God’s Word for You
Proverbs 27:21 Praise as a test
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, June 13, 2020
21 A crucible for silver and a furnace for gold,
but a man is tested by the praise he receives.
This is similar to Proverbs 17:3. There, the Lord is the one who tests man, but here the test is the praise a man or woman receives. We could take this in two ways: A person is tested by the praise he receives from other people, or a person is tested by the praise he receives from God. I’m surprised by the number of commentaries that dismiss the second option completely, as if it is impossible in this context. We shall see.
An expert tests silver and gold by heating them and by skimming away the dross from the molten metal. We might think that this proverb gives credence to the idea that the crowd is usually right, but the crowd is not an expert. The crowd forms its opinions from the way their news is delivered, from which information they receive and which they do not, and sometimes based on past experience. The crowd does not skim away the dross, but revels in it. The crowd, which might better be described today as “the herd,” focuses mainly on mistakes anyone makes. If someone is in the public eye and makes an error, they are instantly attacked and crushed by public opinion. When people test someone simply based on a certain event or action, they dishonor themselves; they act like a witless herd or flock that becomes skittish around their shepherd when he happens to drop his hat. How, then, can this proverb really be telling us to listen to public opinion?
Jesus said, “Blessed are you whenever people hate you, and whenever they exclude and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man” (Luke 6:22). People might test one another according to praise, but God is still the judge who matters. God judges in this lifetime through the wisdom of his servants. This is partly to do with the ministry of the keys (in matters of sin) but also in the realm of public praise or the acknowledgment given by the church to some of its people. For many of us, this praise often comes simply in the form of a funeral sermon and is praise that we ourselves will never hear. One of the dearest forms of praise I know of is for the minister to be able to say, “He always sat right there in that pew, every Sunday, without fail.” This doesn’t mean that some people aren’t blessed when they choose to sit in a new seat from time to time, or ever every service, but it’s a way to acknowledge a Christian’s faithfulness in worship. In heaven, however, the praise will be different. We have already described the idea of reward in heaven along with Proverbs 27:18, but there is also the simple statement of Jesus: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” that we all look forward to hearing (Matthew 25:21, 23).
I know a woman who has had a hard life, a life of difficulty and even heartbreaking tragedy. She lost her farm to bankruptcy and her husband to suicide; her sons have never married; there will be no more generations of her line. Now approaching 80, she is still caring for one son with special needs who is in his fifties and has always lived with her. She has gone about her life as the administrative assistant for a school, and she has taken care of herself and her boys with a cheerfulness and a genuine joy to serve, a joy comes directly from her Christian faith. What kind of praise will she receive in heaven? Better, I would think, than most of us. But that praise is God’s to give on the basis of her faith.
The Hebrew word for “praise” in this verse is a noun related to the word hallel in Hallelujah, which means, “Praise the Lord.” What might God actually praise you or me about? We need to leave that to him. What God decrees is always for our everlasting good. “And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13). May God be praised here in this lifetime and forevermore.
Pastor Timothy Smith