“You did such a good job singing today, thank you.” That sounds innocent enough. How many times have you complimented a soloist in a similar manner? I say things like that all the time. What is my motive? To encourage them, at least that’s what I think I am doing. But I have begun to wonder if my compliments are accomplishing what I intend?
Do compliments really encourage others? Since God’s revelation of my glory-stealing tendencies, I question if the way we compliment fellow Christians isn’t problematic. Do our kudos and admiration only tempt others to steal a little glory for themselves? Shouldn’t we redirect our praise and thanksgiving back to God? He is the one who gave the soloist their ability to sing. He is also the one who probably calmed their nerves so they could sing in front of everyone.
Why do we turn our attention to the recipient of the gift instead of the one who gave it? I’m not discounting all the practice it took to sing the song well. I’m not ignoring that fact they used their gift for God’s glory. Those aspects are important. However, we usually leave God completely out of our praise, like in the example above.
We can learn a lot from Paul’s style of mentoring and encouraging others. There are two principles, we see in his letters. First, who Paul thanked and secondly, what he was thankful for. “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Thessalonians 1:2,3 NIV) “Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly.” (Ephesians 1:15,16 NLT)
Paul didn’t write to these early churches thanking them for their strong faith and love. He thanked God for their growth and let them know about it. What if I told the soloist, “I thank God for the beautiful voice he gave you and your willingness to glorify him through song.” Redirecting the attention back to God helps alleviate the soloist’s temptation to keep some of the praise for themselves. In addition, the soloist is encouraged because God used their gift to bring forth thankfulness in the heart of someone else.
I don’t know if Paul ever complimented someone for their singing, but in his letters, he focuses on signs of spiritual growth. He thanks God for their faith, their good works, their love for others, and endurance. Paul is more interested in encouraging others to keep growing. I have rarely acknowledged someone for their growth in love or endurance during a trial. And I know that I have never told them I thanked God for those things. So, I am preaching to myself.
Following Paul’s example would change the way I encourage others. How about you? Let’s change who we thank and what we thank God for. Let’s look for signs of spiritual growth in others. Let’s not focus on their talents or gifts alone. Let’s not tempt glory-stealing in another believer by complimenting them. Let’s bring glory to God and encourage each other at the same time.