Shedding Our Thin Skin

Michael Beck

He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame: and he that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot.
Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.
(Proverbs 9:7-9)

If there are any people in the world who are not thin-skinned it should be those who follow Jesus the Nazarene. What abuse, what scorn, what criticism He took, and bore it patiently! “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” “He casts out devils by the devil.” “He saved others, but He can’t save himself.”

Our world is seeing today the horrible fruits of offended dignity. Multitudes view it as their duty to defend the honor of their prophet, slaughtering all who would insult him. But this kind of thin-skinned behavior is not limited to religious fanatics. The whole world is becoming angrier by the moment at anyone who would have the gall to question them and their choices. Respect has come to mean that you don’t challenge what anyone believes and you don’t raise the possibility that they might be wrong. True, everyone is entitled to their own opinion; yes, we can say what we want; but whatever happened to constructive criticism?

Our world is seeing today the horrible fruits of offended dignity.

We live in a day of pontification. To pontificate means to issue statements on a subject in a dogmatic (and somewhat pompous) way. Pontificate comes from the French word pontiff, which is another word for the Pope. Growing up Catholic, I was told that when the Pope spoke ex cathedra he was speaking “from the throne” and whatever he said was infallible and not to be questioned. Today, social media puts everyone on the throne. There is no shortage of opinions out there on a myriad of subjects. Facebook, Twitter, and the like, gives anyone and everyone the means to weigh in. The problem is that many people who want to pronouce things have paper thin skin. Legitimate questioning is deemed as an attack. Unfriending and unfollowing is the order of the day.

For the most part, I use social media as a pulpit. I want to share things that I believe will be a blessing and help to others. When it comes to people tuning into someone like myself on social media it’s probably for one of three reasons:

1. They look to me as someone who can “feed” them beneficial information.

2. They’re still trying to figure me out and wondering whether I’m worth giving any heed to.

3. They think they know me and they’re looking to find fault with what I’m saying.

Now I can look at the third type of person as my enemy, but that person might be agitated for a legitimate reason. Maybe that person is being raised up by God to bring balance or correction to me and is in truth my real friend.

Below are some of my favorite scriptures:

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Proverbs 27:6)

“Open rebuke is better than secret love.” (Proverbs 27:5)

“Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head…” (Psalm 141:5)

Realize that when someone seeks to correct you they are not moving in hatred, they are moving in love. Don’t we read of our Lord: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Revelation 3:19) When someone who loves us sees a blind spot in our life isn’t it an act of kindness to alert us to it? Those who don’t care about us will let us keep going forward thinking we are put together properly; but our friend will tell us when our slip is showing or our fly is open. If they believe we’ve missed something they seek to add to us what they think we’ve left out. Their pointing out of a potential problem may be embarrassing to us at first but they may be saving us from much greater shame down the line.

The person who tells the emperor he has no clothes is his true friend, but alas, he may have his head separated from his body for speaking up. Nowadays, thin skinned “emperors” deliver Facebook fatwas. I have woken up on more than one occasion to discover I had been excised from someone’s life. Having the audacity to speak “negatively” can easily get you unfriended and labelled a “toxic” individual.

In our thin-skinned unwillingness to receive criticism we may be cutting off the very people that we need to listen to more closely.

I do not doubt that there are those who can bear us malice, but I fear that in our increasing, thin-skinned unwillingness to receive criticism we may be cutting off the very people that we need to listen to more closely. None of us are infallible. Our understanding of any issue might need some revision, balance, nuance, or even tearing down. Jesus needed no reproof, He was infallible, but He gave His back to those who smote Him unjustly and maliciously. Can we learn humility from Him?

As we walk in the Spirit of Christ, we will shed our thin skin and maybe we will begin to re-friend some people who we could really use in our life. And if we can gain nothing else from our critics, by clothing ourselves in humility, God will surely add to our life a greater dignity and the witness of Jesus the Nazarene.

Michael Beck is a pastor in the Dallas, TX area and the main author on Signpost. Receive a daily devotional he publishes every morning via email.