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Dealing with Criticism

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples are fasting, but yours are not?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.”
Mark 2:18-20

Years ago, when I was a young pastor, an older minister gave me this piece of advice: “George, you can spend a lot of time trying to make unhappy people happy. You may make them less unhappy for a while, but sooner or later they will go back to their original state.

“On the other hand,” he continued, “you may make happy people less happy for a while, but sooner or later they also will return to their original state.”

I thought that was good advice and took it to heart. There are some people you just cannot make happy no matter how hard you try.

That was the case with the Pharisees. They were unhappy that Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors (2:15–17). Next they complained that Jesus’ disciples were not fasting. It is obvious they wanted Jesus to do something about the behavior of His followers.

The disciples were only following the example of their Leader. If Jesus was feasting, then they would be too!

Jesus responded to the criticism by giving the first veiled reference to His mission: “the bridegroom will be taken from them.” Of course the disciples and the critics had no idea at the time what this meant. Much later they would understand.

Jesus didn’t give in to the criticism. He came to the defense of His disciples and in so doing gave us an important lesson.

From the beginning Jesus knew why He had come. The cross was ever before Him. But, He didn’t let that impending event cast a shadow of sadness over Himself or those who were with Him. He didn’t prematurely disclose to His disciples what was going to happen.

If I knew years in advance that I was headed for crucifixion, it would be very difficult for me to enjoy the present moment. But Jesus lived what He taught. He didn’t show anxiety about tomorrow. He didn’t throw a blanket of sorrow over His disciples that would have prevented them from experiencing the great joys of being with Him.

He feasted, and so did they! In the very face of impending suffering, He taught His friends to enjoy the moment.

The Pharisees didn’t like that. Everything had to be done by their rules. They were not happy on the inside—and unhappy people don’t enjoy seeing or being around people who are happy.

I have heard it said that every baseball team could use a player who always gets a hit, always makes a key fielding play, and never strikes out or makes an error—but there is no way to make him lay down his hot dog and come out of the grandstand!

Let’s avoid a Pharisee spirit that is always looking for what is wrong rather than what is right. An attitude that is predominantly looking to nitpick and find something to condemn rather than keeping an eye out for whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).

A Prayer: Deliver me, Lord, from a critical spirit. Help me not to be a wet blanket to another’s joy. Let me not nitpick or find fault. Grant me a glad heart that I may encourage rather than discourage.

Excerpted from Dr. Wood’s book, Fearless: How Jesus Changes Everything, available from Vital Resources. 

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