“Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but a person is tested by being praised.” – Proverbs 27:21
Winston Churchill was once asked, “Doesn’t it thrill you to know that every time you make a speech, the hall is packed to overflowing?”
“It’s quite flattering,” replied Sir Winston. “But whenever I feel that way, I always remember that if instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big.” Flattery is like chewing gum. Enjoy it, but don’t swallow it.
This simple proverb (27:21) is quite broad in its interpretation and application. For one thing, it warns us not to believe all the complimentary things people say about us. “You had better put people’s praise in the furnace,” warned Solomon, “and get rid of the dross. Otherwise, you might start believing what they say, and this can lead to pride and sin.”
This proverb also says that people are tested and proved by what they praise. That makes good sense. Persons who praise a crafty politician for lying his way out of trouble simply announce to the world that they themselves are liars.
But there is another interpretation and application of this proverb: How people respond to praise tests their true character. In other words, praise is like a furnace—it can bring out the best in us or the worst in us.
Saul and David come to mind. When they returned from their battles, they were met by adoring crowds who praised them. “Saul has slain his thousands,” they sang, “and David his ten thousands!” David responded to the song by being humble and submissive, walking carefully before the people and the Lord. Saul responded by envying David and then trying to kill him. Saul ended up a suicide on the battlefield, while David went on to prosper and reign.
The way we respond to criticism depends on the way we respond to praise. If praise humbles us, then criticism will build us up. But if praise inflates us, then criticism will crush us; and both responses lead to defeat.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to warn young preachers, “It is a sad thing when a man succeeds before he is ready for it.” I have noticed that the Christians who really have something to brag about rarely brag. They are content to let God review their record and grant the reward. These people have been tested in the furnace of praise and have come out pure gold to the glory of God.