Can I take a compliment?

How do you respond when someone praises you or gives you a compliment? Do you feel awkward and brush it off? Or do you light up and think to yourself, “Finally! Someone noticed how amazing I am!”

Encouragement is powerful. More than that, as Christians, we are instructed to encourage each other until Jesus returns (Hebrews 10:25), and we want our community to foster and perpetuate a culture of encouragement. It’s so much better than the alternative! I want to be in an environment where people are building each other up, not tearing them down.

Words are so powerful, and we know this. Proverbs 18:21 tells us that our tongues have the power to speak life or death. Praising and encouraging others actually puts courage into them. It can propel people to attempt and accomplish extraordinary things.

It’s important how we respond to and receive praise. If we dismiss and brush off encouragements, we dishonour the one doing the encouraging. They are choosing to give a gift, and if it isn’t received well, they may stop encouraging anyone. It would be like if you gave a gift to a close friend, and instead of opening it, they put it on the ground and walked away. You probably wouldn’t ever want to give them a gift again. Unless we receive praise and encouragement well, we won’t be able to build the culture of encouragement that God’s word instructs us to have.

This begs the question: How should I receive praise and encouragement? And what are the dangers of not handling it correctly?

To answer this, I think we should consider what we’ve been studying as a church. This week, we are in Acts chapter 14. We’ve been going through a chapter of Acts every week since January, and if you missed any of the messages, you can find them here.

In Acts 14, we find Paul and Barnabas continuing to spread the good news of Jesus around Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). As they preach, they encounter a man who cannot walk and has been that way since birth. But Paul, recognizing that the man had faith to be healed, stops in the middle of his sermon to call this man out. He says, “Stand up on your feet!” (Acts 14:10). The man immediately jumps up, completely healed, and starts walking around as if he had done so for his entire life. Needless to say, the crowds were astonished by what they had just witnessed. But instead of praising God, or simply praising Paul for being used by God, they start to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods. This was the exact opposite response to the gospel message that they were believing for.

In that culture, people worshipped many gods, and Paul and Barnabas were there to reveal to those people that Jesus was the only way to everlasting life. In response to the miracle they became convinced that Barnabas was the incarnation of Zeus and Paul was the incarnation of Hermes. The people had utterly missed the point of Paul’s message.

If you remember the story from two weeks ago, you’ll know what happened to King Herod when he allowed the people to worship him. Paul and Barnabas certainly would have remembered the recent King’s sudden demise, and they did everything in their power to stop the crowd from offering sacrifices in worship to them. However, unlike Herod, Paul and Barnabas handled the situation correctly.

I remember a story Pastor Jack Hayford used to share regarding handling praise and encouragement. He tells the story of when King David brought the Ark of the Covenant (the physical symbol of God’s glory and presence) back into Jerusalem. The Ark was meant to be carried by the priests, but David neglected to do this. Instead, he ignored God’s instructions by putting it on a cart just like the Philistines had done. During the transport, the cart hit a bump, and a guy named Uzzah reached out to steady the Ark. As he touched the Ark, he was immediately struck dead. Now, we don’t have time to unpack the why behind this situation, but Pastor Hayford’s point was this:

You can accept encouragement, but the glory is for God alone.

Paul and Barnabas knew this story as well. They saw what happened to King Herod. They knew that receiving worship and accepting the glory was dangerous, especially for something God had done. In an act of desperation, they tore their clothes as a symbol of both grief and horror at the idea of receiving the glory that belonged to God. Accepting God’s glory is off-limits for us.

Considering this, what should you do or say when someone compliments you? Firstly, we must be very aware that there is a danger of finding our worth and identity in people’s praise. There’s also a danger in taking for ourselves what belongs to God.

So, what does this practically look like? When someone compliments you, do you stop them, tear your jacket in half, and run away? Certainly not.

But, when something miraculous happens, we can use it as an opportunity to point others to God, the miracle worker.

When someone tells you that you did a great job, you can say, “Thank you. I really appreciate that encouragement.” Take all that encouragement and give the glory to God because He has given you the strength and ability to accomplish anything and everything.

Pastor Dave often reminds us that if the praise doesn’t stick to you, then the criticism won’t stick to you either. That’s a wise perspective that safeguards us from finding our worth and value in the opinion of others. Our value and our worth are meant to be found only in Christ.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. -Ephesians 2:10

So, can you take a compliment?

Absolutely! And you should, but let’s ensure that we are always giving the glory to God.