What is the worst compliment you've ever gotten?
Does that seem like a strange question? Doesn't it seem like I should be asking, "What is the best compliment you've ever received?"
Well, before I did some quick research on compliments I didn't realize just how many categories of bad compliments there are. For instance, I knew of "damned by faint praise." An example of that would be at the end of this sermon I ask you how I did and all you say is, "I liked your tie." 🙂
Thanks mainly to a site called TV Tropes I learned there were many more types of negative compliments. For example, there is one similar to "damned by faint praise" called "overly narrow superlative." You may have kiddingly used this one yourself…for instance, if you said to your only aunt, "You are my favorite aunt!" TV Tropes' myriad examples included "This Buzzfeed article about UHF: 29 Reasons 'UHF' Is The Greatest Weird Al Movie About A Fake TV Station Ever."1
Just how many movies do you think fit in "Weird All movies about a fake TV station?" 🙂
Or perhaps you've heard of (or provided or received) a backhanded compliment? On Askville by Amazon, these were a few of my favorites:
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
- “How persistent you are! Most people would have given up and called someone competent by this point.”
- “You're smart to do your laundry on Saturday night, when everyone else is out.”
- “You have the greatest untapped potential of anyone I've ever dated.”
- “Congratulations, Ryan. Your essay makes a convincing argument for a sweeping overhaul of our public educational system.”2
Think about it…think about it… 🙂
When I say the different categories of bad compliments is very long, I'm not kidding…so I'll wrap up with one final type. TV Tropes called it "your approval fills me with shame."3 Just imagine I finished this talk and the devil walked up to me, shook my hand, and exclaimed, "Pastor, that is the best sermon I've ever heard. Thanks for the help."
Errr…thanks for the compliment…NOT! Instead, I would be doing some heavy reflecting and praying…wouldn't you?
I would suggest that there is a less extreme version of "your approval fills me with shame." You are all probably familiar with it because it's something we've heard when, insulted (instead of complimented) in a cruel way, we cry on somebody's shoulder. They respond, "Yeah, well, consider the source."4
And it was true, wasn't it? If some jerk said something stupid, why would you care about their opinion? It's not like they have any standing in your life, and it is far more likely they said it to be cruel than as an expression of the truth.
In some ways, however, "consider the source" is applicable with compliments. If you are an artist and your non-artistic mom says, "That is the greatest painting ever!"—it's not a "bad compliment"…but it isn't near as meaningful as having a famous, distinguished painter tell you how well you've done…and I don't mean "Not bad for a beginner." 🙂
As a personal example I often have my beautiful wife, Michelle, review what I write…and she almost always tells me she likes the articles. I know she isn't just saying it because she loves me, and I appreciate the compliments. Nonetheless, once when my undergrad professor commented on a paper that I submitted about Saint Augustine that it had the quality of graduate work—that had even more impact. Consider the source.
Now, If we do apply, "Yeah, well, consider the source"…what would be the best "source" to get a compliment?
That's right! From God Himself!
But, you might think, with humans being so totally depraved…what good things could God have said about any man?
Let's take a look…first with something Paul said in Acts 13:22. Part of the way into a condensed history of the Jews since the Exodus, Paul quickly mentioned Saul, followed by:
And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, 'I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will' (Acts 13:22).
Did you catch the compliment? David is called a man after God's own heart.
Would you like that to be said about you? I know I would! Consider the source!
That was extra amazing given that David was a documented adulterer and murderer, isn't it? God even said those words fully knowing how badly David was going to blow it. Did God make a mistake in His judgment? No…we don't have time in this sermon to dig into it…but David truly was a man after God's own heart…(as shown by his reaction to being called out for the murder and adultery.)
I've never asked a Jewish person who would be considered the greatest Jew ever, but I suspect they might respond, "Moses." Moses was far from perfect—one time he sinned so badly that God decreed he would never enter the promised land (see Numbers 20:2-13). Yet the Bible records these incredible words about him:
Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3).
11 Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent (Exodus 33:11).
I know in a macho world it might not seem to be a compliment to be called meek, but, remember, "the meek…shall inherit the earth" (see Matthew 5:5). This use of "meek" does not mean "wimpy"…it means "humble." We all can use a healthy humility, eh? And you have to admit, that inheritance wouldn't be so bad either. 🙂
How about the second compliment our Lord paid Moses? Do you remember how it said God spoke with Moses?
"Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend."
I don't know about you, but if God ever calls me a friend, that would be the best compliment I ever received. Consider the source!
And…again I don't know about you…but I wish God would speak with me as a man speaks with his friend. Consider the source!
Now, I realize that technically Scripture didn't call Moses a friend of God…so for our purists out there, how about these two quotes about an earlier patriarch?:
7 Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? (2 Chronicles 20:7)
8 But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend; (Isaiah 41:8).
No way to argue what those two verses say. Abraham was God's friend. What an incredible thing to have said about you. Consider the source!
As I was doing my research for this talk, I also read this about a man whose claim to fame, in some respects, is to never have died though he is long gone:
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God (Hebrews 11:5).
Just as I would take the word "friend" out of the Most High's mouth as the ultimate praise, I would be positively overwhelmed if He said, "Alan, you have pleased me." You? Consider the source!
As we continue through God's compliments…I want to bring one in that was a favorite of Graham Maxwell, a friend who passed away a couple years back (and one who I believe deserved every biblical compliment we have, and will, discuss in this sermon). Near the end of Job we read these words:
After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: "My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has (Job 42:7).
Any fellow preachers should especially want that compliment…but it shouldn't be limited to just us. When you tell people about God…in word or in action…would God say of you?:
"He/she has spoken of me what is right." Consider the source!
That is a compliment we all need to try to get…because it has such eternal consequences for others and us.
So far we've had five divine compliments about men in the Bible:
- A man after God's own heart
- A very meek man
- Friends of God
- A man who pleased God
- A man who spoke of God what was right
Can we add to it? Yes…with the help of Lot, Noah, Daniel…and Job again:
14 even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD (Ezekiel 14:14).
20 even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, declares the Lord GOD, they would deliver neither son nor daughter. They would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness (Ezekiel 14:20).
and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); (2 Peter 2:7-8).
What did God directly declare about Noah, Daniel, Job, and Lot?
That they were righteous. Do you want to be called righteous? Consider the source!
And, not, it's not in an "imputed righteousness" kind of sense. God spoke of their righteousness…
No Man Is Good
I suspect that the problem most people have with admitting that God was speaking of their righteousness is thanks to a combination of the doctrine of total depravity (which I think is mostly correct, but carried too far) and these verses in the New Testament:
17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18 And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone" (Mark 10:17-18).
See?! No man is good! No man is worthy of being called righteous! Only God is good! Only God is righteous!
However, that is pretty hard to exclaim given…four chapters earlier…the same writer who quoted "No one is good except God alone" also penned these:
for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly (Mark 6:20).
Noah, Daniel, Job, Lot…and now John the Baptist were righteous men…and…added to our list of compliments from God…John was also a "holy" man.
As for the word "good" connected with "man"…before we want to be to all-encompassing with Jesus statement in Mark 10:18, we need to make sure our interpretation fits these two inspired statements from Dr. Luke (which use the same Greek word for "good"):
Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God (Luke 23:50-51).
22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord (Acts 11:22-24).
Three quick questions before we continue:
- Is the Holy Spirit God? [Yes.]
- Were the words of the Bible inspired by the Holy Spirit? [Yes.]
- Does the Bible say that Joseph and Barnabas were good men? [Yes.]
Then who is right…Luke or Jesus?
Question the question!
Both are right, and they don't contradict. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the English Standard Version Study Bible had this simple explanation implicit in its note on Mark 10:18:
No one is completely good except God alone, therefore it is not proper for the young man to address Jesus as "Good Teacher" until he is ready to acknowledge that Jesus is God.5
Nobody was (or is) completely good…or completely holy…or completely righteous…or completely a friend of God…or completely meek…or completely after God's own heart…or always speaks what is right of God…
But that doesn't mean zero, zip, nada of those characteristics existed in humans in the past or exist in humans in the present. God is no liar…and He doesn't need to butter anybody up…so the compliments are deserved! Consider the source!
And that fact should be comforting to us…if our Lord could say such kind things about a list that included such clearly fallible men, then there has to be some hope for us too!
