Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
Often when we are in a discussion, or especially if we are in a disagreement, we take things personally. This is especially true when we have a vested interest, a long history or an emotional attachment to what we are discussing. We process it as if the person disagreeing with us is questioning our person or character, our being, because the belief or thought has become so much a part of us it is hard to extricate one without the other.
Often when one states they took what was said personally it is said with reference to someone feeling judged by what one says. In that sense, one takes, or does not take, something personally. It can be done from either the speaker’s side (judging someone else) or the hearer’s side (feeling judged, maybe hearing accurately, maybe not).
It is important to make a distinction between taking something personally and getting defensive. Taking something personally means we take it to heart. Getting defensive means we defend or justify. The former is grounded in humility and often leads to growth. The latter is grounded in arrogance and often leads to a hardening of the heart.
When we sit before God’s Word we ought to take it personally. That is, we desire to hear, to sit under, and to respond appropriately to it. In that sense, we ought to take it personally. In the body of Christ we also ought to take to heart what others say, to take it personally, knowing that in the design and providence of God it is a means of grace for spiritual growth (think of all the “one another” commands in the New Testament). (Granted, this is not all there is to say on this matter, since some through their words desire to kill, steal and destroy. This issue is important, though it will not be addressed here. However, amazingly, even in these instances, God uses it for our growth in dependency and humility, just as Jesus modelled for us [1 Pet. 2:21-23]. See also the link below regarding the wheat/chaff principle.)
On the one hand, we are not to judge ultimately, since that is reserved for God – be careful of the log-in-eye syndrome (Matt. 7:1-2). But, on the other hand, there is a certain judgment/discernment that is necessary since we must acknowledge the log in our own eye so that then, in humility, we can discern a speck in another’s eye (Matt. 7:2-5).
How, then, do we respond to that Word? It is living and active and judges thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). Do we respond humbly and contritely (Isa. 66:2) or defensively (Lk. 10:29; 16:15)? Growth often comes in wrestling through these issues, of taking a look personally at what God’s Word says, and what others share with us. If we get defensive, we remain as we are, justifying ourselves, and we don’t grow. If when we discuss these matters personally with a focus on how we have personally thought or acted about something, we may acknowledge that we were wrong and we learn from it and grow through it. On some other issues of discussion, we may realize that we would not change anything that we did or would do, but through a humble posture of humility, we still learn and grow through that. Getting defensive prevents both learning and growing.
Based on the truth of God’s Word and my own personal experience, our initial, natural, fleshly response in situations in which there is disagreement is to be defensive. Our supernatural, sanctified response is to listen humbly seeking to discern what is true and accurate and what is not. I refer to this as the wheat/chaff principle of Receiving Criticism in a Godly Manner.