Beneath the Criticism

“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45, esv).

According to one of Aesop’s fables, a man and his grandson were traveling to town. The old man walked while his grandson rode their donkey. But some people said, “Would you look at that? The old man is suffering on his feet while that strong, young boy, who is totally capable of walking, sits on that donkey!”

So the old man, hearing this, switched places and began to ride the donkey while the boy walked. Now he heard people saying, “Would you look at that? A grown man taking advantage of that little boy. Can you believe it?”

So the man and the boy both rode the donkey. Then they heard people saying, “Would you look at those heavy brutes making that poor donkey suffer?”

So they both got off and walked until they heard some people say, “How pitiful, a perfectly good donkey not being used!”

In the final scene of the story, the boy and the man stagger along as they carry the donkey.

The point of the story is this: If a person’s heart is to criticize—if his intention is to find fault—there is absolutely nothing that can satisfy him. Beneath the petty, surface issue is a real, heart issue. Our words reveal what’s in our hearts—our words are merely the spillover of the abundance in our hearts. “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Let’s consider three significant issues hiding under the covers of criticism.

The first heart issue is a blend of unforgiveness. Unforgiveness and the bitterness that goes with it fuel criticism. The criticism is not the real issue; it only covers the deeper issue of unforgiveness. Unforgiveness and bitterness cause wounds to fester rather than heal. When unforgiveness is in the heart, criticism will be on the lips.

The second heart issue fueling criticism is envy. Criticism masks envy, jealousy, or resentment. Envious of another’s success, people grow critical to pull the other down. As they dwell on the other person’s good fortune, they begin to be overcome by resentment and start to find fault with what that person is doing. Again, the real issue is not the critical attitude—that’s just a petty covering for the problem of jealousy.

A third heart problem that lies under the covers of criticism is personal comparison. People can become critical of others because they’re living in defeat themselves. Maybe you’re discouraged about the direction of your life or what you have been able to accomplish so far. Maybe you’re struggling with a personal sin that has you consistently defeated. How easy it is to become critical of others to try to level the playing field. Comments deflect the attention from your own struggles to another person’s: “Well, she doesn’t have it all together, either,” or “Maybe I’m struggling, but he’s not perfect.” Criticism elevates you as the highest and best. Criticism can seem to reduce the pain of being under scrutiny and give you the satisfaction of scrutinizing someone else instead. People find it much harder to see your life if you are shining a critical spotlight on others! Criticism takes the focus off you and your faults and makes you feel superior—which is destructive to your spiritual life.

We often utter careless, thoughtless words that strike others like a slap in the face. Our verbal missiles may or may not be targeted for intentional injury, but we cause deep damage with our critical words. On a better day, filled with the Spirit and focused on what’s right, we would never choose to say those things. But when our hearts are overflowing with unforgiveness, envy, or personal comparisons, criticism spills from our lips.


  • What fuels your criticism of others—unforgiveness, envy, personal comparisons, or some other motive lurking in your heart? Ask the Holy Spirit for clarity on the abundance of your heart.
  • Take an inventory of your thoughts and words toward others in your past few interpersonal interactions. What are you spilling onto others—critical or life-giving words? What does that suggest about the abundance of your heart?

Father God, my criticism of others is a decoy from my real heart issues. Please help me to see clearly the messy motives of my words. Ugly though it is, please show me my unforgiveness, envy, and areas of defeat. When I start to deflect the attention from my own soul onto others, please remind me of my real heart issues. Please forgive me, please heal me, please fill my heart with good treasure so that when I speak, my words would spill good onto others. In the name of Jesus, my Savior, full of grace and truth, I pray, amen.