- A man after God's own heart
- A very meek man
- Friends of God
- A man who pleased God
- A man who spoke of God what was right
- Righteous men
- A holy man
- Good men
But there is a ninth compliment that actually inspired this sermon. It's in the same chapter where we learned that Enoch pleased God:
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:13-16).
Chapter 11 of Hebrews is known as the faith chapter…and it lists many who directed their faith the right direction. They had their hopes set not on what they had, but what they were promised. Not the country the resided in, but a better country…a heavenly one.
As such, their God…our God…"is not ashamed to be called their God." Consider the source!
As I scan modern Christendom, I see so many cases where I imagine our Lord would say, "I'm not with them" or "I've never met them before" out of embarrassment for having such ungodly behavior connected with His name.
But here we have a chapter of people through history that "God is not ashamed to be called their God."
As the great fourth and fifth century preacher and early church father John Chrysostom said about Hebrews 11:16:
Ah! how great a dignity! He vouchsafed "to be called their God." What dost thou say? He is called the God of the earth, and the God of Heaven, and hast thou set it down as a great thing that "He is not ashamed to be called their God"? Great and truly great this is, and a proof of exceeding blessedness. How? Because He is called God of earth and of heaven as also of the Gentiles: in that He created and formed them: but [God] of those holy men, not in this sense, but as some true friend.6
There's that word "friend" again, eh?
Are you a friend of God? Are you someone who God would not be ashamed to be called your God? True friends don't make their friends ashamed of them.
Come to think of it, are you ashamed of God?
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:34-38).
See how these words and the verses in Hebrews align? It was the fact that the faithful of old had their hearts set on a better land that made it so God was not ashamed to be their God, and it is desire to keep this land…this world…instead of giving it up for the eternal one that is connected with being ashamed of Christ.
I suppose you could almost say you have to choose where you want to get your compliments from—from this fallen planet or from God? From those who often use compliments to get something from you…to manipulate you…to deceive you…
Or from the One to whom you have absolutely nothing to offer…who instead gave infinitely (and freely) to save your soul?
Do you want the world's compliments…even the "good" ones…or do you want God's?
Do you want to be a man or woman after God's own heart? Do you want to be meek? Do you want to be a friend of God? Do you want to please God? Do you want to say of God what is right? Do you want to be righteous? Do you want to be holy? Do you want to be good?
Do you want it so that God is not ashamed to be called your God?
Then, Christian, like those in the faith chapter, become "strangers and exiles on the earth" and stop allowing the world to suck you in! Desire a better country! Look for compliments from the right place. Consider the source!
And…if you are listening and have not yet put your faith in God…
Repent, turn from your sins, and be baptized in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness or your sins (see Acts 2:38)…and…like those in the faith chapter…become "strangers and exiles on the earth" and stop allowing the world to suck you in! Desire a better country! Look for compliments from the right place. Consider the source.
If you do that then not only will God not be ashamed to be called your God…the one who sacrificed His life on the cross will also apply these final biblical words to you:
10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying,
"I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise."
13 And again,
"I will put my trust in him."
"Behold, I and the children God has given me" (Hebrews 2:10-13).
You've considered the source and you want a compliment from God?
Make it so Jesus is not ashamed to call you a brother. Accept the salvation that was paid for by his suffering.
Repent. Turns from your sins. Be baptized in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And then behave like God's friend.
1Overly Narrow Superlative. (n.d.). TV Tropes. Retrieved December 7, 2013, from http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/OverlyNarrowSuperlative
2Examples, please, of back-handed compliments – such as "I like your early poems …" (n.d.). Askville By Amazon. Retrieved December 7, 2013, from http://askville.amazon.com/Examples-back-handed-compliments-%27I-early-poems/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=65218774
3Your Approval Fills Me with Shame. (n.d.). TV Tropes. Retrieved December 7, 2013, from http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/YourApprovalFillsMeWithShame
4If someone insults you in the mini-rant thread. (n.d.). Straight Dope Message Board. Retrieved December 7, 2013, from http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php?t-699332.html – the sermon title is based on "Yeah well, consider the source" in one of the posts.
5Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1915). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
6John Chrysostom. (1889). Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Epistle to the Hebrews. In P. Schaff (Ed.), T. Keble & F. Gardiner (Trans.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series: Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of St. John and Epistle to the Hebrews (Vol. 14, p. 475). New York: Christian Literature Company.