1 Samuel 17: 28-30
When Eliab, David’s eldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, ‘Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.’
‘Now what have I done?’ said David. ‘Can’t I even speak?’ He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before.
Yesterday we saw how David, as soon as he stepped up to fight Goliath, was subject to severe criticism from those closest to him. So how do we deal with criticism? What do we do when someone tears us down or even unintentionally says something negative about us?
The first thing to ask is this:
(i) Who did it come from?
Who was the source? There are some people who are just plain nasty and negative. Whatever is new or different or is not the way they would do something – they just want to tear it down.
There’s other people who just feel like they have to have to have an opinion about everything – even if it’s nothing to do with them. They’re a wee bit full of their own self-importance.
Then there’s some people who are actually really decent, Godly people.
So ask, who did the criticism come from?
In this case it was from Eliab, David’s oldest brother. Where have we heard of Eliab before? He was the one who Samuel was about to anoint as King. Remember, as soon as he saw Eliab, he thought – this must be the one. But God said no, he’s not my choice.
Possibly there’s something in that connected to what’s going on here. Could there perhaps be jealousy that he was overlooked. I mean he was the oldest brother – David was the runt of the litter. Could there be a festering resentment against his brother coming out.
The second thing to ask when criticised is:
(ii) How was it given?
Did someone write you an anonymous letter because they didn’t have the courage to tell you to your face? Was it someone who talked about you behind your back to someone else? Did someone just explode with anger and tear you to shreds – seemingly for no reason whatsoever? That’s what Eliab does here. Or did someone call you and say: "I need to talk to you about something – can we meet up for a coffee?"
How criticism is given has a huge impact on how we receive it.
The third question to ask is:
(iii) Why was it given?
Was it given to help me, to warn me, or just to tear me down?
Was it given out of love – from someone who really cares about me and wants to see me succeed?
Or was it from someone who doesn’t care about me and wants to see me fail?
Is there any truth in it?
I remember after I’d been in ordained ministry for about a year, I was preaching one Sunday morning and used a sermon illustration which was quite funny and most people had no problem with it. But someone came to me later that week, someone who I knew genuinely cared about me, and they took me aside and said: "That was a great sermon on Sunday, but to be honest I didn’t like that story you used at the start. I felt it didn’t help the sermon, for me it took away from it."
At the time, I said ‘thank you’ – but it stung a bit. But actually, as I went away and thought about it, I realised that maybe they were right. Perhaps it wasn’t helpful. And if one story takes away from what I’m trying to communicate, maybe I’m best not to use it. And so, I’ve never used that story or any like it ever again. Their advice was incredibly helpful. As someone once said: Turn your critics into coaches. See if there’s something you can learn which might help you.
In this story of David, why might Eliab have been so critical of brother? Was he trying to help him or warn him out of love? Probably not. Or was it maybe the result of bitterness, jealousy and anger?
Often when we’re criticised it says much more about the person doing the criticising than it does about us. Remember that hurt people hurt other people. It could be coming from their own brokenness.
David must have realised this because look at how he responds to his brother’s criticism:
“He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before.” (v. 30)
He just turns away and speaks to someone else. He doesn’t take it personally, he doesn’t have a breakdown or get all upset, he doesn’t strike back and tear Eliab to shreds, he doesn’t let it discourage him from what he’s about to do – he just turns around and keeps on doing what he’s doing.
Why? Because he is a man after God’s own heart. He is only concerned with God thinks about him. What others say really doesn’t matter. It’s God he lives for, it’s God’s honour and reputation at stake here.
The other question I ask is – what was Eliab doing in this situation with Goliath? Nothing. He was standing there just as scared and passive and paralysed by fear as everyone else. Instead of attacking Goliath like he should have been doing, Eliab attacks David.
It’s easy for people who do nothing to criticise people who at least are trying to do something. It’s easy for 20,000 spectators to shout abuse at 22 men on a pitch – when most of the spectators can’t kick a ball to save their lives. I have found that often the people who are the most critical are the one’s who do the least. Because you doing something, you having a passion, you stepping up – makes them uncomfortable and shows everyone just little they are doing.
As someone once said: "If you have no will to change it, you have no right to critisise it."
When we aren’t doing what we know we should be doing, it’s very easy to turn our criticism towards others. We dump our own insecurities and issues onto those who are genuinely trying to do the right thing. Instead of fighting the giant, we fight our brothers. Instead of using our energy to deal with the real problem, we use it to fight those who we should be encouraging and supporting.
How you respond to criticism really matters. In fact how you deal with criticism can have a huge impact on what your future looks like.
Imagine if David had let this throw him off course. If he had taken it personally, got all emotional and sensitive and went home again all upset. Or spent his time trying to gather people around him who would take his side.
What would have happened with Goliath? What would have happened to the people of Israel? What would have happened to God’s reputation?
Because offense is given, doesn’t mean it has to be taken.
We simply cannot let criticism and negativity takes us away from the call of God on our lives.
We cannot let fear of what others think stop us from doing the things God calls us to do.
We cannot allow anyone and their opinion to have the power over us that only God and His opinion should have.
When God is calling us to rise up, we simply can’t allow other to pull us back down.
If you are going to do anything remotely significant for God – accept that you will be criticised. And find your security not in what others say and think about you – do what David did – find your security and sense of worth and identity in God.