Criticism Doesn’t Have to Hurt
Acts 23:

Turn with me to Acts chapter 23. We're continuing our study in the book of Acts entitled That Old Time Religion. I want to say if you practice some old time religion you're going to get some old time persecution. If you don't know it, you'd better learn it. I want to talk about how Criticism doesn’t have to hurt. Not just any criticism, but criticism that we will receive if we stand for the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Bible says, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12).

There's no way in this world of carnal men and women that we can be redeemed and survive without being criticized. The Lord Jesus said, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you"—Not "if," but—"when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven..." (Matthew 5:11- 12).

It must be for His sake. Some of us get criticized for things we really deserve to be criticized about. But, if we are criticized or persecuted for standing for the Lord Jesus Christ, praise God, that's exactly the way it ought to be; the Bible says, "Great is your reward in Heaven."

Sometimes what we get is not persecution, it's punishment. Persecution comes when bad men persecute us for doing good. Punishment comes when good men punish us for doing bad. We have to learn the difference.

For some of us, the criticism we get and the persecution, or the punishment we get, we deserve. But, I'm talking about those who suffer for righteousness' sake, those who, because of their stand for the Lord Jesus Christ, are misunderstood, maligned, persecuted, and sometimes physically accosted. Jesus said, "Rejoice and be exceeding glad" (Matthew 5:12).

The Apostle Paul knew what it was to be criticized and condemned. As a matter of fact, the Scripture that we're about to read in this twenty-third chapter of the book of Acts has the Apostle Paul who is standing before a high court, that is the Sanhedrin.

These were not just a normal group of people, they were extremely powerful. This was the same group that had caused Jesus to be put to death. It was the same group that had caused Stephen to be stoned. Remember Paul used to be a member of this group. Paul was one of the few people who had been a member of the Sanhedrin and now he's no longer a member. They look upon him as a traitor, as a turncoat, he's now standing before them.

So, let's pick up our reading and look in verse 1: "And Paul, earnestly beholding the council..." That is, he's looking them straight in the eye. He's standing there with confidence, he's standing there with poise, and he’s standing there with conviction. He, "said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day. And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high priest? Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people" (Acts 23:1-5).

The Apostle Paul was criticized, he was persecuted, physically abused for his stand for the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet he went through this criticism triumphantly. Folks, we are going to be criticized and persecuted if we live for Jesus, especially in these last days. So, I think it would behoove us to pay a lot of attention to the message because I'm going to show how to cope with criticism and to have peace with persecution.

We're going to be able to do it exactly the same way that Paul did; let me mention the three things that come out in our passage of scripture that really shows me what Paul had in his life that enabled him to cope with criticism.

Number one is what I want to call a righteous life. Paul, in verse 1, speaks of his conscience, he says, "I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day" (Acts 23:1). His righteous life came out of a good conscience before God.

Okay, what is conscience? Conscience is that inner voice that judges what God has put within our being that accuses us, or excuses us for our actions. Conscience can't make us be good, it can't make us be bad, it's just the alarm that goes off when we are bad, or it's that peace that affirms us when we do right.

We hear people say, "Let your conscience be your guide." You can let conscience be your guide sometimes, but not all of the time. You can only let conscience be your guide to the degree that God guides your conscience. You see, the Bible mentions all kinds of conscience.

Paul said, "I have a good conscience" (Acts 23:1). How do you have a good conscience? Look with me in 24:16. Paul mentions it again. He says, "And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offence toward God, and toward men." So, a good conscience is a conscience that is free of offense toward God and toward men. If we don't have that kind of a conscience, we'll never be able to stand criticism and we'll never be able to endure persecution; a conscience free of offense toward God and toward men.

Let me ask a question. Is there in our heart right now any un-confessed sin? If so, we don't have a good conscience. Our sins are an offense to a Holy God and we'll not be able to stand criticism if we are not as pure as the driven snow.

Is there any problem between us and a brother or sister that we've not made right? I'm not talking about what they have done to us; I'm talking about what we have done to them. Have we offended somebody? Is there anybody who can point a finger of accusation back at us and say something about us that we have not endeavored to make right, that we've not confessed, that we've not repented of, that we've not made restitution about? If so, we don't have a good conscience.

