Most people smile when another gives them a genuine complement. My human heart enjoys the attention and flattery of being told I have done well, or that I am a blessing to them in some way. But this is a snare. It puts attention on me instead of Christ and also inflates my ego. When pondering how to deal with this, someone usually says that I should say a simple ‘thank you.’ For me, that can still tighten the snare.
There are other ways for Christians to handle this. I once complimented a writer friend for her organizational skills and she responded . . .
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights . . . .” (James 1:17)
Both of our hearts were edified by that, and I felt mildly rebuked because my words should have expressed thanks to God — as she did for her skills.
Paul had the same attitude. He was genuine in his expression of thanks because he was so aware of God’s power and his own weakness . . .
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1–5)
In the estimation of others, Paul was an educated man and a powerful speaker, yet impressing them with his abilities was the farthest thing from his mind. His skills were not given to him so he could impress others. He knew that if all he did was make a good impression, his listeners would miss the importance of what he was saying and Christ would not be glorified. He had to speak to them in the power of the Holy Spirit, and they had to realize that they were hearing from God, not from Paul.
How can that happen? From the perspective of the one who speaks, there needs to be total dependence on the Lord. Paul had incredible revelations from God, but had been given something to keep him from being conceited. He was strongly aware that he could not do anything apart from God’s power . . .
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7–10)
No one likes to feel weak, never mind boast of their weaknesses, yet without that helplessness I will rely on ‘the wisdom of men’ — my abilities without mentioning they are God-given. I am easily able to take or receive credit for whatever I’m doing rather than pointing to the One who gives all good gifts.
God’s power to redeem is from God, not anything in the personality of the one who shares the gospel. As Chambers says, fasting in a preacher or any Christian messenger is not so much food, but from any eloquence, or impressive speech, or writing, or anything else that hinders the gospel from being heard. I can edit my words, but not to impress others, only to get out of the way of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)
This makes me even more aware that if it my words flatter me only, those who read them are not being drawn to Jesus Christ. Instead, I am actually a stumbling block to Him and the message of redemption. He must be lifted up.