Tested by our praise   

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;

  1. 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!’
  1. 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).

  1. 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.

  1. 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).

  1. When to praise is a no-brainer: ‘continually’ (Psalm 34:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:18)
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