Praise is definitely one of the things which tests the integrity of a man or woman. Too much and they get big heads. Too little and they will have issues with their esteem, often forming resentment towards those who receive praise instead of them. Just enough and the individual seems to flourish. We all need praise - but do we handle it as we should? We all give praise - but is it sincere?
The purity of silver and gold is tested by putting them in the fire; the purity of human hearts is tested by giving them a little fame. (Proverbs 27:21 The Message)
Praise can either be an expression of appreciation, approval, or admiration. With praise, we express our respect, and often our gratitude, for others. When we praise God, for example, we are often showing him both respect and an expression of our thankfulness for all he does for us. When we praise someone else, we may simply be showing how much they mean to us and how much their actions have impacted us in a positive manner.
Solomon reminds us how much praise is like a "barometer" of our character. When we receive praise, we are tested by how we respond to it - what we "do" with praise determines how it affects us. When something is tested, there is a process underway to determine the quality or reliability of the object being tested. Praise reveals both the strength and the integrity of an individual.
When praise is received, we have many choices in how we will "accept" it. Some of us received it whole-heartedly, almost as though we expected it. I doubt the ore in a furnace ever expects the heat! In fact, it undoubtedly has no idea what it is being subjected to - all it knows is it is "hot"! The same may be true of us when receiving praise - we don't know how much "heat" it will bring into our lives!
Praise turns up the heat, so to speak, testing every fiber of our integrity. If you have ever struggled with a little bit of pride, you know pride is fed by the volume of praise received. Just like a fire in a furnace, if praise is given frequently, the "fire" burns hotter! Praise is a testing of a man's ability to maintain proper focus and balance.
Now, back to our scripture. Solomon points us to consider the cost of a little fame. Fame is what some may call our "public" reputation. So, we are told to consider how our public reputation is put to the test whenever we receive words of appreciation, approval, or admiration. In fact, we probably should also consider just how much our hearts are affected by our "giving" of praise! When we are giving praise in the right manner, and with the right motive, we might just find our hearts are built up. When we give praise to manipulate another, or just to share kind words without any really heartfelt motivation behind it, we might just feel our hearts getting a little harder as we begin to set ourselves us as "superior" to another.
Let me explain. Whenever we give insincere praise, we are hurting both the other person and ourselves. The other person needs honest appraisal, not flattery. We need to be honest - flattery is really a form of dishonesty. I am not saying we don't ever say a kind word because I believe we can find good in all people (we may just have to look a little deeper in some than others). We must not use our words of praise as a means of manipulating another. We also must not use them to give another a false sense of security.
So, perhaps we need to take our lead from those who learned to praise well. David was a man with a good sense of how to give and receive praise. He knew the first place his praise was directed would always be to God. Just as he learned to exclaim the repute of his God, he learned to proclaim the goodness of those who were faithful, supportive, and consistent in their walk. Paul constantly lifted up the churches who followed hard after Christ. He learned to give them words of praise which encouraged them to seek even harder - to draw even nearer to Christ. So, in short, these examples show us praise should be sincere and it must be from a heart which is first focused on Christ.
So, praise on! Don't stoke the fire with insincerity, but with genuine respect and appreciation of another. When you do, you are learning to build up another in a positive manner.