Having the Right View of Praise
WHO does not appreciate praise? If we are conscientious, we want to do well, we put forth the effort to do well. Commendation encourages us in this right course. Such expressions of commendation, however, should not come from our own mouth, from our own lips, but from those of others.
The wise Bible writer at Proverbs 27:2 says: “May a stranger, and not your own mouth, praise you; may a foreigner, and not your own lips, do so.”
Self-praise on the part of some is obvious. They use the pronoun “I” to excess. But it can also be more subtle. A person, for example, might mention his making some purchase, perhaps doing so in an offhand, matter-of-fact way. But if the purchase is one involving large sums of money, far more than the person’s listeners could be expected to handle, the very matter-of-factness with which he relates the purchase may cause his listeners to be very impressed with his act. So, too, with many other things in life. Of course, no self-praise may be intended. But if a person finds himself frequently doing this, he needs to realize that his heart may be leading him astray into a course of self-elevation.
Note that the inspired writer of Proverbs 27:2 speaks of a “stranger” and a “foreigner” as being the ones to give the praise. This adds another facet to the principle being taught. It recalls the German saying, “Eigenlob stinkt, Freundes Lob hinkt, fremdes Lob klingt,” which means, “Self-praise stinks, a friend’s praise limps, a stranger’s praise rings [true].”
True, this saying may not hold good in all cases. But the Bible proverb shows that when praise comes from one who is free of ties to you, who is very unlikely to feel under any constraint to speak well of you, who gives no evidence of hoping to gain something by so speaking, then you may usually feel satisfied that his praise is ‘unvarnished,’ based on the true merits of your work, speech or course. Failing to realize the value of this proverbial truth, on the other hand, may keep one from knowing where one could, and perhaps needs to, improve.
But there is another facet to the matter. We should exercise care that gaining praise does not become our driving motive to do well. Because of being free from desire for personal benefit, the Christian apostle Paul could write to the Thessalonians, saying: “In fact, at no time have we turned up either with flattering speech, . . . Neither have we been seeking glory from men, no, either from you or from others.”—1 Thess. 2:5, 6.
So we want to be careful, first of all, not to sing forth our own praise. Then we should not go out of our way to elicit praise from others. The Bible urges Christians not to do things “with acts of eye-service, as men pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, with fear of Jehovah. Whatever you are doing, work at it whole-souled as to Jehovah, and not to men.”—Col. 3:22, 23.
Then again, having the right view of praise would include a readiness to have others included in the praise; sharing it with those who may have contributed to the success of what you said or did. As an illustration, at a symphony concert the conductor may ask the entire orchestra to take a bow in response to the great and repeated applause. And such is no more than fitting, for as a noted conductor once told his men, ‘You know that without you I can do nothing.’ Honesty and modesty will cause us to give credit where credit is due. Christians should not be like many men of this world who strive to stay ‘in the limelight.’
Of course, a person may have given help that significantly contributed to the success of a project and yet his efforts may not have received any public recognition or acknowledgment. This should never concern him, for, where it is merited, in due time each one “will have his praise come to him from God.” (1 Cor. 4:5) Thus, the hardworking wife who may receive little public acknowledgment can have the inner satisfaction of knowing how much she has contributed to her husband’s well-being and success. And she can be happy that her course is pleasing to those who are higher than her husbandly head, Christ Jesus and Jehovah God.—Prov. 31:23, 28, 31; 1 Cor. 11:3.
In particular should the Christian who receives praise for having done well in one line of endeavor or another, direct the praise to Jehovah God and his Son. God is the Giver of every good gift and every perfect present. (Jas. 1:17) Not necessarily always out loud, but in his heart and mind the Christian should remind himself of the part that God played in whatever success he has enjoyed. Jesus gave the most striking example of this.
Although greatly honored as the Messiah and the Son of God, at no time did he take credit for his message or works. Thus, to religious opposers Jesus could honestly say: “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father that glorifies me.”—John 8:54.
All Christian servants of Jehovah God will therefore do well to bear in mind the principle the apostle Paul enunciated in this regard. He stressed: “We are God’s fellow workers. You people are God’s field under cultivation, God’s building.” And that it is God who deserves the praise, Paul shows in the context, for there he says: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God kept making it grow; so that neither is he that plants anything nor is he that waters, but God who makes it grow.” How true that is! Certainly everything depends upon God’s blessing on our efforts.—1 Cor. 3:9, 6, 7.
Surely, having the right view of praise, we will not only be loath to sing our own praises, or go out of our way to elicit the praise of others, but, when given praise, with due modesty give credit to others where it is due and, above all, direct the praise to Jehovah God, to whom it always is due.