Mrs. Laning is a wife and mother in Hope Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Have you ever received something like this?
Dear Family and Friends,
This has been a wonderful year. We finally bought our luxury dream home in our favorite gated community. God is so good. Susie and Trent fit right in. For Trent’s birthday, we flew to Disney World—his annual request! For Susie’s, another Princess Cruise! Despite our busy year, we were able to find time serving others. As I look on my calendar I can count 108 overnight guests who stayed at our house, and I cooked 70 meals for the sick (up ten from last year.) Martin volunteered his time building a couple of homes for the poor, and we continue to sponsor a needy child from overseas. We are so glad God has given us a heart for serving others . . . .
Ah, yes, the holiday brag letter—abhorrent festive fodder. Thankfully, we receive very few missives like this fictional one. The majority that come our way are humble, lovely ways to keep in touch. Yet, with the boastful ones we roll our eyes and wonder. Did they forget “let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth” (Matt. 6:3)? Or, “let another man praise thee and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips” (Prov. 27:2)? Maybe they should write this in their message, “. . . few and evil have the days of the years of my life been . . .” (Gen. 47:9).
Even so, it is easy to point out faults in others and to forget about our own proud nature. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their showiness, but our old man is just as guilty. So foolish is our sinful nature, that we clamor for attention while knowing better. We become skilled at camouflaging it.
From the time our children are very young, we teach them that we are to seek the honor that comes from God and not man. John 5:44 comes straight to us, “How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?” What a strong rebuke! “How can ye believe”? hits right between the eyes. We know a child of God cannot lose his faith entirely, but seeking the praise of man will put our faith in grievous danger. Eventually, our pride can lead us to the point that we no longer consciously experience faith. This is a dreadful thing, for faith, according to the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 7, is how we receive Christ and all His benefits.
Seeking the praise of man means exalting ourselves above others. Our lust to glory in ourselves covets flattery. “She is the perfect mother.” “Her house is the best kept house around.” “She is the most organized person.” “If you want a job done right, always ask for him.” “He is the best all-around student.” Seeking the honor that comes from God alone requires constant soul searching. I find this difficult to do. Is my goal to glorify God and build up His people? I want to obey God perfectly from my heart with pure motives, but I fail every time. When can I ever write a family update without any pride mingled in it? When can I labor to clean my home without worrying what visitors will think about how I rate? When my children or I sin, how often is my concern primarily that I look bad?
Even when I am serving others, is my goal always what it should be? Undoubtedly, there is a difference between seeking the good of others, and seeking to be exalted by them. By seeking their good, we are not looking for what we may get out of it. In fact, we should be content to have our good works go unnoticed. The principle “That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6:4) certainly applies to our good works. In our giving and serving may we take this to heart, and thus learn to forget ourselves. The more we do so, the more we free ourselves of pride and vainglory.
Furthermore, there clearly are proper times to praise one another. This is not necessarily flattery. When our goal is to glorify God and build up His people, expressing encouraging words, especially from Scripture, is a good thing. In fact, sometimes our lack of praising our children can lead them to become discouraged. It is very easy to fall into the sin of criticizing them too much at the expense of overlooking the good.
We can be quick to admonish when we see our child earns a low grade, but how quick are we at encouraging them? Our children may work hard to do well on a catechism test or in their school work, and we might not say anything. Our child may show patience and meekness when being provoked by a brother or sister, and we might not think to commend him for that. Our child may help us by playing with and watching a younger sibling, and we might take this thoughtfulness for granted. Sometimes we can find ourselves bringing up one shortcoming and unsatisfactory performance after another, and forgetting about God’s mercy. How much do we as parents fall far short in our heavenly Father’s eyes?
There are times for criticism, discipline, and patient admonishments from God’s law, to be sure. Yet, in all of this, may we remember to tell our covenant children the remedy for sin. Encouragement means pointing to Christ as the way of escape, not only from the guilt of their sin, but from the power of sin as well.
What do we praise our children for? Do we take them privately aside and commend them for their spiritual strengths? Or do we say very little about these, and yet jump and cheer when they make a slam dunk? When we see self-denial, thoughtfulness, patience, mercy, humility, and faithfulness in the work God has called them to do, it is good to let them know that we have noticed. This kind of praise encourages His people and glorifies God.
Our goal must be to imitate God in our parenting. Just as our heavenly Father said of His Son, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” so we must encourage and express love to our children. Our covenant children desire our approval, and this can be a means by which they hear the praise of God. We must pray that God will open our eyes more to see His work of grace in our believing children, for this is one way in which our children hear and receive the honor that comes from God.
We are also to be examples for our children. In fact, the more we imitate God in our parenting, the more we will be blessed and see positive fruit in our children. During Jesus’ ministry, He sought only God’s honor. “Jesus answered, If I honor myself, my honor is nothing: it is my Father that honoreth me . . .” (John 8:54). Do we show our children that we, too, are seeking honor that comes only from God?
We are good examples when we show that we are on guard against the sin of judging the motives of others. We should be so busy examining whether we are truly seeking God’s honor that we will not have time to analyze someone else’s motives. When our brothers and sisters do good works, our sinful nature can become jealous. If we covet the attention they receive, we can look down on them and wrongly judge their motives. “Well, they are just showing off . . . .” Our children are inclined to respond this way. When one child tries to stop another from sinning, then accusations of “holier than thou” or “you’re so proud” can be hurled at the faithful child.
One of the greatest acts of faith was also wrongly judged. When David came down to fight Goliath, David’s older brother Eliab accused David of seeking man’s praise. “I know thy pride and the naughtiness of thine heart,” said Eliab (I Sam. 17:28). We can point out to our children that Eliab was jealous of David and wanted the attention and honor his younger brother was receiving. May we remember “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt. 7:1).
How hard it is to esteem others better than ourselves. This is very much unlike the way in which the world runs a race. The athlete of the world runs to beat the competitors and to receive praise and honor from man. He esteems himself better than the others. In contrast, God calls us out of selfishness and into the body of Christ. When we run the race together as is spoken of in I Corinthians 9, we esteem others better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3). In this kind of a race, we are not competing against the brethren. In fact, such a race involves helping up a brother or sister who stumbles and falls. We run while encouraging and praying for others not to faint. Jesus Christ is the shining victor in the race. It is He whom we desire to be glorified as we run, and when we one day put on His incorruptible crown.
If we are seeking God’s honor, and only His honor, we will fervently pray for much grace. Left to our own pride, how will we ever believe? Such a beam in our own eye will certainly interrupt the exercise of faith (Canons of Dordt, Fifth Head, Article 5). Thanks be to God for His grace, which works in us repentance from such idolatrous selfishness. During Christ’s ministry, it was rare that those of lofty status were the ones listening to Him. Rather, it was the common ordinary folk that followed Him. Mark 12:37 says, “And the common people heard him gladly.” It is only when we view ourselves to be the undeserving, needy sinners that we are, that we find ourselves really listening to God’s word, and experiencing the comfort that only His word brings.
How humbling is the thought that God actually honors us. How is it that He honors us? We grow to see this more as we consider again what Scripture says about how God gave glory and honor to His Son. II Peter 1:17 says, “For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Similarly, our heavenly Father honors us by making known we are His children and that He is pleased with us. This, and this alone, is the honor we seek.
What a privilege it is for us to confess, “But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom. 2:29). May our boast be in the Lord, and from the One who Himself said, “I receive not honor from men” (John 5:41).