You see, it is a clear conscience, it is a good conscience that enables us when people criticize us or persecute us to say, "That's all right, I know there's nothing between me and God and I know there's nothing between me and my brother.

Paul said, "I'm standing here with a good conscience and that gives one a tremendous liberty." It gives us a freedom. We don't have to worry about somebody saying, "Hey, what about this and what about that." We can't be sinless, but folks, we ought to be blameless. When we do sin, we confess it, we forsake it, and we make it right.

Does that seem like that's too much to be right with God and right with man? That's basic Christianity and when you have that, it's amazing how you can stand criticism. But you don't have it if your conscience bothers you; then criticism will bother you.

When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden and they sinned, they wounded their conscience, they hid from God and God came walking in the midst of the garden and cried out, "Adam, '... Where art thou?'" (Genesis 3:9). And, Adam and Eve were in the trees and the bushes hiding themselves from God. Adam said, "... I hid myself" Genesis 3:10). Why? His conscience condemned him.

Do you know why people don't like to hear us talk about Jesus? Do you know why they don't like to hear the Bible preached? Their conscience bothers them and they run from God just exactly as Adam and Eve ran from God there in the Garden of Eden. That's the reason some folks just don't enjoy coming to church. Get right with God; you'll enjoy the worship services.

Is your conscience bothering you, you'll feel condemned every time the preacher preaches. You'll feel like he's talking right to you. You'll say, "Why did he get so personal?" It's just simply that your conscience is bothering you.

I heard of a man who used to sit on the front row and say, "Amen, amen, amen." And, the preacher liked that. You know, that just encourages preachers. After a while this man got some sin in his heart and in his life and rather than being on the front row he found himself on the back row, almost out of the church. One time the preacher met him in the vestibule and said, "remember how you used to sit up front and say, 'Amen?' You used to enjoy the service, now you just seem to try to get as far back as you can. Why is that?" "Don't you know that saying, 'Amen' to a preacher is like saying, 'Sic em' to a bulldog?" The man said, "Pastor, it's hard to say, 'Sic em' to a bulldog when he has you by the seat of the trousers."

David sinned against God and his conscience was wounded and he tried to run from God, he tried to get away from God. I imagine that David, after he committed adultery and murder, if they'd had telephones in that day, every time the phone rang he'd have jumped. He'd see two people over here whispering, he's wondering, "Are they talking about me?" You see, folks when you're right with God there's no un-confessed sin. When you're right with your fellow man, criticism doesn't bother you.

Did you know that the Bible says you can have a defiled conscience? Titus 1:15: "Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled."

That's the reason you can't let conscience always be your guide because your conscience is like a thermostat—it can be set to operate anywhere. It's like a sundial; you can look at a sundial with a flashlight and make it register any time at all. If your conscience is defiled, then you can't let your conscience be your guide.

Somebody said, "Well, my conscience doesn't bother me." Well, that doesn't mean what you're doing is right, it may simply mean that your "conscience is defiled"—you've set it at the wrong standard.

Not only can you have a defiled conscience, you can have what the Bible calls a seared conscience. 1 Timothy 4:2, the Bible speaks of some "having their conscience seared with a hot iron." It's like you take that branding iron, and you put it down on that quivering flesh, and it burns that mark on that flesh of that animal. That animal is seared, he's branded with a hot iron, there's no feeling left there at all. You can take that brand mark and put a pin in, he won't feel a thing because the nerve endings have been burned out.

You can do the same thing with your conscience. You can so sin against your conscience that your conscience burns out and it doesn't operate. The Indians used to say that, "Conscience is like an arrowhead within every man's breast. When you do bad, the arrowhead revolves around and the sharp corners hurt you." "But, if you do bad long enough, the sharp corners wear off and you don't feel it any more."

It’s like an old prospector who had a watchdog. In the middle of the night the dog growled and barked and the old prospector told the animal to be quiet and went back to sleep. The old dog growled and barked again and the prospector cursed him. The third time the animal barked the old prospector got up and shot his dog and went back to sleep, only to be murdered in the night by the intruder that the dog was trying to warn him of.

So many people actually crucify their conscience. It's what the Bible calls a seared conscience. You see, you may have a warped conscience. The Bible calls that "a defiled conscience" Or, you may have a deadened conscience. Or, you may have I suppose the worst kind of a conscience that is what the Bible calls an evil conscience. In Hebrews 10:22 the Bible speaks of "... an evil conscience."

