Years ago during a study on Proverbs, I was surprised to discover that maturing in wisdom is often the fruit of correction (see Proverbs 9:8, 19:25, 29:15). I can remember thinking, “Surely it’s possible to learn wisdom without any need for correction and criticism.”
In his commentary on Proverbs, Derek Kidner writes that wisdom’s “frequent companion is correction” . That phrase is now firmly fixed in my mind. If you ask for wisdom to hang around in your life, you will find that she doesn’t prefer to travel alone.
If we could mature in wisdom without any need for correction—and how I wish we could!—I would have discovered a way to do it by now and probably written a bestselling book explaining how. But that’s not how it works. We cannot separate growth in wisdom from criticism, correction, and reproof.
Eager for Correction
Since God often uses the criticism of others to reveal the idols of our hearts and to accelerate our growth in humility, pastors should be eager to receive criticism. I should be eager to receive correction, but usually I’m not. And it’s no mystery why I’m not eager to receive criticism—I’m a proud man.
Yet Proverbs teaches us that a wise man loves correction:
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
reprove a wise man, and he will love you. (Proverbs 9:8)
The scoffer will flat-out reject criticism and hate the one who brings it. On the other hand, the wise man will embrace the criticism and love the one who brings it. On this passage, commentator John Kitchen explains what it means to “love” reproof:
When confronted, exposed and judged by your rebuke, the wise man will “love” you. This may not necessarily speak of overflowing positive emotion, but has more to do with accepting, embracing and learning from the truth as you have presented it. Indeed, a rebuke will likely unsettle the emotions and make one uncomfortable in your presence, but the wise one will hear the truth and recognize in it the gift of life from God. 
Criticism can be a gift. Yet how a man responds to correction is one of the clearest distinctions in Proverbs between the fool and the wise man:
- A fool desperately needs correction, but refuses to pursue it or receive it.
- A wise man needs correction less than the fool, but he pursues it and welcomes it.
Pursuing and receiving correction is a means of attaining wisdom. The wise man knows this; the fool rejects this. This is what makes the wise man wise and the foolish man a fool. For the wise man, criticism holds potential, the potential for personal growth in humility and wisdom.
Here is what I am aware of: If I value wisdom, this will be evident in my pursuit of, and response to, correction. But I do not truly prize wisdom if I do not welcome criticism, pursue correction, and receive reproof.
Here is what’s easy:
- It is easy for me to desire wisdom.
- It is easy for me to profess a love for wisdom.
- It is easy for me to say, “I want to grow in wisdom.”
- It is easy for me to pray, “Lord, give me wisdom.”
But here is what’s difficult:
- It is difficult to respond humbly to criticism.
Here I need the sanctifying grace of God.
Having been humbled by the gospel, I want to humbly receive correction and even to pursue it.
I want to be the wise man, not the fool.
 Derek Kidner, Proverbs (IVP, 1981), 36.  John A. Kitchen, Proverbs (Christian Focus, 2006), 206.