To Compliment or Not

Christians can be funny creatures.  By “funny” I mean “annoying.”  Topics of which most people would think nothing  you will find Christians spending large amounts of time discussing whether they are good or wise or proper.  Pharisees are not the only group who “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (cf. Matthew 23:24).  But this post is not specifically about the meaning of that text; rather, it is about compliments.

I was reading one of my favorite bloggers, Tim Gombis, today and he had a simple post on the giving of compliments in the world of academia.  It is a short read so read the whole thing, but here is a small take-away-quote:

Several years ago a colleague relayed to me a positive comment he had heard about something I had written.  I thanked him and said that was really great to hear.

He then said that he thought about telling me when he had originally heard it, but declined because he didn’t want me to get a big head.  I still don’t know how to think about that sentiment.

This reminded me of a sincere email question I received from a person in my church in relation to compliments.  He was not sure how to respond to them and so he sought my counsel.  Here is what I wrote him:

You ask the wrong man for this answer.  I find myself incredibly uncomfortable around compliments for I know how easy it is to crave them.  However, I have learned a few things.  First, the “thank you” is always a safe bet.  I often add, “that is kind of you.”  Second, don’t try to diminish their praise, they give it because they usually mean it and you end up robbing them of the blessing of giving thanks to you.  And if you know for a fact that they don’t mean it then it is not worth responding to anyhow.  Third, don’t make too much of it either.  I have complimented some in the past and by the time they tell me all of the ways “they appreciate it but that I should not praise them because it is just God’s grace but they really appreciate it anyhow, though they don’t want to sound proud or arrogant……” I end up sorry that I even bothered to praise them.

My last point is the flip side of giving compliments to a Christian.  That fear by him that somehow he does not display true humility if he receives it so he destroys the moment with a barrage of self-effacing words all designed to say “thanks!” without being prideful at the same time.

All of this to say, you think you should compliment someone, then do it and don’t make a big deal of it.  Or, did someone compliment you?  Just say “thanks, I appreciate that” and don’t make them sorry they ever sought to encourage you because now they have to watch you writhe in false humility trying to accept and not accept the compliment at the same time.

Oh, and since there is a great little satirical video on things Christians say, I decided to toss it into this post as well.

About Matt Henry

Middle-aged pastor trying to figure out how to be missional in his world. Loves his wife, his children, and his dog Bear. I have a love of woodworking even though woodworking doesn't always love me. The name is xagete but is pronounced exegete.

Posted on April 30, 2013, in Bible Observations, What Tickles My Fancy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Great points Matt…now at least affirm the struggle it took many of us (decades and on going) to unlearn the “lingo” of the world and adopt the new language we were taught by the church as appropriate. The video was satirical, but fails to offer any direction on “how we should speak”….I for one, am learning that “not to speak” is becoming preferable than watching out for all the invisible lines of offense that I often find myself tripping over. Perhaps I had little of value to say anyway…”It’s not what you say. but how you say it right”? When did everyday speech become such a challenge? No wonder so little truth is evident in Christian relationships today…It’s a minefield….Just maybe I missed your point……JPR

  2. JP: Actually you describe it well. Obviously the video was satire, but I too had the thought of how many of the phrases are good ones, but that they are used so casually and without real meaning that they just become something silly. In other words, those using these phrases often gut the outworking of them away and leave merely the shell of the spoken phrase. As you know, “I’ll pray for you” seldom results in someone praying for you.

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