It all comes down to keeping our perspective correct. In the end God is the one who deserves all the praise and Glory, not us.
Hello Readers, hope all’s well. Time for another post.
Continuing on from the previous post, I’ve decided to keep writing about The Confessions of Saint Augustine. I’m almost done with the book, though I might write one or two more posts about it before I leave it alone on this blog.
Have you ever been praised for something you’ve done?? It must have felt good to be praised, right?? Yes, of course it feels good to be praised and we all like being accepted and approved of by others.
But while it does feel good, that doesn’t mean praise is a good thing. If we enjoy praise too much we lose sight of who gave us the talents earning us praise. And when we let the praise go to our head we become prideful and start walking in the same sin as the devil. Praise can be a very potent, dangerous ‘gateway drug’ to the sin of pride for many.
Augustine of Hippo wrote about the timeless struggle between praise and pride too. And his breakdown of it is an insightful read. So that’s what today’s post is all about. Read on, and let’s find out what Augustine had to say about praise and pride.
The Praise Trap
A very common temptation most people deal with is desiring praise from others. And it’s understandable. In a choice between being praised vs. being disrespected, who wouldn’t pick praise?? But that would be the wrong choice.
In Matthew 10, Jesus tells us we will endure persecution and harassment for following Him. The world will hate us on account of His name (Matthew 10:22). But He tells us not to be afraid of anyone who harasses or even kills us. The people of the world can only kill our body, and once they’ve done that they can’t do anything further. Remembering the promise of eternal life in Heaven with Jesus, once our body is dead we’ll go to be with Him and all our problems are over. And so we must Fear Only God (Matthew 10:28), the one who can destroy both body and soul. Fear Only God, never fear mankind.
(26) “Therefore, don’t be afraid of those people because nothing is hidden that won’t be revealed, and nothing secret that won’t be brought out into the open. […] (28) Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.Matthew 10:26, 28 (CEB)
So what does this have to do with the topic of desiring praise from others?? Well, it’s like this ….
In the same way we must Fear Only God and never fear mankind, so must we also desire God’s praise only, and never seek praise from mankind. Our motive should always be to please God and earn His praise, not the praise of humans.
But again, this temptation of desiring people’s praise is very common. Even Augustine was concerned about this flaw in himself. He said so in his Confessions.
But, O Lord—thou who alone reignest without pride, because thou alone art the true Lord, who hast no Lord—has this third kind of temptation left me, or can it leave me during this life: the desire to be feared and loved of men, with no other view than that I may find in it a joy that is no joy?Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book Ten, Chapter 36 (Page 206)
In his case he also added being feared by men, as in, having great power and authority over others. It’s interesting that he calls this praise and admiration “a joy that is no joy.” Much like power, praise is something we think we want here on earth, but it’s worthless in the end because we lose it as soon as we die. And praise is even shorter-lived than power, as the good feeling we get from it wears off quickly. Because of that we could call it “a joy that is no joy,” like Augustine does. It makes us happy for a moment, and no longer. Also check out End Times Part 82 to learn why power is pointless too.
Augustine goes on to explain that the praise of others is used by Satan as a snare. Being praised by others is enough to make us prideful if we let it go to our head. And pride was Satan’s original sin, of course. Pride—which led to Satan trying to exalt himself above God, see Isaiah 14—was what got Satan kicked out of Heaven. So pride is a very serious sin that we must always be on guard against. And the praise of others is one way we can become prideful.
If we start taking pride in being praised, we will also start exalting ourselves above God, like Satan. If we become prideful we think we can do anything and don’t need God. Then we see ourselves as deserving the praise and glory instead of God, who deserves all the credit. We begin to exalt ourselves in place of God, the same sin as the devil.
Augustine explains how Satan uses the praise of others as a snare to trap us in pride:
[…] through this the adversary of our true blessings [Satan] presses hard upon us, scattering everywhere his snares of “well done, well done”; so that while we are eagerly picking them up, we may be caught unawares and split off our joy from thy truth and fix it on the deceits of men. In this way we come to take pleasure in being loved and feared, not for thy sake but in thy stead. By such means as this, the adversary makes men like himself, that he may have them as his own, not in the harmony of love, but in the fellowship of punishment […]Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book Ten, Chapter 36 (Page 206)
Note that he points out the true danger in the praise: Taking pleasure in being loved not for God’s sake but in the place of God. This is where the sin of pride and exalting ourselves begins: When we want to be praised instead of God. As Christians we should instead want for God to be Glorified through what we do, not us.
And this is why Augustine says that through praise the devil “makes men like himself.” It’s true that the pride of others is pleasing and tempting. Which makes it such a dangerous ‘gateway drug’ to the fatal sin of pride.
To avoid pride we must stay humble. And a good way to do that is giving God all the Glory when we’re praised for anything we’ve done. Instead of taking pleasure in praise, we must take pleasure in Glorifying God for His sake through the good things we do. The pleasure we get from praise, which most people feel, is a human weakness. We must fight it in ourselves.
But the praise of others is a snare of the devil that’s inevitable. God gave us good gifts and talents, and He created us to use those to perform good works (Ephesians 2:10). Once we figure out our talents and find our God-given purpose, we will naturally be praised for doing good things in this world and helping others. Praise is inevitable, and it’s also dangerous. We need to learn how to deal with it on our own, and not let praise make us prideful. It’s on us to stay humble, never forgetting who really gave us our good talents and skills.
