Exhortation Versus Criticism

Recently I was looking at the website stats and saw that someone found the site when searching the question, “What is the difference between exhortation and criticism?” I would suppose this site came up in the search results due to the training on the spiritual gift of exhortation. Nonetheless, it got me to thinking about it.

  • Exhortation is a spiritual gift God has given some people to serve. (Rom. 12:8)
  • Criticism is not a spiritual gift.
  • Exhortation is a command all believers are to engage in with one another. (1 Thess. 5:11; Heb. 3:13)
  • Criticism is not commanded.

That pretty well sums it up for me but I’m sure the next question some might ask would be “Is criticism ever right?

Obviously we are not to ignore the wrongdoings or mistakes of others. Sometimes it would help for them to know what they are doing wrong, not just what they are doing right. The Bible does indeed tell us to speak the truth but in that same verse we are instructed to do so “in love” (Eph. 4:15). 2 Timothy 2:24-25a says, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition.” We must never lay aside the qualities of love (1 Cor. 13:4-7) when confronting someone about the error of their ways.

We must always consider our motivations as well as the way we approach someone. That is what truly makes the difference between exhortation and criticism.

  1. Exhortation builds up whereas criticism often tears down. (Eph. 4:29)
  1. Exhortation comes from a standpoint of coming alongside of the person (paraklesis) whereas criticism usually comes from an aloof or superior position.
  1. Exhortation tends to bring hope and encouragement whereas criticism tends to lead to despair and discouragement. (1 Thess. 4:18; 2 Pet. 3:3-4)
  1. Exhortation helps people become what God wants them to be whereas criticism tends to emphasize what people should not be. (Heb. 10:24)
  1. Exhortation is built upon caring concern whereas criticism stems from judgmentalism and disapproval. (Matt. 7:1-5; Col. 3:13; Gal. 6:1)
  1. Exhortation should lead to conviction whereas criticism can bring condemnation. (Heb. 3:13)

My question is — Why criticize when exhortation is so much more effective?

7 Replies to “Exhortation Versus Criticism”

  1. This teaching on the difference between Exhortation and Criticism is a very useful tool for me as a Bible teacher in consciously checking my motives in my approach to others.
    Thank you very much!!!

    • You are quite welcome, Betty. I praise God that you see the application for it as a Bible teacher. Whether in our one-on-one relationships, in the classroom, or however we serve, we would all do well to be more conscious in checking our motives.

  2. Thank you for. These insights although I recognise a hearts desire to exhort encourage especially those in despair. I am in turn learning to not react to negative criticism of myself and like the phrase teaching people of what they can become on Christ instead of what they are not and this has encouraged me to search more and focus more on who we are in Christ. Coming from a very negative critical up bringing I marvel at god putting this desire on my own heart to become more positive thinking on a christ centered way and encourage others and the practice to say aloud to myself each day who I am in Christ not in an arrogant way but in an affirming way. I want to also learn more on the skill of really listening and empathy. Can any one suggest books or courses on this area. thank you

    • Hello, Christine. How we react often comes out of our backgrounds. We can indeed rise above by focusing on who we are in Christ. I praise God that you have come to that conclusion. You asked about books or courses. Some books that could be helpful to getting a good foundation in this are listed below. They may get beyond our identity in Christ but could nonetheless be helpful. Clicking on the links will take you to one of our affiliate stores where you can learn more about the books. If you look on the page for the first book listed below, you’ll see that there is also a workbook you can get.
      The Search For Significance: Seeing Your True Worth Through God’s Eyes by Robert McGee
      Telling Yourself the Truth by William Backus
      When People Are Big and God Is Small by Edward T. Welch

      A book that provides some help with empathy and listening but also deals with other areas of helping people is How to be a People Helper by Gary Collins. It is an older book but still relevant. You might also want to check out Telling Each Other the Truth by William Backus.

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