Hello everyone and welcome to episode 117, What to Do When People Criticize Us.

Unless you’ve been raised by wolves and live in a remote forest out in the wild, it’s impossible to go through life without being criticized at one time or another, for one thing or another. How to respond to criticism is a relationship challenge. Do we go on the defensive and confront our critics? Or do we cower, and retreat with our tail between our legs? Or is there another option?

Today’s episode is about another option. A better option. Keep listening to learn what it is, and what to do when people criticize us.

The story starts with a shipwreck

There’s a wonderful story in the New Testament of the Bible that illustrates a profound relationship principle. It’s in the book of Acts. As a backdrop to the story, we learn in chapter 27 that the Apostle Paul is on a boat headed to Rome when his ship encounters a terrible storm. It eventually becomes shipwrecked off the Island of Malta in the Mediterranean.

Dealing with a criticism

The story picks up in chapter 28, where the Apostle Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, tells us the following, in the first ten verses:

1 Once we were safe on shore, we learned that we were on the island of Malta. 2 The people of the island were very kind to us. It was cold and rainy, so they built a fire on the shore to welcome us.

3As Paul gathered an armful of sticks and was laying them on the fire, a poisonous snake, driven out by the heat, bit him on the hand. 4 The people of the island saw it hanging from his hand and said to each other, “A murderer, no doubt! Though he escaped the sea, justice will not permit him to live.”

5  But Paul shook off the snake into the fire and was unharmed.  6The people waited for him to swell up or suddenly drop dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw that he wasn’t harmed, they changed their minds and decided he was a god.

7Near the shore where we landed was an estate belonging to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us and treated us kindly for three days. 8As it happened, Publius’s father was ill with fever and dysentery. Paul went in and prayed for him, and laying his hands on him, he healed him. 9Then all the other sick people on the island came and were healed. 10 As a result we were showered with honors, and when the time came to sail, people supplied us with everything we would need for the trip.

Context of the criticism

The people of Malta were hospitable and welcoming to these shipwrecked sailors and their passengers. Luke describes them as very kind people in vs. 2. They take in Paul and his fellow travelers and cared for them in the cold and rain with a warm fire. Later in the story, the chief public official of the island is described as “kindly.” He hosted these shipwrecked travelers for three days in his home. These were a very kind and relational people.

Crux of the criticism

The islanders call Paul a murderer because a snake bit him on his hand. They demonize him, based on limited information. It comes out of their worldview that had no basis in reality. A snake biting a person does not mean the person is a murderer. They developed a mythology to explain things they didn’t understand. Don’t we do the same thing to make sense out of the world we live in? We all want answers, even to the unanswerable.

To their credit, when they saw that no harm had come to Paul, the people of Malta quickly changed their mind. But then they go to the opposite extreme and call him a god. A murderer one minute, a god the next. How quickly their evaluation changed.

What we observe about Paul

Paul helped with the fire by adding logs to it. He was being a good guest. The most amazing thing is that when he hears the people of Malta calling him a murderer, he remains silent. Yes silent! This is so unlike him. He was always quick in the past to stand up to his accusers. Yet here, he is quiet.

Why? Because he knew they were right. He was a murderer. Paul was responsible for the death of countless Christians before his conversion to Christianity. His critics were correct. He could have easily defended himself by saying this was part of his past before he became a Christian. But because of his faith in Jesus and the power of the cross, all his sins were forgiven, and that he is a completely new person in light of God’s forgiveness. He could have said all that with complete accuracy.

I wonder why he didn’t speak this truth into their lives. I wonder if he felt they weren’t ready to hear words of truth. People need to be willing and ready. Telling people truth before they’re receptive to it can often make things worse. It takes discernment to know when to speak and when to remain silent.

Actions speak louder than words

In this situation, Paul says nothing and instead flings the snake back into the fire. The snake is a symbol of the criticism he faced. It represents his old sin nature before he became a new creation at the time he committed his life to Jesus, totally forgiven of his past evil life.

Instead of defending himself with words, Paul uses the gifts God has equipped him with to take action. Action to bless people, in this case starting with the father of Publius, the island official. Paul heals him of a fever and dysentery. And then other sick people flock to him and Paul heals them, too.

I love the last line of this passage from Acts 28,

“As a result, we were showered with honors, and when the time came to sail, people supplied us with everything we would need for the trip.”

What a beautiful story and example for us in how to respond when people criticize us.

So what does all this mean for YOU?

How can you use what you’ve heard today to improve the relationships in YOUR life? Here are a few ideas:

  • Be as honest as you can with yourself. Is there any truth to what people are criticizing you for? If so, do I need to apologize to anyone? Do I need to make things right with someone?
  • Ask, “What does Jesus say about me?” Even if my critics are 100% accurate in their judgment, what does Jesus think about me?
  • Ask God for wisdom. Wisdom to know what to say to my critics, and when to say it. Wisdom to know when to remain silent, and when to let my actions speak for me
Here’s the main point I hope you remember from today’s episode

When people criticize us, remind ourselves of who we are because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom to keep doing what Jesus called us to do, just like Paul did, regardless of the criticism.

I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode. Just send them to me in an email to john [at] caringforothers [dot] org. Or you can share your thoughts in the “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of the show notes.


I’ll close with the July 13th devotional reading from Sarah Young’s book, Jesus Calling. The author writes from the perspective of Jesus, speaking in the first person to the reader, and in our case today, to you as listener:

I want you to experience the riches of your salvation: the Joy of being loved constantly and perfectly. You make a practice of judging yourself, based on how you look or behave or feel. If you like what you see in the mirror, you feel a bit more worthy of My love. When things are going smoothly and your performance seems adequate, you find it easier to believe you are My beloved child. When you feel discouraged, you tend to look inward so you can correct whatever is wrong.

Instead of trying to “fix” yourself, fix your gaze upon Me, the lover of your soul. Rather than using your energy to judge yourself, redirect it to praising Me. Remember that I see you clothed in my righteousness, radiant in My perfect Love.

The author then lists three bible passages from which she derives her thoughts on how she imagines Jesus calling us.

Finally, if you found this podcast helpful, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts if you haven’t already done so. And forward this episode on to others you think may be interested in today’s topic. This helps us to serve more people like you.

I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to both reflect and to act. Especially when people criticize you. All so that you will find the joy God intends for you through your relationships. Because after all, You Were Made for This.

Well, that’s all for today. I look forward to connecting with you again next week. Goodbye for now.

A related episode you may want to listen to

037 The Two-Step Process to Solve Relationship Conflicts

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