Good Gifts and Works
When people praise us for something we do, they’re actually praising God, who gave us the gift for whatever it is we do. If we keep that in mind we’ll have the right attitude toward praise. Augustine explains how it goes:
But when […] a man is praised for some gift that thou hast given him, and he is more gratified at the praise for himself than because he possesses the gift for which he is praised, such a one is praised while thou dost condemn him. In such a case the one who praised is truly better than the one who was praised. For the gift of God in man was pleasing to the one, while the other was better pleased with the gift of man than with the gift of God.Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book Ten, Chapter 36 (Pages 206-207)
Once again, we must never exalt ourselves in place of God. If someone praises us for our God-given gift, we must remember they’re actually praising God, who gave us the gift. Augustine says the one giving praise is pleased with the gift of God while the one who takes pleasure in praise is pleased with the gift of man (which is the praise).
It all comes down to keeping our perspective correct. In the end God is the one who deserves all the praise and Glory, not us.
Not too long ago I wrote a post about how our talents are precious treasures, gifts from God that we must guard and care for well. And once again Augustine reminds us that any talent, any gift we’ve been blessed with comes from God. So not only must we use our talents for good goals, to Glorify God, but we must also give God the Glory for what we do with our gifts, not ourselves. We must deflect praise up to God when people praise us.
It’s not a sin to be happy about the gifts and talents God has blessed us with. But we always need to remember who blessed us with these gifts. So we need to make sure that we give Him all the Glory for any praise we get, and never ourselves.
But we all feel pride to some extent over praise. Pride is a shortcoming of our fallen, imperfect, sinful human condition. Pride exists in everyone. So although we must fight our pride, we don’t need to feel ashamed of it—it’s a human failing. We have some nature, some drive to exalt ourselves. And being praised by others actually activates the dopamine reward system in the human brain, so humans are actually evolved to want to be praised. In that sense, it’s like humans are hardwired for pride.
Augustine also wondered how far he was clean of the plague of pride. He didn’t know. But he points out that praise (which leads to pride) comes along with a good life of good works. Should we stop doing our good works then, to avoid praise and the sin of pride that so easily comes with it? Of course not, Augustine says. We must keep doing our good works, and yes, praise will often come with the territory, but we will have to deal with that.
I am not able to know for certain how far I am clean of this plague; and I stand in great fear of my “secret faults,” which they eyes perceive though mine do not.Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book Ten, Chapter 37 (Page 207)
[…] yet if praise, both by custom and right, is the companion of a good life and of good works, we should as little forgo its companionship as the good life itself.
God created us to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). So we must do the good works God planned for us. If we’re really doing something good, other people (Christian or not) will often praise us for it. It’s our responsibility to stay humble and not let praise make us fall into pride. But this isn’t an excuse for not doing our good works. Praise and pride are just things we have to deal with. We must pray to God for Humility, keep our perspective reasonable, and our ego in check. (God can help with each of those, if we ask.)
Praise Is Inevitable
We all enjoy praise, we all take pleasure when other people approve of us. Even the most Spiritual people in the world like praise. The struggle to not let praise trip us up into pride is one we all have to fight. And no matter how much progress we make on our Christian path, we will always have to fight this struggle. (In fact, the struggle might actually get harder as we go along. If our good works become greater as we continue growing in Christ, we’re going to attract more praise.)
Augustine makes an honest, but not surprising confession. He says [paraphrasing] “Yes I admit that being praised makes me feel good, and being criticized makes me feel bad.”
That’s very honest of him to admit this failing. But is it surprising?? No!! Once again: Why should we be surprised that any great Holy man or saint would have human failings?? They were human too after all, for their entire life in a flesh body on this fallen planet earth.
Saint Augustine also struggled with the pride and vanity that come from being praised for good works. So if any of us have that same struggle, we need not feel ashamed. Pride and vanity are just unfortunate flaws in our corrupted human nature—these flaws will be burned away when we die our physical death and transform into our true, Spiritual bodies when we unite with God in Heaven.
I wish I were unwilling that the approval of others should add anything to my joy for any good I have. Yet I admit that it does increase it; and, more than that, dispraise diminishes it. […]Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book Ten, Chapter 37 (Page 208)
Behold, O Truth, it is in thee that I see that I ought not to be moved at my own praises for my own sake, but for the sake of my neighbor’s good. And whether this is actually my way, I truly do not know.
But note the second thing Augustine said. He’s basically saying God wants us to tolerate and bear praise for the sake of our neighbor’s good. And that’s such a good attitude to have about the whole thing.
When we do good, people want to praise us. And so we should let them, instead of trying to resist something good they want to do.
It’s like when we help someone out, and we don’t want anything in return from them, but that person wants to pay us back somehow because we helped them. In that situation it would be mean-spirited to deny them any chance to feel like they’ve paid us back somehow.
It’s like that with praise too. Let’s let people praise us for our good works if they feel so inclined. Let them do it because they want to do it and it’s not an immediate harm to us. But let’s tell them all the Glory belongs to God and let that be the end of it.
Because if we don’t let that be the end of it, then the problems will start. We must never let praise go to our heads. If we do, we’ll become prideful, and start walking in the devil’s footsteps. We have to keep our perspectives correct!! Let’s all be careful—we don’t want to let a good thing (praise) trip us up into fatal sins.
Well that’s all for this week. If you enjoyed today’s post, be sure to Subscribe using the link below. And please consider Supporting My Blog using the Tip Jar. Any amount is much appreciated!
Until next time, be strong and do good!
Your new best friend in Christ,
<<<EXALT THE LORD OUR GOD AND WORSHIP AT HIS HOLY HILL; FOR THE LORD OUR GOD IS HOLY>>>
Follow My Blog
Subscribe to my FREE Substack newsletter so you never miss any of my posts!
Support My Blog
The Tip Jar
If you enjoyed this article, or any of the content on my site, please consider tossing a dollar in ‘the tip jar’ by donating here. All donations of any amount are greatly appreciated! If all you have to give are thoughts and prayers, I will gladly accept those too! I receive those, don’t worry 🙂