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I recently said publicly that retweeting a compliment is sinful. (You can find some interaction with that idea here and here.) I might qualify that to say that I think it’s usually sinful and almost never wise or edifying.

Last night I read a quote from Dallas Willard that is not unrelated to this discussion:

One of the greatest fallacies of our faith, and actually one of the greatest acts of unbelief, is the thought that our spiritual acts and virtues need to be advertised to be known. The frantic efforts of religious personages and groups to advertise and certify themselves is a stunning revelation of their lack of substance and faith. . . .

Secrecy rightly practiced enables us to place our public relations department entirely in the hands of God, who lit our candles so we could be the light of the world, not so we could hide under a bushel (Matt. 5:14-16). We allow him to decide when our deeds will be known and when our light will be noticed.

Secrecy at its best teaches love and humility before God and others. And that love and humility encourages us to see our associates in the best possible light, even to the point of our hoping they will do better and appear better than us. It actually becomes possible for us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than ourselves,” as Philippians 2:3 advises. And what a relief that can be! If you want to experience the flow of love as never before, the next time you are in a competitive situation, pray that the others around you will be more outstanding, more praised, and more used of God than yourself. Really pull for them and rejoice for their successes. If Christians were universally to do this for each other, the earth would soon be filled with the knowledge of God’s glory. The discipline of secrecy can lead us into this sort of wonderful experience.

—Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York: HarperCollins, 1988), 173-74.


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10 thoughts on “The Discipline of Secrecy and the Joy of Honoring Others”

  1. David says:

    Justin,

    The discussion and links show how the ministry and publication converge at so many points.

    Could you, being steeped in both Christian ministry and the publication industry, discuss or post about how you deal with publishing endorsements? Since it’s “another” doing the praising, is that the justification? Also, how do you separate the publisher’s interest in soliciting for and selecting endorsement quotations from someone without a vested interest highlighting a noteworthy act or work. It would seem there is a difference between a celebrity endorsement and a quality review from an Amazon or Goodreads reader. Thanks.

    1. David says:

      Justin,

      Here’s another thought along the same lines. When you have books arising from the sermons of good brothers who preach the truth faithfully or the stories/testimonies of brothers who are engaged in some other formal vocational ministry activity, and then, when those books which were either the basis for the sermons or which arose from the sermons (which were the basis), how can you (or can you) divide the question of endorsement/compliment and wisdom of secrecy? Thanks.

  2. a) Based on my own personal experience, I’ve only ever been complimented on Twitter once. I’ve never been scolded.

    b) It’s rare that I get complimented on Facebook, but it happens occasionally. I don’t get scolded there either.

    c) I have an evangelist friend and a CCM friend who both occasionally if infrequently retweet kudos from churches and individuals they work with and it’s not unseemly.

    c) Which leads to a question: Are there that many people who get complimented so much on Twitter that retweeting those compliments are a problem?

    1. Suzanne Evans says:

      Jim, perhaps you haven’t noticed these problematic retweets because the people you follow are too humble to use others for self-endorsement. I do see this as an issue amongst evangelical “celebrities” and I too find this retweeting unseemly. One well-known pastor/author was so self-aggrandizing in his retweets that I just couldn’t continue to follow him. I’m not talking about praise reports re: God’s working, etc. I’m talking about excessive self-focus. When you must let your followers know each time someone compliments you, your preaching, or your book you pervert the intent of Proverbs 27:2, “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” The leaders whom I most admire and learn from never quote someone else’s accolades for them. They are the ones whose eyes are on the Lord, not on themselves. They feel compelled to speak God’s truth into our lives, and it is without regard to popular response.

  3. Ben says:

    The Word says to encourage one another (compliments being one way to do that), but to not let the encouragement go to your head and become proud. If you’re retweeting a compliment from another to acknowledge that you appreciate their encouragement, that can be done without becoming prideful. To say “retweeting a compliment is a sin” is Pharisaical, erecting another law around us that we can’t keep. Let Christians have their freedom, and let all examine their hearts for pride creeping in to take away that freedom.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      You could respond with a tweet that says “thank you” rather than retweeting it. In the forum I gave a thought experiment: what if your pastor walked up to the pulpit and held up a poster-board with a compliment written out in order to show the congregation. We would think that’s bizarre. I think retweeting a compliment is similar.

      1. Ben says:

        Here’s my thing: I get what you’re trying to say, but I don’t agree with how you’re saying it. Saying that broadcasting someone else’s compliment of you can have a negative appearance is one thing. Saying out-right that it’s a sin is another. Sometimes people actually do things from the right motives (praise God!) and we shouldn’t take that freedom away from them because we think it’s abused too often.

        For example, I heard Brennan Manning speak when I was in college. When he was done, the audience erupted in applause and he turned around and faced the cross and applauded himself. There are humble people in the world who can broadcast something like that just to rejoice with their followers that God is blessing their work. Don’t try to take the tool out of people’s hands just because you think it is distasteful or prone to abuse.

  4. B Hall says:

    are you, and by extension the GC, now promoting Dallas Willard?

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      I follow the Reformers and the Puritans in quoting people when they say good things without endorsing everything they say or believe.

  5. David says:

    Justin,

    I hope you didn’t take my questions the wrong way. I meant them without an ill intent. I completely understand if you don’t have time/availability/space to answer them or think this isn’t the best medium. Keep pressing on in the good work. God bless

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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