Criticism hurts—no matter how kindly delivered and no matter how constructively cast. It pains us to hear criticism because—even if we knew the problem existed previously—it is embarrassing and somewhat depressing to hear that someone else noticed and thought it significant enough an issue to bring to our attention. Enduring the critique of any sermon during homiletics classes in school required preparation all its own, despite how justified those criticisms may have been. Similarly, the closer relationship we have with the one offering the criticism, the more it hurts. You can ignore a total stranger pointing out one of your flaws, or at least get over it rather quickly, but when your spouse brings the same thing to your attention it carries far greater weight emotionally. Now, if you acknowledge the truth of these basic observations, how might they apply when the critique is not only unjustified but a false and cruel attack against your character?
The back and forth between Job and his friends escalated in emotional intensity and argumentative fervor with every speech. Job’s friends replied to his frustration and confusion with increasingly angry and bitter remarks aimed at breaking his will more than offering answers. So when Eliphaz once more took his turn in Job 22, he continued to hammer on the theme that Job’s suffering resulted from his sin. However, on this occasion he went beyond the general theme and turned toward direct charges against Job—without any evidence supporting them whatsoever. He began, “Is not your wickedness great, And your iniquity without end?” (Job 22:5), before speculating at length about the type of sins Job had committed and ending with the general admonition that Job needed to know God better and repent. However, herein lies a great difficulty. How do you repent of something that you have not done? And how do you defend yourself against a smorgasbord of charges that have no merit, are not based on evidence, and yet everyone else seems to believe?
While the specific situation confronting Job does not exist today, the problem of people both making and believing false accusations does. In fact, we see it in the political arena with great regularity. All it takes is some murky facts combined with a blatant accusation by someone and the willing ignorance of others and the character assassination is complete. Sadly, this also sometimes happens among God’s people. All it takes is an accusation that resonates with people and their unwillingness to investigate beyond the attack or rumor and the reputation of a man of integrity is soiled by the dirt thrown by the malicious and accepted by the gullible. That this contradicts—on both parts—principles at the heart of Christianity seems to elude people.
Regardless, we have a responsibility to learn from the scriptures rather than repeat the foibles of those exposed on their pages. We must begin by taking great care before rebuking anyone. Distinguish between facts and rumors, between events and innuendo, and between sin and matters of judgment before deciding to do anything. Then, I might kindly suggest that we begin taking Matthew 5:21-26 and Matthew 18:15-20 seriously. Finally, we must act upon facts rather than accusations. Most charges are designed to inflame by their very wording. If we are not interested enough to investigate the actual behavior and words, then we no right to act based upon our ignorance. False accusations have been in the toolbox of Satan for centuries, designed to undermine unity, harm the innocent, and protect the guilty. The world will continue to accept them as par for the course, but in the church, it is time for them to end.