Do you know what an evil conscience is? An evil conscience is a conscience that literally approves evil. I mean, some people are so warped and so twisted that they actually call good bad and bad good? Isaiah 5:20: "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter." People can get so warped, so distorted that they don't know the difference between right and wrong and they actually think that wrong is right and right is wrong. "Woe unto them that call evil good." That is "an evil conscience" (Hebrews 10:22).

Do you think it would be all right for me to take a man's life and experiment on him; take his life and just butcher him up? Some people think it's all right to butcher babies. "Woe unto them, woe unto them that put good for evil and evil for good" (Isaiah 5:20). People today will play enough tricks on their mind and get so far away from that which is right and that which is wrong that they literally approve evil with seemingly a good conscience.

You may have "a defiled conscience," you may have a seared conscience, you may have an evil conscience, and if you have any of those, you'll not be able to cope with criticism—not in the Bible way (Titus 1:15).

The Apostle Paul said that day, "I stand here with a good conscience" (Acts 23:1). When you have that, when you know that your life is void of offense toward God and void of offense toward man, then you can cope with criticism and you can have peace in persecution; not only peace, you can have joy.

So step number one, if you would learn how to cope with criticism, if you would learn how to stand in these days, you must have a righteous life before God and man.

Number two, the second thing that enabled Paul to stand as he did that day was not only a righteous life, but a resurrected Lord. Look if you will in verse 6, "But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question" (Acts 23:6).

Paul knew something; he knew that it wasn't really Paul they were upset with, it was his Lord. He said, "I know why I'm here, I am suffering this criticism, I am enduring this persecution because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead. I have been preaching the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a disturbing truth. Think about it, if that is true, and it is, that the Man Jesus walked out of His grave; rose from the dead, you've got to deal with that; that's a disturbing truth.

One simply can't be neutral about that. I have to agree with the person that said, "If Jesus Christ is still in that grave, nothing really matters. But, if Jesus Christ came out of that grave, nothing but that really matters." One can't just say, "Well, maybe he did, maybe he didn't, makes no difference to me." If you're a thinking person, you're going to have to face the fact of the resurrection—either it is true or it is not true. It is a disturbing truth.

Not only is it a disturbing truth, it is a divisive truth. It is a truth not only that disturbs; it is a truth that divides. Look if you will in verse 7: "And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both" (Acts 23:7-8).

So, you have a classic confrontation. You had the Sadducees who didn't believe in demons or angels, didn't believe in a resurrection, then you have the Pharisees who believed in demons, and angels, and the resurrection.

So what you have is the fundamentalists and the liberals. They had gotten together, and in this case neither one of them knew Jesus. The only thing that got them together was a "Stop Paul" movement. The Sadducees and the Pharisees who wouldn't give one another the time of day have gotten together now to stop Paul. So Paul just kind of throws a bombshell in their lap. He says, "I'm here because of the hope of the resurrection."

At that moment there arose a great division because there were some who did believe in the resurrection though they didn't believe in Jesus; they didn't believe He was the Messiah. Others who didn't believe in the resurrection at all and the idea of the resurrection caused division.

I'm trying to say that when you preach the resurrection of Jesus Christ, really preach it, it's a disturbing truth, it is a dividing truth. There was a dissention there.

Two things that oppose each other can't both be right. The, all religions are good and get you to heaven folks have never seen this. They all believe that we ought to just kind of homogenize all the world's religions and everything will be all right. They say, "Well, you know, after all that's the way we're gonna have peace." You know what Jesus said in the book of Matthew? He said, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth... but a sword" (Matthew 10:34). "I didn't come just to blend everything together, I came to separate right from wrong, light from dark, sheep from goats, truth from error. I'm not just trying to blend it all together.

When we take a stand for truth we're going to have a head-on collision with error. That's why you get criticism.

It is a truth also that delivers. You see, it was a truth that disturbed them, it was a truth that divided them, but it was also a truth that delivered the Apostle Paul. He said, "Look, for the hope of the resurrection of the dead I stand here."

