Think about the last time that you received praise from someone, perhaps for a great meal, or a job well done. How did you respond? Perhaps you are someone who prefers to give praise and you felt a bit sheepish, or maybe you felt flattered or encouraged? Let’s look at what the Bible says about giving and receiving praise.
At the time of writing, the book of Proverbs was intended for Israel as God’s covenant people and its main purpose was for them ‘to know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight’ (Prov. 1:2). The Israelites were to apply its teaching out of their love for God. It was to teach them how to manage daily life and what type of character they should develop. New Covenant Christians need help in living wisely too. Praise, whether we give it or receive it, is one of these things that we need to be wise in.
Giving and receiving praise
When we give praise, it is important to rightly assess the person. Scripture gives clear criteria for this. Paul, speaking of the ministry of the Apostles says, ‘This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful’ (1 Cor. 4:1-2). In the Old Testament, we see examples of assessing someone’s heart and giving praise in response. Proverbs 12:8 says that ‘a man is commended according to his good sense’ and 1 Samuel 2:26 says, ‘Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favour with Lord and also with man.’ We see that it can be a good thing to give well considered praise that is devoid of flattery. Flattery is rooted in wanting something from a person rather than sincerely delighting in them.
What about receiving praise? In Proverbs we read that ‘the crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise (Prov. 27:21). A crucible is a vessel or container that withstands high temperatures and when the contents are heated, impurities are separated out, thereby refining its content. It’s like when you turn your oven to the self-clean setting and all the nasty bits that have accumulated on the bottom are burned off. Just as a crucible or an oven tests the quality of the materials within it, God uses praise to test our hearts. Our response to praise gives us away. After receiving praise, do we give honour and glory to God and do we remember that we were made by him and for him? Do we humbly remember 1 Corinthians 4 verse 7: ‘What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?’ At times we forget that it is God’s grace to us that allows us to do anything.
Seeking God’s glory
Our hearts are revealed by how hungry we are for praise. Social media can be a big temptation in this area. It allows us to put forward a version of ourselves that our loved ones might not recognize. Yet, you might ask, surely we can desire praise from others and still follow Christ? After all, we are social creatures made for fellowship, and praise is part of our interactions with one another. This is a good question, so let us look at the life of Jesus: God sent Jesus Christ as a man to live among us, to carry out the mission of reconciling sinful humanity to God. This was accomplished by Jesus’ death on the cross for all who believe in him. Even with such a great mission, John’s gospel says that Jesus ‘was not received by his own’ [people], but that did not deter him (Jn. 1:11). The Lord Jesus asks, ‘How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? (Jn. 5:44). The Apostle Paul expresses a similar thought, ‘For am I now seeking the approval 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). To follow Christ is to care more about Christ and his measure of us than what other people think of us.
Our concern for what others think of us may sometimes be fuelled by comparing ourselves to others. We may be forgetting that God, in his sovereign wisdom, blessed us all with different talents and gifts. Paul says, ‘Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone’ (1 Cor 12:4-6). Similarly, Ray Ortlund writes that ‘God does not value intellectual or aesthetic equality among people. He does not value equality in finances, talents and opportunity. It is God who deliberately ordains inequalities in many aspects of our lives.’ If we forget these truths, we can start to believe that we somehow do not measure up and we fail to praise God for the work he is doing in us and fellow believers.
Yet, if you deeply desire praise from others to feel at peace and you habitually engage in behaviours that you know will elicit that praise, there is good news! If you are a believer you can rest in the Lord and his unending, unchanging, perfect love for you.
Meditate on Philippians 4:7-9:
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practise these things, and the God of peace will be with you.