“The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise.” Proverbs 27:21 (ESV)
“The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, And a man is valued by what others say of him.” Proverbs 27:21 (NKJV)
The two translations of this passage provide insight about the virtue and danger of praise. Other proverbs encourage humility and discourage boasting about oneself. As promoters, we are biased when marketing ourselves even cushioning acknowledgement of our flaws with reasons, excuses, and reminders of our virtue. The wisdom of the collection of proverbs on humility, pride, and praise encourage us to not seek praise and, if it is to be voiced, let it come from another.
The introductory couplet compares man’s praise to the refining process for silver and gold. This is a common theme used for faith in 1 Peter 1, the word of God in Psalm 12, and numerous other places. The intensity of heat melts gold and sliver releasing impurities to be removed. Likewise, through the heat of moral and physical challenges, a person’s character is either strengthened or weaknesses exposed. A “trial by fire” purifies the one who allows for improvement and sheds what is weak and wicked.
Praise for enduring tests
As the NKJV observes, a man who receives genuine praise, not flattery, from others is one who has distinguished himself by his character, character developed through trial. Most men and women who are considered praiseworthy have overcome obstacles, endured trials, demonstrated self-discipline, and have distinguished themselves through achievement and excellence. One does not have to accomplish something great, as the world counts greatness. A person may be praised as a good parent, coach, or friend for what they have accomplished despite the challenges of life.
The test of enduring praise
The ESV and NIV provide another view of this passage. How a person reacts to receiving praise is also a test. A common quote in the business world is
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”*
An equally challenging task for one’s character is receiving praise. Some will deflect it because they have such low self-esteem and discount what is said. On the other extreme, some let it inflate their pride. It is best to accept praise graciously, thanking the person for their kind words, and move on with life.
A person can become so addicted to praise that they start to make decisions and act in a way that encourages praise. They need it like air and food. They wrestle with self-doubt and insecurity when they do not receive it and can’t enjoy when they do receive it because its pleasure is fleeting. The futility of chasing followers, likes, and views on social media arises from this warped sense of one’s worth by the clicks of strangers and friends. Some will neglect those who do care and are with them physically by staring into their phone, skipping across social media sites, feeding the need to feel significant. I encourage you to read my article, Could You Live Without Internet Celebrity for more insight into this danger we face.
One of my internal reminders is that I’m not as bad as my critics say nor am I as good as my fans say (I don’t know where I borrowed this from, perhaps Abraham Lincoln or Einstein). I enjoy praise as much as anyone but I do not let that define me nor is it the way I evaluate myself. As a Christian, my value lies in the relationship with God, not how men judge me. I must be careful, as I have written in this article, not to do my Christian service for the praise and honor of others. Some compromise their principles so they will not receive criticism. Others let praise for their godliness rest on them instead of directing the glory to God. Let us have the attitude of Paul in Philippians 3:8, who said “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…” (ESV).
Can you handle the praise?
*Note: Most sources attribute this quote to Abraham Lincoln. I have not had a chance to verify this and am skeptical of attributing it since it appears most of the Internet quotes are attributed to Einstein or Abraham Lincoln.