21 Gold and silver are tested in a red-hot furnace, but we are tested by praise.
Proverbs 27:21 (Contemporary English Version)
Based on Proverbs 24:10, I had often stated that troubles were the real test of a person’s true worth, for the Bible says in that passage, “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.” Three chapters after Proverbs 24, however, I see that troubles alone are not the litmus test of strength. Whereas, for some, troubles might be the test of strength, for others, how they manage success or praise might be the test, for the Bible states in Proverbs 27:21, “we are tested by praise” (CEV). It may be also said that whereas at some specific point, adversity might be the test of strength, at other times for the same person, how they handle fame might determine their further triumph or future shame.
The present matter seems well substantiated by the parable of the sower. In that parable, whereas some seeds were frustrated by the stony places on which they fell, representing the troubles of life (or the “time of temptation”), other seeds were ruined by the opposite condition of the “cares and riches and pleasures of this life,” signified by the thorns (Matthew 13:21, 22; Luke 8:14). Very well then did God warn His people to “beware” as they entered into the “land of oil olive, and honey,” the land of “bread without scarceness” to which they had been journeying in the past forty years:
11 Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day:
12 Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein;
13 And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied;
14 Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage;
15 Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint (Deuteronomy 18:8-15).
Is it possible to survive a “great and terrible wilderness” then fall flat in the face of food? Is it possible to survive “fiery serpents, and scorpions” and be sedated by goats and sheep and silver and gold? Wouldn’t we quickly give the honours of a hero to anyone who survives such extreme conditions? If I were standing by the Lord as He was passing those cautions to that congregation, I certainly would have reminded Him that He was making a mistake, because He was talking to tough guys who have already survived extreme conditions over a very long time, and have had a reliable record; but I would have been very, very wrong.
There are some who would never give in to a big sin, but are not so discerning when the temptation is ‘small’; some there are who stood faithful to God through difficult trials, but forgot their vows when comforts came. A brother and friend once remarked to me, that the devil does not care how he gets somebody down, so long as he gets them down; that whether one gets knocked down by a truck or slips on a little banana pill and falls, a fall is a fall, no matter how one falls. Samson, whom lions could not stop, who could stand up against a thousand strong enemies merely with the jawbone of an ass, fell seduced by pleasures on the laps of a woman. Many Israelites survived Egypt’s tribulations, but not the long road to freedom before the Promised Land.
Surviving troubles wins public applause and might earn one the name of “Hero,” but surviving comforts and praise is the second lap of the crucial race; more subtle, more delicate, more honourable. They did not all succeed who succeeded their troubles. Troubles might offer a blatant cup of vinegar, to terminate one on the spot; success would offer a glass of wine to sedate and kill slowly, slowly. In the end, death is death; short term or long term.
It is said that the Romans had a tradition for honouring a great conqueror. The streets would be lined with people loudly cheering him into the city as he rode in in his chariot of gold, but standing behind him in the same chariot would be a slave sometimes heaping insults on his noble and victorious head, and also reminding him in spite of the moment of accolade that he was still but flesh. For the Romans, therefore, victory over foes did not mark the true hero. He also had to overcome the post-trauma triumphs and praises. Some may fall by adversity, but many also have fallen by praise. Manage your troubles, manage also your comforts. Amen.
From The Preacher’s diary,
February 18, 2014.