Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from practicing affirmation: god-centered praise of those who are not god by Sam Crabtree (Crossway, 2011).
God-Centered Affirmation of Those Who Are Not God
Affirmation is the purpose of the universe—specifically, affirmation of God. Commending the praise of men could meet with justifiable criticism. Landmines are everywhere. Take, for instance, this warning: "The love of our own glory is the greatest competitor with God in our hearts. And sometimes we can cloak this idol in a pious disguise." If this is true, and I think it is, then how can I possibly advocate the praise of people? Am I not fueling idolatrous pride?
The Bible Commends God and People
Even with the Bible's emphasis on humble self-denial and its warnings against pride, the Bible praises people—to the glory of God, ultimately. The chief end of God is not to glorify man, as humanistic thought would have it; the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. Meanwhile, the praising of people does not necessarily preclude the praising of God, if the people are commended ultimately for his glory. God is glorified in us when we affirm the work he has done and is doing in others. For example, the Bible commends the majesty of Solomon: "And the Lord made Solomon very great in the sight of all Israel and bestowed on him such royal majesty as had not been on any king before him in Israel" (1 Chronicles 29:25). Note that it is the Lord who made Solomon so great and majestic. Solomon's greatness and majesty are to be recognized and commended, but at the root lay the greatness and majesty of the God who made Solomon so.
The Bible also commends Jabez as being more honorable than his brothers: "Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.' Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!' And God granted what he asked" (1 Chronicles 4:9-10). Note that Jabez's honorableness is a result of the grace of the God who grants his requests and enlarges his borders. Jabez, clearly the lesser of the two, makes requests of God, the one who has the power Jabez lacks to fulfill such requests. Jabez's honorableness should be recognized and commended, but it stems from the blessing of God in his life, and the one who is the source of the blessing is the one who deserves the honor for Jabez's honorableness.
The Bible commends the excellent wife of Proverbs 31. It is proper to recognize and commend her excellence. In fact, Proverbs 31:30 explicitly says, "a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." Is what? Is to be praised! What I think the Bible is saying there is that a good, proper, healthy, important, and necessary way to praise people is to the glory of God. In the case of the excellent woman, what is one thing that makes her so excellent? She fears the Lord. God is honored by pointing to the woman's excellence in fearing him, the One who defines and exemplifies excellence.