“Self-praise,” says an ancient adage, “smells bad.” In other words, it stinks up the works. Regardless of how we prepare it, garnish it with little extras, slice and serve it up on our finest silver piece, the odor remains. No amount of seasoning can eliminate the offensive smell. Unlike a good wife, age only makes it worse. It is much like the poisoned rat in the wall—if it isn’t removed the stench becomes increasingly unbearable. Leave it untouched and within a span of time it will taint and defile everything that comes near it.
I got nauseated last week. It wasn’t from something I ate . . . but from someone I met. My out-of-town travels resulted in a short-term liberal arts education of self-praise to teach me some things I hope I never fully forget. This individual is a widely traveled, well-educated, much-experienced Christian in his fifties. He is engaged in a ministry that touches many lives. He is fundamental in faith, biblical in belief, and evangelical in emphasis. For a number of years he has held a respected position that carries with it a good deal of responsibility and a great deal of time logged in the limelight. Such credentials deserve a measure of respect like the rank on the shoulders of a military officer or the rows of medals on his chest. Both merit a salute in spite of the man inside the uniform. In no way do I wish to diminish the significance of his position nor his record of achievement. But my point is this—he knew better . . . he had the ability to correct himself . . . but he chose to be, quite frankly, a pompous preacher!
You got the distinct impression that when the two of you were together, the more important one was not you. Little mistakes irked him. Slight omissions irritated him. The attitude of a servant was conspicuous by its absence. It was highly important to him that everyone knew who he was, where he’d been, how he’d done, and what he thought. While everyone else much preferred to be on a first-name basis (rather than “Reverend” or “Minister”), he demanded, “Call me Doctor . . .” His voice had a professional tone. As humorous things occurred, he found no reason to smile . . . and as the group got closer and closer in spirit, he became increasingly more threatened. I confess that I was tempted to short-sheet him one night—or to order a cold beer in his name and have it brought up to his room—or to ask the desk clerk to give him a call about 2:30 a.m. and yell, “Okay, buddy, out of the sack, rise and shine!” But I didn’t. Now I almost wish I had. Just for the fun of watching the guy squirm!
Now let’s get back to the basics. God says He hates “haughty eyes” (Proverbs 6:17). He calls a proud heart “sin” (Proverbs 21:4). He says if praise is going to be directed your way, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth” (Proverbs 27:2). He drives home the message in Galatians 6:3:
If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
There is no greater deception than self-deception. It is a tragic trap laid for everyone, but especially vulnerable are those who have achieved . . . and start reading their own clippings the next morning.
Here’s my advice. Three of the lessons I’ve learned since my encounter last week with Doctor Hot Shot are:
1. Get a good education—but get over it. Dig in and pay the price for solid, challenging years in school, and apply your education with all your ability, but please spare others from the tiring reminders of how honored they should feel in your presence.
2. Reach the maximum of your potential—but don’t talk about it. Keep uppermost in your mind the plain truth about yourself . . . you have to put your pants on one leg at a time just like everybody else.
3. Walk devotedly with God—but don’t try to look like it. If you are genuinely God’s man or woman, others will know it.