Dear friends of Vital Signs Ministries, April 2018
“Everybody likes a compliment.” (Abraham Lincoln)
“Praise is warming and desirable…But praise is an earned thing. It has to be deserved like an honorary degree or a hug from a child. A compliment [however] is manna, a free gift.” (Phyllis McGinley)
“I can live for two months on a good compliment.” (Mark Twain)
A sincere compliment, as poet Phyllis McGinley suggests above, is a gift we give to others. It is an important way to encourage, to express kindness and goodwill, to be a winsome witness of Christ as we gratefully delight in the virtues, skills, and demeanor of those whose lives touch ours. Indeed, giving the gift of compliments is very much a part of our Christian discipleship. Think of Jesus’ compliments to Nathaniel, to Mary Magdalen, to the widow who gave her mite, to the Roman centurion, to the Syrophonecian woman, to Mary of Bethany, to the churches in Revelation…and to all the saints who pass into His presence who will hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” We must consider too the many compliments we read of in the ministry of Paul and the other apostles.
Compliments are a precious, important, and inspiring gift and we should be handing them out much more than we do. Indeed, to refrain from doing so is a serious omission of our light-bearing, salt-spreading, love-sharing duties as Christ’s ministers. We are, after all, repeatedly commanded to love our neighbors, to bless and honor them, to thank and encourage them, and, when deserved, to praise them for jobs well done. To fail to perform these duties is actually a form of hoarding – selfishly hiding away in the cellar those compliments, kind words, and encouragements that would richly bless others.
Granted, the Bible does warn against flattery. But those passages condemn the false-hearted man who uses kind words and other gifts as a kind of trap. It is the flatterer’s motives and purposes that are wicked, not the words themselves. Should we, therefore, avoid words of lovingkindness, esteem, and gratitude altogether? Of course not. For it is our spiritual obligation to honor others by our words and to do so with hearts of honesty, sincerity, and genuine commitment to their good.
Another obstacle to bestowing compliments is the misguided belief that praiseworthy words might tempt people to seek the approval of man rather than God. But, like any act of unconditional love, what someone does with an honest compliment is not our affair. Our task is simply to be a blessing in word and deed.
Of course, none of us should be chasing compliments. We should not be waiting for the praise or thanks of men in order to be about the Father’s business. Nor should we use kind words or compliments to dishonestly move people to like us. Or to seek excuses for our bad behavior. Or to try and manipulate people. God forbid. But again, the sin in such cases is not the words of blessing; the sin is in the impure motive or purpose.
There are still other reasons that we are not as complimentary as we should be. And those reasons arise from sins like pride, fear, envy, a sense of competition, lack of gratefulness, lack of humility, and so on. There’s also a problem of ignorance. Because of poor teaching and a lack of role models in our past, we haven’t learned the social skills necessary to effectively stimulate our fellow believers to further love and good deeds. We thus need motivation (and frequent practice) to learn how to best express praise and thanks to others for the purposes of lifting their spirits, encouraging them in the Faith, strengthening friendships, and making our witness to the world more winsome.
But let me mention something else about this matter of ignorance. Many years ago, Claire and I created a couples game that involved spouses trying to match answers to questions about their history, opinions, aspirations, etc. It always made for a fun evening but also one that was provocative and enlightening. For instance, one of the questions we asked was, “What compliment does your spouse most like to hear from you?” Now, we played this game with dozens and dozens of couples over the years, but only 2 or 3 times did the married couples match in their answers to this question. Isn’t that something? It didn’t mean, of course, that the spouses were failing to pass along any compliments at all. But it did reveal that the compliments each most desired to hear were going unsaid. The husband might have been complimenting his wife on her beauty and she on his fixing things around the house. Yet she would have much more preferred to hear him praise her pro-life activity or her patience in teaching their daughter to read — while he yearned to hear her express appreciation for his courage, his generosity, or his efforts to be a better student of the Bible. In other words, all compliments are not equal. Therefore, we must carefully watch and listen to others so that we are more in tune with their spiritual adventure. And, as we do so, our compliments (as well as our words of challenge or correction when needed) will be more relevant and more welcome.
Here’s a related point. The compliments which are the most biblical are those that are sincere, thoughtful, relevant to genuine needs, and which speak to a person’s virtues. To compliment someone on a new hairdo or outfit, a piano recital or a sports victory – such things are fine and proper. But keep in mind that the highest compliments (like the ones you read of in the Bible) point to a person’s character. Scriptural compliments concern faithfulness, generosity, obedience, holy behavior, purity of thought, purity of doctrine, courage, preaching the good news, abiding in Christ, endurance, sacrificial love, care of the needy, wisdom, remembering God’s providential care, laying up treasure in heaven, and so on. These passages provide excellent guidance regarding our compliments to others.
One final thing. How should you receive a compliment? Well, you should definitely avoid offending your brother in Christ by thoughtlessly dismissing his kind words. How often it happens that, in an attempt to be humble (or perhaps, merely to appear to be humble), people treat heartfelt compliments as insignificant or, worse still, as illegitimate. At all costs, avoid doing that. For instance, do not disrespect a brother’s compliment by shrugging your shoulders and saying “No problem” or “No big deal” or “Well, I had nothing better to do.” And don’t play the sanctimonious Pharisee with a response like, “Oh, my misguided brother; praise not the arm of flesh! For I am nothing but a profligate sinner, a low-down knave in whom there dwelleth nothing good. No, be not deceived; if there was anything of value in my deed, it came not from me but from the gracious kindness of God Who condescended to use such a worm as I. Therefore, tempt me not to pride by thy honeyed phrases but rather confess there is naught in any of us that is worthy of a compliment.” Yipes! Much more appropriate, more humble, and more loving responses to sincere compliments are things like “You’re more than welcome. I was honored to do it and I’m really pleased I was able to be of help.” Or “I’m so glad you liked it. You’re so kind to mention it.” Or a simple, sincere “Thank you.”
Okay, I need to finish this letter so let me sum up. 1) I compliment you for reading through this whole letter! 2) I heartily encourage you to be more complimentary to others. Pay attention to them so that when you do speak kindness into their lives, it is of the most relevance and value. 3) Let your compliments be sincere, kind, and designed for a person’s spiritual good. Concentrate on expressing thanks and encouragement for things relating to character and virtue. And 4)Appreciate the glorious fact that the Lord desires to compliment you on a life well lived. The Scripture teaches that God gives His children a lot of “attaboys” right now: a clean conscience, the fruits of the Spirit, the teaching of His Word, the lovingkindness of the saints, and so on. Plus, there’s coming a day when the Lord will give us the grandest compliments of all: a brand new mind and body, a redeemed and transformed creation (which includes a dwelling that is custom-built for us by Jesus), His personal welcome of “well done, thou good and faithful servant,” and who knows what other manner of rewards for attitudes and actions performed in the Spirit. Won’t it be something!
Okay, until next month’s letter, you can check in with us at the Vital Signs Ministries web page, Vital Signs Blog, The Book Den, our Facebook page, or any of our other ministry happenings — prayers at the abortion clinic, letter-writing, our “When Swing Was King” shows, our discipleship activities, etc.