A podcast listener named Dan writes in to ask, “Pastor John, how do I conquer the love of human praise? My heart is so prideful!”
Well, let me say that Dan has already made two key discoveries that I hear in the question. One is that there are two kinds of pride. There is the pride of the strong that praises himself. And there is the pride of the weak that craves other people to praise him. And the other discovery that Dan has made is that he is more guilty of the second than the first.
Disease of Praise-Seeking
And I say more guilty, because all of us are guilty of both. Everybody draws attention to himself at some time and brags. And everybody wants other people to notice when they do something. It tastes good to be affirmed and praised. So this is a universal question. He is not unique. And it is amazing to me how directly Jesus addresses this issue in the Sermon on the Mount.
“Jesus calls us hypocrites when we seek the praise of men.”
Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 6:2: “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” He continues in verse 5, “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” Finally, he says in verse 16, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”
Three Keys to Kill the Craving
So Jesus is amazingly aware of this issue and he has got much to say about it. In those three statements — Matthew 6:2, 5, and 16 in the Sermon on the Mount — there are three incentives to help us hate this disease of praise-seeking.
1. Hate hypocrisy.
Jesus calls us hypocrites when we seek the praise of men. When you do something praiseworthy to get the praise of man, you are not doing the praiseworthy thing. You are doing the praise-craving thing. You are a hypocrite. You pretend to do the good, but that is incidental to what you really want — applause. So we fight this craving first by hating hypocrisy. Everybody hates hypocrisy. Well, we are hypocrites, but you don’t want to be one. So don’t do that.
2. Don’t settle for little rewards.
Jesus says in all three cases of praise-craving, “They have received their reward.” Well, what is the point of saying that? I think there are two points of saying that. One, you lose something great, and you gain something pitiful. What do you gain? You gain the praise of man. You want it? You get it. That’s it. And the connotation is that what you gain is pitiful. It is like a drug. It gives a buzz, and then it is gone; you have got to have another fix. You are always insecure. You are always needy for other people’s praise in order for you to be happy or to feel secure. You are never satisfied. And so when he says, You have your reward, he means it is a lousy reward. You are settling for such a little reward.
3. Seek an infinite reward.
But the other point — the third incentive — is what you are losing: the reward of God. So here is Matthew 6:1: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” You gain this lousy, pitiful, drug-like reward, and you lose an infinite reward. And it doesn’t say what the reward is, but back in Matthew 5:12 it says, “Your reward is great in heaven.” It is from God and it is very, very great.
So, three incentives with which to kill this craving for human praise: One, it makes you a hypocrite. We don’t like hypocrites, so let’s not be one. Two, it delivers a pitiful reward. Three, it robs you of a great reward. And Paul — we go beyond Jesus now to Paul — fleshes out this third incentive. He says in Romans 2:29 that Christians are people whose “praise is not from man, but from God.” And in 2 Corinthians 10:18 he says, “It is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends [or praises].”
Weight of Glory
So do you want to be praised? Let it come from God: “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’” (Matthew 25:21). C.S. Lewis called that the weight of glory. How can it be that the infinite, perfect God would look upon my imperfect obedience and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant?” How could anything in me be praiseworthy?
And, of course, the answer is 1 Corinthians 4:7: “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” Everything I have is a gift. If God praises anything in me, he is praising his grace in me. So these are some of the truths. And there are a lot more that we need to preach to ourselves in order to slay this dragon of craving for the praise of man.