Reading straight through a chapter of Proverbs can feel like sampling every motto from the Christmas crackers and fortune cookies at a large party! But one couplet may leap out and greet you, as Proverbs 27:21 did for me the other morning:
‘The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
and a man is tested by his praise’ (English Standard Version).
Then other translations can pose a dilemma: Is it the praise a man receives that tests him rather than the praise a man bestows on others, especially his praising the Lord? The Hebrew word used here for ‘praise’, malalal, could also mean fame (= praise received), yet halal, its simpler form, could also be rendered boast (= praise bestowed). The word-for-word translation of the Hebrew/English Old Testament suggests the latter:
‘The refining pot (tries) silver, and the furnace (tries) gold;
but a man (is tried) by the mouth of his praise.’
Also, a parallel proverb confirms it for us:
‘The crucible is for silver, and the furnace for gold,
and the Lord tests hearts’ (Proverbs 17:3):nbsp;
- How we praise tests our hearts
- Is it spontaneous or forced?
- Is it thoughtful, even cautious and selective – or is our praise for anything and anybody indiscriminately? After all, our chapter also says: ‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend’ (verse 6).
- Is it enthusiastic and generous? ‘True, he can’t hold a tune, but thank God when he sings psalms he makes a joyful noise to the Lord!’
- Is it sacrificial, expressed despite setbacks – like the man with a heavily bandaged thumb who rose in a prayer meeting to testify in the hearing D L Moody: ‘I cut my thumb badly, but praise God I didn’t cut it off!’
- Why we praise explains why praise is a heart test:
C S Lewis observed: ‘We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise completes the enjoyment. … There is no such thing as sad adoration or unhappy praise.’ The English noun praise comes from the Latin pretium that also gives us precious, prize and price; the verb to praise derives from the Latin pretiare, meaning value highly. ‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,’ said Jesus (Matthew 12:34).
- Who we praise reveals our values
The old Creole ferryman used to say, ‘Dat man ober dar saved me from drownin’ and I jes lubs to pint him out.’ Who can’t we stop boasting about? (See Psalm 34:1-2; 44:8 boast’ is halal = praise; compare 2 Corinthians 10:17) But verses 1-2 of our chapter tell us neither to boast of our prospects (‘tomorrow’) nor of our abilities and achievements.
- What characteristics we praise reveals who we are
Do we merely admire others’ wit, wealth and wow-factor celebrity, or do we also credit their character, charity and challenges? The Psalms reach a grand climax in praise of the Lord’s majesty, mercy and miracles (Psalms 148:13; 149:1-4; 150 1-2).
- When to praise is a no-brainer: ‘continually’ (Psalm 34:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:18)