Eliza from the Philippines writes in: “Pastor John, thank you for your episode on praising others but not flattering them. The flip side of flattery is where I find myself. In receiving encouragement, I immediately question motives and assume that people are praising me only in order to get something from me (which is flattery, as you described). So how do I receive praise from others without doubting their motives?”
Well, let’s start with the biblical teaching that this kind of doubting or suspicion as a habit is unloving and therefore wrong. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:7,
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
And the very least that Paul means when he says “love believes all things” and “hopes all things” — the very least — that he means is that we should not be unduly suspicious about other people’s motives. Love hopes for the best from people, not the worst. Love does to others what we would have done to us. And we don’t like people to second-guess our motives. You don’t like it when people impute to you motives that are not there, so you shouldn’t do that to others either.
She probably already knows this, but we needed to put Bible behind it. So what can we do if we find ourselves feeling these sinful suspicions when someone complements or praises us? I can think of at least four simple things.
1. Put Away Anxiety
This is a kind of anxiety — namely, the anxiety that people’s praise is not real praise but manipulation; they don’t really think we are as good as they say we are. So Jesus’s words about anxiety in Matthew 6:27 apply here. He says,
And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
In other words, Jesus really did think that it would make a difference if we remind ourselves that this anxious suspicion of others’ motives does no good. It doesn’t help us. It doesn’t add anything to our life. It only makes relationships harder and not better. Jesus thought that thinking that would help, so I think thinking it helps too, and I commend it. Don’t do it because it is useless.
2. Search Your Own Heart
Could it be that your suspicion of their ulterior motives of others is owing largely to the fact that you yourself are so prone to operate this way when you praise, and you are reading your own motives into theirs?
So increase your own habit of praising others whenever there is real reason to praise them, just because you enjoy spilling over with admiration that you feel. And let thankfulness overflow to God when somebody does something good in your presence. Speak it out. And maybe the more you form the habit of praising others this way, the less you will automatically assume others would do anything differently for you.
I am really preaching to myself when I say that, because I think most of the times when I am reading negative things into people, it is because I have seen them in myself, and I suspect if I felt them, they are feeling them. That is where that came from.
3. Return Genuine Thanks
Resolve that when someone praises you, you will return genuine thanks, but will not even think of some kind of payback that they could get from you. You won’t give them any payback. And if they are after something, maybe your authentic gladness in receiving the praise minus any payback will dry up the ulterior motives because they don’t work. Meanwhile, you get the pleasure of their praise without worrying about their motives.
4. Ask God to Fill You with Love
And the last thing would be to cover all of this with prayer. Pray and ask God to fill you with love and to take away the bent toward suspicion.