Bridges and Being Tested by Praise
"In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;" (1 Peter 1:6-7 NASB)
So I'm not about to dispute that we are purified and refined by the "valleys" of our life. But in Proverbs 27:21 Solomon has a slightly different take on the process of refining. "The crucible is for silver and the furnace for gold, And a man is tested by the praise accorded him." (Proverbs 27:21 NASB) This testing is not refining, but the first part of heating the metal so that the dross is revealed.
What does it mean to be tested by praise? I think this verse is reflected by Paul in the requirements for an elder when he writes elder, "[should] not [be] a new convert, lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil." (1 Timothy 3:6 NASB) Those who have prominent positions will frequently garner more praise than the janitor. Charles Bridges writes on this in his commentary on Proverbs: "Fearful often is the trial to a minister of Christ. When he becomes the object of popular applause--his people's idol; when men of strong impulse and weak judgment put the servant in the Master's place--then he is in the fining-pot. He that is but dross consumes. Even if there be true metal, the man of God "is saved, yet so as by fire." Without painful discipline his usefulness would be withered, his spirituality deadened, his soul lost."
Additionally, the very act of being selected as an elder is act of praise. When one is selected, does he suddenly have a high opinion of himself? Does he suddenly imagine that he is fit to rule because of who he is? Then he is close to falling "into the condemnation incurred by the devil."
But it is not only elders who are tested by praise. How each of us reacts to praise reveals how much refining has been done in our life and how much dross remains. Bridges notes, "He that is praised is not only much approved, but much proved. . . . Praise is a sharper trial of the strength of principle than reproach." We have lived for a generation or more with the gospel of self-esteem. We don't need the cross and we don't need to talk about our sin. Instead, "preachers" have been telling us we need to love ourselves more. All this has done is brought the dross of our sin to the surface. The praise of ourselves has converted no one, or purified our hearts. Bridges notes, 'Do you know '--remarked M. de Stael on her death-bed--'what is the last thing to die in man? It is self-love.'
What shall we do then? Bridges suggests that it is best to be sparing with praise, and carefull when praised. Regarding the former he writes: "Therefore till the day appointed for manifestation, it is well to judge each other, whether for good or evil, with becoming moderation. And to which--is it merciful to expose a weak fellow-sinner to the frown of a jealous God, by stirring up the innate corruption of his heart? For put even the finest gold into the furnace, how humbling is the spectacle of the dross that yet cleaves to it!"
Regarding the latter, he writes: "Guard against dwelling even in thought upon anything, that brings man's approving eye upon us. Delight mainly in those works, that are only under the eye of God. Value alone his approbation. Ever think of the love of human praise as the most deadly bane of a Christian profession, to be resisted with intense energy and perseverance."
P.S. By now if you didn't know before you surely realize that Charles Bridges was not a child of the 20th Century. He ministered in England during the first half of the 1800's. C. H. Spurgeon considered Bridges' commentary the best commentary on Proverbs. A copy of the commentary on Proverbs by Charles Bridges is available on the internet. NOTE! This is the entire commentary in HTML. Do not click on the link if you have dial-up.
Commentary on Proverbs