Wouldn’t it be great if there was a personal character tester, sort of like a battery tester? Attach it, and we would know something of a person’s internal make-up? Well there is one great test of character and it’s found in Proverbs 27:21: “A crucible is for silver, and a smelter for gold, and a man for the words of his praise.” Here’s what this verse means:
The function of the crucible and smelter for precious metals is two-fold. The first is to refine the metal. The smelter heats the gold or silver to a liquid state and then the dross, the impurities, can be removed. The second function is to test the metal. The more pure and precious the metal, the less dross will be found.
So now we see what crucibles and smelters do, but what refines and tests us? In the second part of the Proverb, the Hebrew literally says, “So a man is according to his praise.” So just as the heat of the furnace tests precious metals, so PRAISE functions as the refiner and tester of a person’s character.
What’s distinctive of the Proverbs is that they have a riddle-like quality. They make us ask, how is praise a test of character? I can think of four ways that praise reveals our internal make-up.
The first is how I am praised. When people think or speak of me, what they praise reveals my reputation. If they praise my natural talents or my appearance, then my reputation is based on mere externals, characteristics that will pass away. But if people praise my character, it shows my real worth. So what do our friends and family praise in us? Do they value our loyalty to others, our kindness to the weak, our generosity to the needy, our devotion to the Lord? This kind of praise reveals our true character.
The second way praise functions as a test is how I praise. This reveals my gratitude. Am I the kind of person who frequently finds fault and is never satisfied? Do I function with a critical spirit? We need to be people who offer praise to others, not people who are professional fault finders. Also, am I the kind of person that looks at every good gift received as a right and not a privilege? Am I one to forget to praise God from whom all blessings flow. Our goal is to be people who give praise generously. To our colleagues for jobs well done, to our kids for their daily successes, to our spouses for who they are and what they do. Above all, we need to daily engage in praise to the Lord for all the kindness He has shown us. Praise of the Lord Jesus should flow from our hearts and lips the way a powerful river flows to the sea.
Yet a third way that praise functions as a character test is what I praise—because this reveals my priorities. If I praise external appearance and not internal character, this shows what I value most. If I praise obtaining wealth more than spiritual commitment, it reveals what is most important to me. When my friend Larry’s daughters were young, people would often praise them for how pretty they were (just as they do now that they are adults). Afterwards Larry would always take them aside and reaffirm how beautiful they were, but then he would say something like, “Besides being so pretty, what I really appreciate about you is how kind you are” or “what a good and loyal friend you are” or “how much you love the Word of God.” He always showed them that what was most praiseworthy was not their external appearances but their internal character. This is a good parenting lesson but also, it revealed Larry’s character–what he praises, shows his priorities.
Finally, how I react to praise is a great test of character because it shows my humility or lack of it. Too often when I receive praise I respond by adopting an artificial “humble proud” look. Some of us might act all super humble and dismiss the praise as untrue. Others might offer a sanctimonious “To God be the glory!!” It’s best to receive praise by saying a simple, “Thank you.” And I’m reminded of two of my spiritual heroes, George Sweeting and Erwin Lutzer, who always receive praise graciously, but then remember to themselves Psalm 115:1—“Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory.”
So what are our praise patterns? If we identify them, they can serve as a test of our spiritual development and personal character. For what am I praised? How much do I give praise? What do I praise? And how do I respond when praised? All these will reveal where we need to grow and even where we already have shown growth. Praise is the crucible that God has established to test our character.