One of the most important things for every Christian is to learn to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. In my experience one of the greatest imposters for the voice of the Holy Spirit is the spirit of criticism. The two are very similar because the Holy Spirit is going to inspire us toward godliness and excellence! Often in our pursuit of excellence, however, we can unintentionally become critical of ourselves and others. We do this in the name of godliness, morality, and advancing the kingdom, but often unintentionally miss the voice of God.
So how do we distinguish between the Holy Spirit and a critical spirit? Look at this passage of scripture out of Philippians 1:
9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ,
In these verses, the Apostle Paul said that discernment, which is the ability to judge well, comes out of the love of God. The word for love he used in this verse is the Greek word agapē which means unconditional love. Agapē isn’t an emotional love. It is a love by conscious choice that lays down its life for other people. This is the type of love Jesus operated in when He laid down His life for us.
One of the best things we can ask ourselves when we think we are discerning the voice of God about someone is, “Am I willing to lay down my life for this person?” If not, the voice we are hearing is probably a critical spirit and not the Holy Spirit.
This doesn’t mean God doesn’t want us to ever bring a corrective word to someone. He does. The scripture teaches us we should. It just means our heart breaks for them when we bring correction because we want the best for them. We don’t bring a word of correction out of a place of offense. We bring it out of love believing the best about them.
1 Corinthians 13:7 says that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. God has called us to hope for the best and believe the best about other people in spite of what they are doing. This is because once a person gives their life to Christ, He moves inside of them and gives them His nature and ability. We need to see them according to their spiritual nature and ability and not after what they are doing in the flesh.
An example of how this looks practically is when we find out a friend has been gossiping about us and have to decide how to respond. It hurts to be gossiped about and its easy for us to yield to the pain and bring judgmental accusations against the friend such as they never really liked us, they are jealous of us, or they have some ulterior motive to tear us down to bring gain for themselves.
Many times we become critical and judgmental under the guise of being discerning, but when we start to feel these emotions we need to ask, “Would I lay down my life for this person?” We saw earlier that true discernment comes from the agapē love of God that lays down its life. This kind of love hopes the best and believes the best about people. We have to make a choice to allow this love to permeate our hearts before making decisions on how to respond.
I will say since I learned to do this over 15 years ago, I’ve found that God’s response is typically the opposite of how may flesh wants to respond. My flesh wants to criticize and lash out, but the Holy Spirit reminds me of His love for me and how He sees me and the person I am angry with. When I see them as He sees them and begin to respond accordingly, the Holy Spirit brings peace to my heart and solutions to the situation.
It is important for me to clarify, we do have the right to say someone’s actions are wrong, but we don’t have the right to judge someone’s heart or intentions. Going back to our example, we can say the gossip was wrong, but none of us know the motive for why someone gossiped about us. The scriptural way to handle is to go to that person and tell them what they said hurt us and talk to them about the situation with a heart of compassion and reconciliation.
Another great example of being spirit led and not criticism led is in Exodus 31 when God anointed Bezalel and Aholiab to build the tabernacle. The Bible says, God filled them with his spirit and anointed them with gifting to prepare His dwelling place in the earth.
By Exodus 32, however, as Moses was on Mount Sinai getting the law, ordinances, and instructions on how to build the tabernacle from God, the people were down at the base of a mountain worshipping a golden calf and getting into all kinds of debauchery. Bezalel and Aholiab were with the people worshipping the golden calf. Think about this for a minute. These men who were called by God and were filled with the spirit to build the tabernacle were in egregious sin. Most of us, would have been done with Bezalel and Aholiab.
But what did God do? Did He say, “Bezalel and Aholiab, I’m done with you. You just aren’t serious enough about me. You guys are immature and selfish. Forget the call I had on your lives to build my tabernacle. I’ll get someone else.”
That’s what many of us would have done, but it is not what God did. He gave them time to repent and by Exodus 36 they began the work on His tabernacle. God’s love saw the best in them and God knew when He called Bezalel and Aholiab that His grace would overcome their personal weakness and He would use them in a mighty way.
This is how God thinks about people. He sees the best in us (Christ), not the worst (flesh). This is why it is so important to be rooted in His unconditional love. It’s His unconditional love that gives us the capacity to see the truth about ourselves and others. I want to encourage you to root yourselves in the unconditional love of God today. Know He loves you just because. Allow that to overflow every chamber of your heart. As you do that, your heart will expand and your capacity to see things from God’s perspective will increase! This will cause you to be spirit led and not criticism led. If you’d like more teaching on this subject, check out this message!