The difference between correction and criticism

This has never happened before. I went to this morning to get today’s Verse of the Day . . . and it was the same verse as Monday. Proverbs 19:20-21.

Maybe it’s a mistake? Maybe someone forgot to put a new verse up? That’s what I was thinking, and so I was just going to go look for a different verse to blog about. After all, the Bible is full of verses and I already covered this one. But then I read it again, and something completely different stood out to me than on Monday.

On Monday, I focused on getting wise cousel but leaving the plans to God. But (for some reason) the verse this morning displayed in the New International Version, which translates just a little bit differently than the New Living Translation:

20 Listen to advice and accept discipline,
   and at the end you will be counted among the wise.
 21 Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
   but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.

If you remember the devo on Monday, does what I saw this morning stand out to you?

Accept discipline.

Wow. How huge is that? Because it’s one thing to accept wise and godly advice from someone. It’s something else to accept discipline. Whether it comes from God in the form of chastisement or it comes from a parent or it comes from a friend, discipline is always hard to accept because it means you have to admit you’ve done something wrong.

A wise person accepts discipline.

Now, what is discipline exactly? The Amplified Version translates that same part of the verse this way: “Hear counsel, receive instruction, and accept correction.”

To me, that means discipline is any statement or action designed to correct an unwise behavior. Discipline can come from many different places. When we’re young, it comes most often from our parents or our teachers — if we don’t do our homework or if we misbehave in class. At work, it can come from bosses – if we don’t meet expectations or if we do something that risks our safety or the stability of the company. Within the church, it can come from pastors or from ministry leaders — if we do something or say something that endangers a ministry. And friends can even discipline (or correct) friends.

So, that begs the question if we always accept discipline. Because isn’t there a difference between discipline and correction and just plain criticism? Well. Yes.

Some people are critical and they will always be critical, and when they turn their focus on you, all they may have to say about you will be negative and unconstructive.

How can you tell the difference? How can you know what correction to accept and what criticism to ignore?

I’m not an expert in this, and I’m not a scholar. And I’m still pretty young. So I can’t tell you that I’ve got any of it figured out, but I can tell you what’s worked for me.

The way I handle discipline/correction/criticism is to take it all 100 percent seriously until I’ve had a chance to think about it. I can’t tell the difference really. I don’t know how to distinguish between them at first blush. I have to examine it to tell.

If someone tells me that I’m dressed in a way that’s too worldly, I take that seriously. And then I take a good long look at what I’m wearing, I compare it to what I believe the standards of Scripture are, and I ask God to show me if I’m wrong or if that person was just expressing an opinion. I also consider the background of the person who made the accusation. If he or she comes from a more conservative background that doesn’t like women to wear pants, that also will affect how I take their statement. If I can honestly say that my clothing choices are modest and appropriate, I will respect the opinon of the person who spoke up but I will not accept their correction because it’s merely criticism. It’s just that person telling me that they don’t like the clothes I wear. There’s no basis in Scripture to support their opinion. (However, if in my perusal of my wardrobe I discovered that all of my clothing is designed to attract attention in a way that isn’t appropriate, I would have some serious decisions to make.)

But . . . let’s say I am working backstage for a large dramatic production at NewSpring, and it’s my job to get props on stage for the actors to use in their scene. I have looked at the script and I know all my cues, and I think I’m doing my job perfectly. But then–the director comes back and tells me to bring the props out earlier, that I’m not bringing them out soon enough. What do I do? Do I immediately assume that the director is just trying to stifle my creativity or tell me that I don’t know what I’m doing? Do I jump to the conclusion that the director is just expressing his opinion and being critical of my work? No. I would treat it the same way. I would take a good long look at my motivation and the circumstances. In this case, when we’re talking about a dramatic production, the director is the one in charge, and if he wants the props on stage sooner, it’s my responsibility to get them on stage sooner — becuase the director is my authority and I am commanded in Scripture to obey my authorities. And in this case, my refusal to accept the direction (aka discipline and correction) will negatively impact the production as a whole. The actors won’t have their props. The whole play will be affected by my decision. Granted, if I have real, honest reasons why I think the props should go out at a different time, I’ll speak up and respectfully request to do it my way. But if the director says no, what the director says goes.

Do you see the difference? If there is no scriptural basis for the correction you are getting, it’s an opinion. You have to base everything in Scripture, but you can’t just shrug off every bit of correction or instruction as criticism. You have to take it all seriously until you’ve compared it to the Word of God. And if you compare it to the Word of God and find your actions lacking, you need to change.

Admit that you were wrong. Accept correction and instruction and discipline no matter how much it might hurt, and you will be called a wise person. Not only will you be wiser for it, you will also help yourself and help others. Because most of the time, discipline doesn’t just keep you out of trouble, it keeps you from causing trouble for other people too.