I had a professor in seminary who used to say, “It takes 100 ‘at-a boy’s’ to cancel out 1 ‘you jerk’.” His point was that criticism seems to stick with us much longer and deeper than encouragement. It is an interesting dynamic. Criticism, whether it is legitimate or not, seems to take deep root within us. Controlling the volume (in our hearts and minds) of disapproval we receive from others is a difficult task. Why is it that a disparaging word can sit with us for days or weeks, while praise and approval seem to evaporate? The scales of the human heart certainly seem to exhibit an imbalance. Indeed, it does seem that it takes 100 ‘at-a-boy’s’ to cancel out 1 ‘you jerk.’
Perhaps this is why the Bible continually exhorts Christians to control how we talk, and to make sure we are “building each other up.” Here is one of many examples:
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
I don’t think this text is telling us to avoid “confronting the facts.” In this context in Ephesians 4, just a few verses earlier, Paul says:
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
Followers of Jesus must speak the truth, but the question here is “how?” Well, if we follow Jesus, then like Jesus we should work to marry grace and truth.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
I don’t want to communicate here that I’m not in favor of critical thinking. I love critical thinking. At the local church I serve we work to build an environment on our staff and in our leadership not only of edification and encouragement, but also of critical analysis, growth, transparency, and change. Critical thinking is vital for growth. However, I’ve always thought that critical thinking is not the same as being critical. The difference between ‘critical thinking’ and ‘critical’ is thinking.
As I look at the text in Ephesians 4, I’m challenged to apply it to various contexts in my life: marriage, family/parenting, pastoral ministry, mentoring, leadership, local community involvement, etc. Several questions confront me from this text:
1) How can I discipline my mind to weigh my words before they escape that hole in the front of my head?
2) What opinions do I hold that others around me would be better served if I kept them to myself?
3) What relationships or conversation subjects do I tend to approach from a critical standpoint instead of a grace standpoint?
4) How can I further submit those relationships and topics to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and leading?
5) How much of my talk could be considered noise (“clamor” in verse 31)?
6) Who do I have a habit of criticizing, who I can now work to encourage?
7) Could I be described as “kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving?”
8) Do my words exhibit, in any way, shape or form, that I’ve lost track of the forgiveness of Christ and the grace of God in my life?
9) How can I speak 100 ‘at-a-boys’ for every single ‘you jerk’?