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How are we to receive compliments and praise?

Knowing that human pride is a characteristic that Christians need to monitor closely and remove, how are we to respond when we receive a compliment? Should Christians reject all compliments from others? Is it possible to accept compliments from others without conceding to human pride? Is it possible to receive another’s compliment with complete joy, rather than mere acquiescence?

As a foundation in answering this question, we need to begin with an understanding of why human pride (correctly understood) is condemned. Citing from our Q&A asking, “Is Pride Always Condemned in the Bible? Part 1”, “God condemns human pride, which is opposed to God and which is unwilling to submit to Him. God despises those who wallow in haughtiness and who boast in their self-confidence and self-conceit. Such an attitude prevents a person from loving and obeying God with all of one’s heart and from loving his neighbor as oneself.”

This kind of pride is a human attribute, influenced by Satan, that elevates self above God and diminishes the glory of God. Pride became the downfall of Lucifer, who believed he was greater than God. It should be no surprise that Satan broadcasts a message that convinces the carnal man that he doesn’t need God or that God can be worshipped in ways that man has invented in His absence. For this reason, such pride is dangerous. When it begins to grow in one’s life, it results in an outcome of leading one away from God.

Compliments and praise undoubtedly offer fodder for pride unless we are careful. Hearing good things about ourselves can easily cause us to lift our opinions of ourselves if we aren’t grounded in understanding the source of our gifts. But it is perfectly fine to receive a compliment or accept praise when we acknowledge that God is the one who provides us with the good in our lives.

The Bible contains several examples of praise directed towards people. From these we will see how it is acceptable to accept compliments with sincere gratitude. We will also see how the examples of praise properly received gives glory to God, rather than man.

The example of Job provides us with a good example to begin with. The story opens up with God offering Job a compliment. “Then the LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?’” (Compare Job 1:8, Job 2:3). While this is a compliment offered indirectly, we can still see that God is pleased with Job’s behavior – at least to begin with. Because of this, God expresses His praise for Job. However, as the story of Job progresses, his self-righteousness and pride become exposed. Job develops the opinion that he has done nothing to deserve his punishment, and condemns God because of it. Ultimately, God confronts him on the issue. Only then does Job see with utter clarity the error of his ways, acknowledging his imperfection, and repenting bitterly (compare Job 42:1-6). With humility, putting his pride in check, Job becomes even more blessed than he had been at the beginning (compare Job 42:12).

Job provides us with an initial counterexample of how to receive praise. Job’s conduct was pleasing to God, and certainly praiseworthy. However, by believing that his righteousness was for his own glory, Job missed the point. God is to be glorified as the Almighty, the Creator, the One without beginning or end, who rightly and justly rules over all creation. Yet, Job did not see that there can be no wrong with God, and wrongly accused God of judging him unjustly. The lesson is that we, as flesh and blood members of the human race, are not to develop opinions of ourselves that bring glory to ourselves when it rightly belongs to God.

The Bible contains several examples that demonstrate the correct way to receive praise. That is, by accepting the compliment acknowledging the gift that comes from God.

When Joseph was called to Pharaoh to interpret dreams, Pharaoh paid him a compliment as one who was endowed with the skill he sought. “And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that you can understand a dream, to interpret it.’ So Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace’” (Genesis 41:15-16). This example shows the correct frame of mind to have when receiving a compliment. When Joseph was praised for having the skill to interpret dreams, he was quick to acknowledge that the ability did not come from him, but from the gift of God. In this, Joseph glorified God, and in turn influenced Pharaoh to also acknowledge His power (compare Genesis 41:37). Compliments directed toward us really belong to God who blesses us.

Jesus Christ offered compliments, either directly or indirectly, to many individuals who expressed faith and other godly virtues (compare Luke 21:3-4, Luke 18:13-14, Matthew 15:28, Luke 17:19, Mark 10:52, Luke 18:42). The example of the centurion who came to Jesus asking for healing of his servant provides us with a particularly inspiring model. “The centurion answered and said, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.   For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, “Go,” and he goes; and to another, “Come,” and he comes; and to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.’ When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!   And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’   Then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.’ And his servant was healed that same hour” (Matthew 8:8-13). In this example, the centurion receives praise from Jesus in the midst of many others. The praise bestowed upon him for his faith could have easily gone to his head, causing the centurion to think more of his righteous behavior than he ought. However, the example of humility and subservience to Christ stands out poignantly. By acknowledging Jesus Christ’s power and authority, the centurion accepts the compliment of his faith with grace.

Not only did Jesus Christ offer compliments, but he also received them. At the beginning of His ministry when He became baptized by John, God pays Jesus Christ a compliment from the heavens, declaring, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Compare Matthew 3:17). As we know, Jesus led a perfectly righteous life, overcoming all temptation and defeating sin. It was for that purpose that God the Father sent His Son to the Earth. To witness that event when His ministry began was clearly a proud moment for God. We don’t see the response from Jesus when paid this compliment from His Father, but other places in the Bible clearly express how He considered His righteousness.

Jesus knew that the glory of His righteousness belonged to God. In expressing the plan of God, Jesus said, “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (John 5:30, compare also John 5:19). Clearly, Jesus Christ understood that His ability to live a righteous life was a direct result of the Father’s Holy Spirit working mightily within Him to maintain the perfect judgment with the mind of God. This serves as an example for us as followers of Christ, that our ability to judge righteously works the same way. When we are able to do what is right, the glory belongs to God. Even the most subtle of compliments received by Jesus Christ were an opportunity for Him to glorify His Father in heaven.

Our model to follow ought to be clear. The right way to receive a compliment from others is by acknowledging the good that works in our lives as coming through God’s inspiration and His Holy Spirit that dwells within us. The source of all that is truly good are blessings from God. Paul expresses the perspective that we should have in 2 Corinthians 3:5, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.” The work that Paul and his coworkers did, laid the groundwork for the Church of God that we belong to today. It is not an overstatement to say that the effect of their work was tremendous. Yet, in the enormity of that work, Paul’s perspective is one of humility. The glory goes to God, not man. For He provides us with the source of strength (compare Psalm 28:7, Psalm 27:1, Exodus 15:2).

When we live our lives in obedience to God’s commandments, we will bear good fruit that those around us will recognize. Happy families, good relationships with people around us, abundance in our work, and spiritual prosperity are fruits that even the world can see. When we receive compliments from people who acknowledge the product of our inspired lives, what will we do? Will we allow a belief to take root in our minds that we are something important because of what we alone have done? Or will we do what Jesus Christ instructs us to do? Will we give thanks and pass along the praise to God so that He may receive the glory? “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Lead Writer: Eric Rank