One very elemental thing to the Christian faith is being tested. Throughout Christian history we see God allowing His people to be tested in various ways. In some He found faithfulness and rewarded them for it, and in others wickedness and punished them for it.
The heroes of the Christian faith are no doubt those who stood the greatest tests. Fittingly, our Lord Jesus himself was tested and the faithfulness of his heart to the Father proven to the tempter (it needed no proving to God Almighty).
In the pursuit to become more like Christ, James encourages “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4).
James is arguing that when the testing of a Christian has run its course, he/she will be perfect. Deducing therefore that until a Christian has become the most like Jesus he can be, he must continue to be tested is accurate.
Clearly in the context, James is referring to persecution. Even though Jesus promised it (Matthew 10:22), and the early disciples rejoiced that they could be counted worthy to endure it for the Lord’s name’s sake (Acts 5:41), many a believer today avoid persecution with everything we have.
It may be that we live in a country where we enjoy freedom of worship. We don’t gather for fellowship in hiding for fear of being hanged or burnt at the stakes. We don’t get victimized and disowned for professing Christ. Does that mean we are less tested?
Not likely. If God tested us less, then we should wonder if he loves us less than the saints who endure more testing. Why test us less when the fruit of being tested is Christlikeness; a holiness the kind without which no one will see him – Hebrews 12:14? Minimal persecution should never be thought of as little testing for a Christian’s faith. In many senses comfort should be feared worse, because it just might be a greater test.
As I’ve heard John Piper say once, one of the toughest places to be a Christian today just might be the world’s most prosperous nation, America!
The ways the body of Christ is tested today are quite subtle, and because of that I believe worse lethal. The rampage that befell the early church no doubt took with it more Christian lives than during any other time in history. But it ultimately multiplied the faith! Today’s forms of testing may not leave bloody bodies lying on our streets, but they choke the faith of more believers than we can number.
Solomon hints to one such form of testing in Proverbs 27:21. “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise,” he says. The heat that silver and gold are passed through proves their authenticity. That is probably more synonymous with suffering torture and death for the sake of Christ than it is with being showered with praise. But Solomon says that praise is in fact what will prove a man’s authenticity.
The test of Praise authenticates Faith
As our world has grown increasingly saturated with recognition seeking humans, praise has become a more potent weapon in the enemy’s hands. We’ve grown numb to its dangers and become less conscious of the subtle ways it comes. We hardly notice it in well-meaning comments like “That was powerful singing” after leading worship. Or “thank you for the wonderful insight” after we’ve shared a post. We miss it in the likes and shares.
There may be nothing wrong with praise in and of itself. It is natural that whatever is deemed a failure will attract ridicule and any good thing will be praiseworthy. Job’s and David’s devotions to God were praiseworthy. The nobility of the Proverbs 31 woman is praiseworthy.
The twist with praise however is that even though it is offered as mere commendation or favorable representation in words, it is often received as worship. That doesn’t mean that whenever praised we suddenly envision those who praise us as subjects prostrating before our majestic thrones. What it means is that we take the ultimate credit for the things for which we are praised.
The devil doesn’t mind that. “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9) might be too blatant an invitation to idolatry, so he prefers to use “how about you just worship yourself?” His trouble is not so much with being denied worship (he knows better than anyone he doesn’t deserve it). His trouble is with God being worshipped. Any lose-lose situation is ultimately a gain for him.
It is works that earn us praise, and any glory in works is ultimately an exaltation of our ability at the expense of God’s. It takes deliberate effort to not allow ourselves the central part of praise. We may never stop men from praising us, but we should never even once respond to praise with an attitude less than what Jesus rebukes his disciples for lacking when they have just come from doing great exploits.
“So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” – Luke 17:10.
That great miracle, that moving post, that powerful singing should humble a Christian more and point him to the great mercies of God. We should wonder how in the universe God gets to use such unworthy and undeserving beings like ourselves to accomplish anything.
But often praise will reveal just the opposite. How we feel completed by it will betray what a great deal we make of ourselves at the expense of God’s renown. We forget that had we not been commanded we would have never had an assignment to boast in. Had we not prayed in the Name of Jesus that miracle would never have been granted. And had his Spirit not illuminated our minds with the Scriptures that wonderful sermon would never have been preached.
We therefore exalt our preaching above the Word we preached, and our praying above the Name by which we prayed. This is true of how we often perceive spiritual gifts. The very language we use (my gift) shows just how little the Giver of the gifts matters. We rarely think of them as God’s gift to us for the edification of Christ’s bride. That would spur humility.
More often we think of them as gifts we possess for recognition and acclaim among other believers. It’s no wonder the huge struggle with pride among those with such spectacular gifts as speaking in tongues, prophecy, miracles, teaching, and the unhealthy reverence we give them showering them with titles like ‘dad’ and ‘man of God’. We never think “Wow, God really is amazing to gift someone that much!” Our marvel always is “Wow, he/she is really gifted!”
The test of praise might just be harder to recognize and overcome than persecution. Unlike persecution that injures the flesh, praise feeds it and therefore very welcome. That’s what makes it subtle and lethal.
It is important that we ask; each single time I received praise for something I did, was I left feeling wonderful or was I left marveling at the wonder that is God? Has the test of praise been making me more like Jesus or has it been expanding the dominion of my own lordship in my heart?