“Don’t fish for compliments, lest you defy God while you are applauded. “If I yet pleased men” Paul says “I should not be the servant of Christ.” He stopped pleasing men when he became Christ’s servant. For Christ’s soldiers march on through good talk on the right hand and evil talk on the left. No praise excites them. No criticism crushes them.” Jerome (347-420 AD)
As we begin the season of Lent, I am drawn to this quote by Jerome. How many of us fish for compliments? Our natures eagerly feed off compliments like a hungry animal. Yet Jerome encourages us not to fish for compliments “lest you defy God while you are applauded.” What does this mean? Being complimented can lead us into danger. We can become so enamored with compliments that our diligence to following the commands of our God can wane in favor of trying please others. This is because compliments usually lead us to want to please men rather than God.
The pleasing of men is the positive side of the more negative saying, the fear of men. Do we want to please men or God? That is Jerome’s point and challenge to us. The question seems simple, but the reality is that many of us struggle – our heads tell us to please God and yet our hearts are drawn to pleasing men, or being concerned about what men (people) think of us.
How releasing – how powerful – how wonderful it would be to say with Jerome that no praise excites us and no criticism crushes us. To reach this point requires us to be honest with ourselves – honest about whether the fear of men or the pleasing of men dominates our thinking and actions – and then to come to God and ask him to change our hearts so that we would be more concerned about what God thinks.
Maybe we might want to put Jerome’s quote in a prominent place this Lent to remind us that we should not be trying to please, or pacify people. Instead we should look to the living God. To Him only should we want to please, serve, worship and obey and to him only should we bring our concerns. And alongside Jerome, why not put Proverb 27:21 which says: “The crucible for silver, and the furnace for gold, but a man is tested by the praise he receives”