Paul knew the same thing that was causing him persecution was the same thing that was giving him peace. Paul said, "You know, you can do what you want." As a matter of fact, a little later down in this chapter there were some people who made a vow they were not going to eat, drink or sleep until they'd killed Paul. Paul says, "That's okay, there's the hope of the resurrection."

You see, when a man gets persecuted, when a man gets criticized, if he can see through that empty grave to being one with the Lord Jesus Christ, that Christ has conquered the grave, then that helps him to stand. Now, if you don't have that kind of a hope, you're going to cave in. It's a truth that delivers.

You are not ready to live until you're ready to die.

When a man is no longer afraid to die, strangely, for the first time in his life he is ready to live. Here the Apostle Paul says, "Hey, okay, I've got all you folks coming against me, but I'll tell you what I've got, I've got a resurrected Lord." "For the hope of the resurrection of the dead I stand here."

Do we have that bedrock assurance? You see, Paul was morally clean and theologically clear. He had a righteous life and he had a resurrected Lord. And, because of this, they were coming at him, but they didn't move him, they didn't blow him away. He stood and looked them right in the eye. He had something that enabled him to stand against criticism and to have peace in persecution.

A third thing, not only a righteous life, not only a resurrected Lord, but God gave him a reassuring lift. Look in verse 11 of this same chapter. "And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome" (Acts 23:11).

I really like that; the Lord came and put His arm around the shoulder of Paul. I don't know whether this was a literal appearance of the Lord, or a vision, or just the Lord came to him in his inner person, but the point is that Jesus is never more real to us when we stand for Him, when we suffer for Him.

Stand for Him and you'll know what the Bible calls "... the fellowship of his sufferings..." (Philippians 3:10), the koinonia of His suffering. The Lord says, "Hey, you suffered for me, then I'm going to come near to you. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego got in that fiery furnace, Jesus jumped right in there with them, the Lord just comes alongside of His servants.

When Jesus is there—I mean, when he's really there—then we can cope with criticism and He will be there if we've got these other two things. If you're morally clean and theologically pure, you're going to be spiritually close.

The Lord is there speaking to him. Paul is by himself here, but not by himself because Jesus is there. Just when I need Him, Jesus is near.

What does Jesus do? First of all, Jesus gives him a word of courage. He says, "Be of good cheer" (Acts 23:11). The word cheer actually means "courage." "Paul, don't be afraid." The Lord gave him stamina, our Lord gave him strength, our Lord gave him might in the inner man. It's not that Paul was so great; it's that Jesus was so great.

Jesus had said to Paul, "I'll never leave you nor forsake you." The Lord was there with him and the Lord will be there with us. He'll even tell us what to say. He says in His Word, "Don't worry what you're gonna say, it will be given you in that hour what to say. God will give us the tongue of the learned."

The Lord spoke a word of courage and a word of commendation. He says, "Paul, you've testified of Me in Jerusalem. Thank you, Paul." It seemed everywhere Paul went there was either a revival or a riot, sometimes both.

"Paul, you testified of Me in Jerusalem. Thank you, Paul." There was a word of courage, "Be of good cheer" (Acts 23:11). There was a word of commendation, and there was a word of confidence, "And, you must bear witness also at Rome" (Acts 23:11). What's God saying? "Paul, they can't stop you, their little old criticism can't stop you. You're My man. You're going to Rome. Philippians 1:6: "... he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).

Paul didn't know this song, but I think if he'd known it he'd have been able to sing, "Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come. His grace hath led me safe thus far and grace will lead me home."

Just a surely as you hear my voice, just as surely as there is a God in Heaven, in this day and in this age, if you live in modern society a godly, Christ-honoring, Spirit-filled life, persecution, and criticism is going to come your way. "All who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution."

May God help us to have a righteous conscience, void of offense toward God and man. May God help us to have a bulldog grip on the truth that Jesus Christ is the Lord who walked out of that grave, resurrected. And, may God give us a sense of the presence of the Lord Jesus who will come alongside and say, "Thank you," and put His arm around us and say, "I appreciate your faithfulness to Me." When that happens, we'll not only be able to cope with criticism, we'll rejoice in it.

If you don’t have that kind of righteous conscience it’s time to get a closer relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. It truly make life easier and more joyful.

Be blessed in Jesus’ Name, Amen!


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