Dealing with cricism: Lessons from Jeremiah Trotter and Paul

Like it or not, I’ve had a number of chances to watch the Philadelphia Eagles this year. And they look the opposite of good. Not just from my vantage point but from the view of Philly fan, and Philly fan is in a league of his own (Phillies and Eagles scored number two on GQ’s worst sports fans just behind WVU) Several weeks ago in their home loss to the Falcons, defensive end Jason Babin believed they crossed the line and became quite upset. 

Former Eagle Jeremiah Trotter (and inactive Buc for one season) had this to say about Babin’s complaint:

“Dude, get a grip, this is football,” Trotter said, via “You’re a man. Why are you worried about what people say anyway? I understand that players have feelings, but you’re a man. You’re playing a gladiator sport, and you’re running around worried about what fans are talking about? Even if I did feel a certain way you would never hear me say it because number one, you are showing your weakness right there. You’re playing a gladiator sport, dude. Go play ball.”

There may be some sort of symbiotic relationship with players and fan when it comes to sports. Ultimately if fans don’t like the team, and its players, then they can choose not to come. If they don’t come, the team could eventually move. Hopefully this won’t be the case with the Bucs.

So to ignore the fan completely is probably not wise. But neither is being controlled by the fan. Jeremiah Trotter couches his response to dealing with criticism in the very identity of the individual.

You’re a man. Why are you worried about what people say anyway?

Men aren’t supposed to care what people say (true or not, there is something Trotter says needs to be remembered). But even more specifically, he reminds Babin that not only are you a man-as if that weren’t enough-you are a football player (yes there is a women’s football league so maybe that’s why Trotter started with “man” first.) Football players have feelings too, but they are supposed to be in control of them. Based on your identity and based upon your job, this kind of stuff shouldn’t bother you as much as it does. 

I think old Trotter may be on to something. He does eventually tell Babin to do something (“play ball”) but he gives him an indicative (you are), and reminder of his mission/job (this is what you do) before driving home the imperative (so go do it).

When dealing with criticism, the apostle Paul points us in a similar direction. We can’t by-pass the gospel because 1.) we never should by-pass Jesus 2.) it won’t work 3.) we will either listen too little or too much to criticism 4.) we worry about the wrong things.

Because there is no more condemnation for the Christian (Romans 8:1), he no longer has to fear false accusations from anyone (you’re not doing a good job). But he also need not fear things said about him/her that may actually be turn out to be somewhat-true (you may not be doing as good a job as someone else), yet don’t disqualify him/her from that job. Providentially we are where we are for a season, and so for that season, we can plow ahead. When the season draws near to its end, we can evaluate whether or not God would have us in the same job/position/opportunity in the future. Therefore, if we believe this precious truth about our shameless identity, we don’t have to respond to, nor be enslaved to unnecessary or semi-accurate criticism.

But there is also a mission connected to this identity that further helps in dealing with criticism. What helped Paul is more than those words he wrote to others in Romans, but also words he wrote to others in the epistle of Galatians.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. -Gal 1:10

If you want to try to please man, there is another line of “work,” although the irony of that is that it is impossible to please man but possible to please God through the work of Jesus. A servant of Christ inevitably brings criticism and disapproval. That is part of the job description. I often forget that.

Paul grounds his refusal to capitulate or be moved by this obviously wrong criticism in his identity and mission. The two are inseparable. A servant serves his master. His master’s opinion is the only opinion that ultimately counts, and pleasing others is not the servant’s goal.

Trotter is just doing what Paul has done 2000 years before him. As a servant of Christ, one’s goal is not to please people, but to honor his master. And if your master has already approved you, based not on what you’ve done, but what he has done, doesn’t that free you to care less what “fans” think of you?

Micheal David Smith concludes:

Babin may be right that some of the fans crossed the line by saying vile things about players and coaches. But Trotter is also right that if the players are worried about what the fans are saying, then they’re worried about the wrong things.

We often hear the voice of “fans'” displeasure over us instead of the voice of our Lord’s pleasure over us. His Spirit reminds us that we are shameless servants who need not fear. If we believe our very identity, and our mission connected with that identity, we won’t be worried about the wrong things. When we start to worry about the wrong things, the answer is not to “toughen up” and be a “man” or “woman” but to believe who God has recreated you to be.

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