautious in treading on the ground of where another believer feels personally convicted, as per all of Romans 14, where we are constantly reminded “not to argue” about personal convictions (even over controversial topics). 

This is not to say that argument or debate has no place, but merely when it comes to certain topics that aren’t pertaining to a person’s salvation or biblical truths.  We are called to accept other people who may be “weak in faith” or may simply have differing opinions from us.  When I looked at the Greek meanings and footnotes of great authors on this chapter,

I found at the same time that we are called to accept them, we are also warned repeatedly, to not try to “persuade” them using examples or “debate,” that to accept their opinions and personal convictions was exactly that.  To just accept.  To try to even persuade them was sinning. We are free in having our personal convictions over many many non-essential topics, however we are most certainly NOT free to debate them as we see fit.

Why don’t we have the freedom to just debate over anything?  It seems clear that Paul is talking about Christians debating other Christians – there are already both saved – and debates over such trivial things can have potential to be extremely divisive at times.

We are called to pursue peace and unity within the body… having debates over non-essential issues often do more harm to keeping “unity” than they do to flourish believers’ relationships with each other. 

Romans 14 goes on to include the word “criticizing.”  When we try to persuade others from their convictions, we are in effect criticizing their current beliefs, in my opinion, the very root of it is a very prideful thing in which we are automatically assuming that we understand something better than them, and that’s why we feel a certain desire (or enjoyment from) debating on an issue.  The reality is maybe we DO understand something “better than them,” maybe our faith truly IS a little stronger so that we understand that we have more freedom to feel a certain way on a topic – however, that is why this chapter is in defense of those who have a “weaker faith.”  It is their faith at stake then, not ours, and we should be very guarded and cautious in what we choose to debate about in effort to help them grow (on their own) in their faith.

It might be enjoyable for the person who is acting in pride in thinking their debate and personal opinion is important to hear, but it is most definitely NOT enjoyable for the other party involved, who ends up feeling judged because this fellow Christian is not able to merely accept that they have a different opinion or different conviction.

The 3 main things Beth Moore was pointing out in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 were to:
1) Seek to live a quiet life

2) To mind your own business

3) To work with your own hands

These all fit in line with following Romans 14, seeking to live a quiet life requires one to be responsible – to argue and debate only when it is truly called for and needed.  This is for a very important reason and greater mission we should be aware of… Beth points out in the next verse (vs 12) that the 2 reasons Paul wanted us to focus on these 3 things in life were:

1) So that we may win the respect of outsiders, and walk properly in their presence

2) To not be dependent (financially or emotionally) on anyone – being a burden unnecessarily

People are actively watching what we do as a Christian… all the time.  Even if you think you live a responsible public life, we are also called to have greater integrity in also living a responsible private life in our own homes, otherwise, the reputation of Christ is still at stake!

I recently had a very strange experience with friend who wanted to constantly debate in public over my own personal convictions – to the point where the arguments were lasting for days, other people were taking note, picking sides, and generally getting the wrong idea of what the initial topic was supposed to be about.  It was causing some believers to feel justified in judging certain types of people, and also affecting non-Christians who were more than likely feeling judged by seeing the argument play out in the wide open environment of social media.  Nothing good seemed to be coming from it at all, never-mind the multiple miscommunications due to it being over social media and not in person, or in private.  This is not to say that we don’t have to freedom to post or have our own personal opinions, but choosing to publically debate over them (or even privately at times) is not always the best idea.

We carry the reputation of Christ, and we truly need to be careful in what we choose to publically debate about because of Paul’s warning that we need to “win the respect of outsiders.”  To think that it doesn’t matter what other people think, or how something may look to others (even online), Beth points out, is an irresponsible Christian ethic.  I have already been through this lesson many times before, and I’ve definitely had negative consequences when I reveled in my freedom to debate whatever I wanted.

Beth talked about how we can lose our perspective, make certain issues more important than maintaining healthy relationships, or lose sight of the goal of unity between believers in effort to debate our point or opinions.

Literally, some hills are just not worth dying on… and we should hold ourselves responsible for carrying the reputation of Christ.

Hope this encourages you as much as it enlightened & reminded me of those commands!  Here’s to living peaceably, a quiet life, minding my own business, and keeping perspective when it comes to debating.