Proverbs of Solomon – Proverbs 27:21

My interest this evening is in verse 21 – “As the fining pot for silver, and the furnace for gold; so is a man to his praise.” Doesn’t this essentially say – “As fire refines silver and gold, praise can also prove someone’s true value”? That isn’t something that I’ve ever considered before, but I’d remedy that this evening.
I’m not sure my opinion of praise, over the years, has been Biblically accurate in the light of this verse. I have been taught that praise is more often bad than good. I have been taught – and I have re-taught – that there is too much unjustified praise. Some kinds of praise given to kids can encourage them to mediocrity – praising them for sloppy work for example. The same thing takes place in the adult work place. I also know from experience that praise can lead to pride – one of humanity’s worst sins. Praise, improperly applied can lead to idolatry. Am I incorrect in thinking that Bible-believers tend to shy away from giving or receiving praise?
As I read another of Solomon’s proverbs, I’d like you to keep your eye on this verse from Proverbs 27 – look at verse 21. Proverbs 17:3 says, “The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold; but the Lord trieth the hearts.” Do I have any right, as a Bible teacher, to meld these two verses together? Can I say that “as the fining pot is for silver, and the furnace is for gold; so the LORD trieth human hearts with praise?” Assuming that is an acceptable statement, how should we apply this verse?
Gold and silver are refined through fire.
Man has had a love for these beautiful metals for many thousands of years. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that people in Genesis 4 were refining silver and gold, just as Tubal-cain was directing people in the use of brass and iron. Perhaps, before the flood those millennials had polished their refinement skills to a high degree. After the flood they might have had to start re-learning their refining technology, but their love for beauty was definitely not lost.
The refining of silver and gold has changed over the centuries, but at least one aspect has been around from the beginning – the unrefined material has to be put into the fire. Today silver is removed from its raw ore through the Parkes process, which consists of adding zinc to the molten bullion. The two gold refining methods most commonly used today are the Miller and Wohlwill processes. The Miller technique uses gaseous chlorine to extract impurities when gold is at the melting point; impurities separate into a layer on the surface of the molten gold and are scooped away. The Wohlwill process uses an electrochemical technique to do basically the same thing. But the fact remains, from the beginning, the ore or the bullion was heated and then treated. Solomon and most of his readers were aware of that fact, and that led to this comparison.
“As the fining pot for silver, and the furnace for gold; so is a man to his praise.”
Like a gold-smith, the Lord has several ways to refine or expose a person’s true character. Tribulation is perhaps the first that comes to my mind. And tribulation can come in a thousand different forms. The Lord knows precisely the dose, or combination we need, to bring out our weakness or our strength. It might be a financial problem, a specific kind of pain, a disease, or a combination of all three. God knows how we might respond to each kind of fire. But our reaction might be different when the same fire falls on someone we love.
Jehovah is in perfect control of the refining process, even though He may use Satanic means. There once was a day, described in Job 1, when “the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.” In this case, the Lord wanted to purify Job’s golden character, and he permitted Satan to put him to the fire.
But our verse here in Proverbs tells us that it is not just tribulation which might be used to refine us. It might actually be something completely opposite – praise instead of pain. And this too can come either from God or God’s enemy – from the Lord or from Satan. And while we’re at it, the very worst kind of praise arises in our own sinful hearts. Proverbs 27:2 – “Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips.” What sort of things – what aspects of character – can the fire of praise reveal?
Praise can easily expose a VAIN heart. There are people who seek praise and fame even more than they seek money and wealth. For example, there bullies who pick on people because it elevates them in the eyes of their wicked peers. And there are some victims of those bullies who almost relish their abuse, because they are praised for their passivity or lack of retaliation. Praise offered to either of these people can expose the problem of pride.
Sunday, my son-in-law and I were watching the late afternoon football game after church. I can’t even tell you who was playing, which shows you how excited I was about it. But a man caught a pass and ran it into the end zone; it may have been the game-winner. As the man crossed the goal line, he began running as if he was having an epileptic fit – throwing his arms and legs around like he was having some kind of seizure. It was all in an attempt to encourage his team-mates and fans to praise him for his touchdown. Did ye really deserve any extraordinary praise?
I am reasonably sure that man will never write a book worth reading. He will never cure a disease or invent some life-changing product. I doubt he will ever lead a child to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And his team may not even make it to the playoffs. That touchdown, and that glory, probably lasted only for a minute and then was gone. But his ego, the vanity of his heart, demanded that everyone look at him acting like a fool. And the praise heaped upon him by his teammates will just increase his foolish behavior the next time he scores. Praise can easily expose a vain and empty heart.
Or praise can inflate an already corrupted heart. Let’s say that you have recognized a problem in regard to some tool; something a work; some appliance. You know that there should be a way to fix that problem, but no one has ever found it. You apply yourself to that problem, spending months, maybe years, thinking about it. And finally you solve the problem. Your boss acknowledges your genius; your co-workers praise you for fixing something plaguing their work. You might even get a big financial bonus. Now, how quickly will you tell everyone that it was actually the Lord who gave you that solution? Like Noah’s Ark, the plans were given to you by God’s grace, perhaps even while you were sleeping.
Or let’s say that you have never given up on a foul-mouthed, sinful friend of yours. You have prayed for him; witnessed to him; maintained your testimony before him for years – despite all his attempts to make you compromise your faith. But then after three decades he has finally repented and humbly trusted Christ as his Saviour. At that point your Christian friends begin to praise you for your tenacity and faithfulness toward your friend. How apt are you to accept that praise? It is true that you never gave up on your friend. But did you save him? Praise is an easy way to reveal hidden idolatry – taking credit for the Lord’s work.
Perhaps you’ve learned how to dismiss it when someone praises you, you dismiss it – you ignore it. Is just pretending you haven’t heard that praise a good plan? Can’t your behavior reveal false humility and take from the Lord the glory due to His name? From where did your skill or talent come? Is the Lord pleased when you deny that talent? Perhaps you should accept the praise, but while doing so, you make sure that God gets the true credit.
Can praise be properly used? Someone has spoken well of you. That means he actually has looked at you; he recognized you. If he has assayed your life, perhaps there are others who are doing so as well, but they haven’t spoken up. You have a responsibility toward all those people – whether they are known to you or not. That praise ought to be used to make you more watchful; more circumspect; more aware of potential failure. Praise can become a useful tool for continued growth – people are talking about I – you had better make sure what they say is pleasing to God.
In my research I noticed some links to other scriptures, and one in particular caught my eye. In I Peter 1:7 the Apostle touched on our subject and then took it to it’s logical conclusion. Earlier Peter said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ….” who has saved us “to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in Heaven for you. Who are kept by the power of God…” Then he talked about the trials which God’s saints are sometimes forced to endure. He didn’t refer to the trial of PRAISE because that wasn’t his subject, but let’s apply it that way anyway. “That the trial of your PRIDE, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”
If the Lord is overseeing our trials, including the furnace of praise, what is His purpose? “That …. it might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” As far as the Lord is concerned, when someone gives you praise, it is for the purpose of His glory – Christ’s glory. If we can’t somehow bring that little bit of gold back to our Saviour, then we have failed the test. Once again, we have proven ourselves to be less saintly than we have been saved to become.
May the trials of praise be as glorifying to Christ as the painful trials of our faith, or our flesh.