Commentary: It's easy to criticize, harder to overlook flaws

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The late James Griffith, pastor and Georgia Baptist leader, told about the Missouri farmer, too old to farm, who passed the time sitting on the fence, watching travelers heading West during the 1800s, seeking new opportunities and starting a new chapter in life.

One day a wagon paused, and the rider shouted, “We’re moving West and looking for a place to settle.  Tell me, how are the folks around here?”

“Well, how are the folks where you came from?” the old farmer asked.

The settler replied, “The folks in our town were the rudest, most unfriendly people ever.  How are the people around here?”

“Oh,” said the farmer, “about the same.”

A few days later another wagon came along, and the driver asked the farmer the same question: “How are the people around here?”

Again, the farmer asked, “How are the folks back home?”

The settler said, “Why, they are the greatest people in the world.  Warm, friendly, and generous.  How are the folks around here?”

The old farmer replied, “Oh, about the same.”

People are about the same as we perceive them and about the same as we treat them.  People are people, imperfect individuals with strengths and weaknesses. Do we love them and care about their needs?  Do we show interest in their lives? Or do we dwell on their faults?

One of the easiest things to find for many people is fault.  There’s always a critic.  In fact, criticism is the one thing many believe is more blessed to give than to receive.

Working with people is a wonderful blessing, but sometimes it gets rather interesting.  People are going to be people, and we need to remember people are not going to be perfect.  Sometimes they don’t return phone calls, or show up when they are supposed to, or follow through on what they say they’re going to do.  Some have positive outlooks, and some never see a sunrise. Some are willing to go the second mile, while others get by with as little as possible.

The question is, do we overlook the faults of others, or do we criticize? Do we have a negative spirit that immediately jumps to criticism? Do we constantly judge or find fault? If so, we may need to check our heart and change our outlook.

Interestingly, the Biblical Counseling Coalition identifies four harmful behaviors that flow out of a critical spirit:

First is gossiping. The gossiper reveals sensitive information to others without the subject’s approval to make themselves feel important. They take pride in being “in the know.”

Second is slandering. The slanderer does not care about the truth, but recklessly damages another person’s reputation by spreading false or inaccurate information.

Third is judging harshly. The judgmental person lacks empathy for others because he or she believes he or she knows others’ motives and intentions and believes he or she is always right.

Fourth is complaining. This person is habitually negative and filled with ingratitude and discontentment. The complainer hasn’t learned to “do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Philippians 2:14).

Choosing not to focus on the imperfections and being careful not to criticize are two ways we can strengthen our relationships with others. Henry Ward Beecher said, “Every man should keep a fair-sized cemetery in which to bury the faults of his friends.” 

If we wish to master the art of working with people, we should exercise patience and understanding and learn how to encourage people.  We need to realize people are people wherever you go. No matter the church, no matter the office, no matter the classroom, people are people. Often people naively think changing churches will bring satisfaction until they discover flaws in their newest church.

Why are flaws present? Because churches are composed of people who are imperfect. So are schools, offices, companies, and other organizations and institutions. Including marriage!

If we put our faith in people alone, we’ll often find disappointment. If we put our faith in Jesus, and care for people as Jesus did, we’ll find compassion and consistency, because Jesus never fails.  With a focus on His consistency, we can overlook the inconsistency of others.  And, in the power of God, we can love folks anyway, despite imperfections.

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Dr. David L. Chancey is pastor, McDonough Road Baptist Church, Fayetteville, Georgia.  The church family gathers at 352 McDonough Road. Join them this Sunday for worship at 10 a.m. and Grow Groups at 11:10. Join them online at www.mcdonoughroad.org or on Facebook. Check out Chancey’s other writings, including his newest book, at www.davidchancey.com.

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