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On your Mark

Dealing with criticism

So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.” (Mark 3:23-26, NIV)

The teachers of the Law walked about 100 miles from Jerusalem to Galilee with the accusation that Jesus drove out demons by the power of the devil.

How did Jesus respond to their criticism? What can we learn from His example about our own reactions to people who don’t like us, misinterpret our actions or motives, or say not-so-nice things about us to other people?

First, Jesus teaches us that if we make a response, it should be direct. The teachers of the Law bad-mouthed Jesus outside His presence; but Jesus did not answer in kind. He called them to Him.

Too many times, even in church circles, criticism is passed on indirectly: “Well, I’ve heard this about so and so; and I cannot reveal the source, but it may very well be true.” Later in His ministry, Jesus taught us to go directly to another person rather than roundabout (Matthew 18:15). Jesus set the example here with the teachers of the Law. He doesn’t let them get away with criticism not expressed directly.

Second, Jesus dealt with the issue and did not attack the character of the persons making the charge. Of course, in the last week of His ministry, Jesus did excoriate the Pharisees and scribes (Mark 12:38-40; Matthew 23). But here He treats their personhood with respect through rationally dealing with their accusation rather than blasting their motives. Jesus could have immediately written them off and sent them a message: “You are children of the devil, and I won’t even stoop to talk with you.”

Instead, He draws them into His presence and courteously engages them. He extends the opportunity of grace to those who like Him least. As their rejection of Him hardens, He will later become far more direct and confrontational; but here He throws the seed of reason on the ground. If the ground has some good soil to receive His words, well and good; if the soil is hard, then the fault lies with the soil and not the seed.

In His kingdom-divided and house-divided analogies, Jesus articulates a universal principle of relationships. A marriage cannot stand when two are divided, nor can a home endure when there is division. A split church cannot effectively reach its community for Christ.

Jesus repudiates the teachers’ charge that His power derives from Satan; but He does not repudiate the existence of Satan. Jesus clearly held that evil was not an impersonal force — it had a face. It was a person. Satan stands behind the controls and forces of all that is wrong and terrible in this world.

How could Satan be casting out Satan when his goal is to “cast in” and not cast out? He wants to possess, not deliver; to inhabit, not vacate; to bind, not set free.

When someone falsely accuses you, can you be as gracious and direct in dealing with them as Jesus was with His critics? Will you make a reasonable response, or will you make an all-out attack on their character?

A prayer of response
Lord Jesus, please place Your personality into mine. Fill all the nooks, crannies and crevices of my life with Your presence, Your thoughts and Your feelings. Help me deal wisely when I am the object of another’s false accusations.

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

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