Why do we criticize?

We’ve all been there: you have a friend who lives their life in a certain way, and you don’t approve. Skipping breakfast? For shame! Constantly staying up all night and putting off studying or work until the last minute? The horror! Leaving clothes everywhere at home and not cleaning up? Heavens to Betsy! Putting purchases on credit or wasting money on things they don’t need? Why, oh why?! Still going out with that person who doesn’t have a job or much of a plan for the future? Ugh!

And on. And on. And on. Ad infinitum.

But here’s a question: have you ever thought about WHY we criticize others, especially other believers? For most Christians, it’s probably because we’re doing it from a place of love, because we want the other person to be better.

“Judge not lest ye be judged” is something most of us have probably heard. Same with “let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” as Jesus says in the Gospels. In Romans 14:1-4 (New Living Translation – my favorite translation because the language is easy-to-understand since it has been adapted for modern times), the Apostle Paul says the following: “Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall.

The meaning here is pretty clear. Are you a vegetarian? Great. So am I these days. But I don’t condemn people who eat red meat – it’s their choice to eat that. Similarly, if someone likes to dress in a certain way or has a certain lifestyle or attitudes towards keeping things organized, don’t judge them – it’s their life, their choices.

Paul goes further than that. As he continues in Romans 14:5-6: “In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor Him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God.

In other words, do you go to church on Sundays? Awesome. Or do you go on a Tuesday evening? Cool. Or do you read the Bible and maybe listen to podcasts at home and not really go to church? That’s fine, too. And speaking of the Bible, maybe you don’t have a physical copy of it at all, and read it (any translation of it) on your laptop or phone or iPad.

Guess what: all of the above are fine. It’s all for God and improving our relationship with Him, so what does it matter when the church service is, or if it has a rock concert-like atmosphere with a pastor wearing jeans? Or what does it matter if church is in a building that’s hundreds of years old, the priest ALWAYS wears a robe, and the only music you’ll hear are hymns accompanied by a pipe organ?

Obviously, there are some exceptions. If someone is doing something that’s harming themselves or others – like drug addiction, alcoholism, abusing others in any way, etc. – then we absolutely need to speak up and do everything we can to help them and let them know what they’re doing is harmful. But that’s the key: we need to try to help them, not just criticize, judge and condemn.

When Paul wrote Romans, he wrote it partially to remind us that, just because we’re Christians, doesn’t mean we’re better than anyone else – and it’s most certainly not our place to judge the lifestyles of others. It’s only God who ultimately judges. And we are not God.

Later on in Romans 14, Paul sums things up perfectly. As he writes in Romans 14:13: “So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.”

What more needs to be said?

After living for several years in Europe, Ben pursued a lifelong dream and moved to New Zealand. An Auckland-based writer, his work has appeared in The Washington Post, Business Insider, The New Zealand Herald, Idealog, Deutsche Welle, and others. He can be found on Twitter @benmack_nz.