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Matthew 5:25-26 (New International Version)

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

Q: When should you agree with your opponent? A: When he is right.

If you are like me, you were taught growing up to “consider the source,” when you were criticized. Girls at any age can be notoriously catty and hateful. My grade school experience proved no different from that of many girls. So when I came home teary-eyed with hurt feelings, my mother gave me the speech. I was told to consider the source of my torment. And to give weight to her opinion based on that person’s knowledge, expertise, or disposition.

Since in grade school, nobody had any expertise – unless you count William B.’s ability to eat his own snot, all I could go on was knowledge and disposition. For me that translated into this: if a kid was smart, maybe I’d consider her opinion. If she was dumb, definitely not. Boys were worse than dumb girls – nobody bothered to listen to them – not even other boys. If however the person was smart, but jealous of me or mean (which really meant – mean to me), then her jealousy or meanness voided out her intelligence. So I didn’t have to take her seriously. In the end, the only people whose criticism had any weight in my life were the nice, smart girls in my class – who incidentally were also my friends.

From grade school at least through my junior year of high school, I ignored all criticism that didn’t come from smart, nice girls, who were my friends. The problem with this is that teenage girls (and often times grown women) will not tell you the ugly truth about yourself because they fear confrontation, hurting your feelings or both. While this philosophy works well for Barbies, for a maturing young woman, it’s a fail.

As I matured, I did gain better friends who weren’t afraid of hurting my feelings or my getting angry with them when confronted. In fact, I came to rely heavily on these women to love me enough to tell me the truth about myself. Their integrity helped me to grow up, too.

But again – they were friends. If I was honest, by the time I was a young adult, I had really only modified my “nice, smart girls method” of handling criticism to include fearless women who loved me. There were a few guys I listened to, occasionally – but as a feminist at a very liberal university, I had found more sophisticated reasons to regard “boys” as worse than dumb girls. Male opinions weren’t even a blip on my screen.

But still it didn’t occur to me until years later when wrestling with the verse above, that my method of dealing with criticism was all wrong. I wasn’t to “consider” the source and the write off anyone I found lacking in intelligence or kindness. I was to consider the truth. Why on earth would Jesus himself ever encourage us to settle matters with our adversary on the way to court? Because our righteousness is his concern. The question at hand is not who says what about me, but what they say. My only duty is to consider not the source, but the truth of the statement. Someone who hates me may say something mean about me, with the intent of wounding me. I cannot be concerned with motive, I must ask “Is this true?”

If a criticism is true, regardless if it comes from friend or foe, homie or hater, I have work to do. If it is not, then I’m good. But who to ask? Yes, sometimes close friends are willing and able to tell you what’s wrong with you. But if you’re like most people, you choose friends who are a lot like you, so your faults may not be as apparent to them. People who don’t like you can be a good source of finding out what’s wrong with you. But you may not want to open yourself up to all the other garbage that comes along with their perspective. Who’s left?

You know me by now. God! God already knows what your flaws are. He will be honest with you, yet merciful – showing you all that you can bear to see about yourself for now (because if you really knew just how to’ back you are, you might just give up). And the best part is, he has the ability to change you. The same power that resurrected a dead Jesus is at work in every believer to make us more godly.

At the risk of sounding crass, it’s one-stop-shopping. Everything you need is in Christ. So the next time you find yourself the butt of criticism, resist defending yourself. Refuse to “consider the source.” Humble yourself, listen to your adversary, take the report to God, and ask the Judge to show you if the accusation is true. Trust me, he will confirm it one way or another. Then you’ll know where you stand.

Q: When should you agree with your opponent? A: When he is right.

Be blessed, Family.

Follow Sheeri on Twitter! Visit her on Black Planet.

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