Let’s face it: most of us like it when the applause and respect of others comes our way. We like our work to be praised, our insights to be admired, our efforts to be rewarded. And while there’s not necessarily anything wrong with receiving such acclaim, the challenge comes when we start to crave that acclaim, which prevents us from rejoicing in the success of others and sometimes leads us to take actions we’re likely to regret.
Such is the situation of King Saul in today’s Old Testament reading (1 Samuel 18:5-16). Of course, at this point in Saul’s story, he has already forfeited the Lord’s favor through his disobedience; so he’s got a genuine reason to be dealing with a fragile ego. And yet, he’s still the king; and in this capacity, he’s has the opportunity to bring genuine blessing both to his people and himself. Unfortunately, Saul has become somewhat addicted to the acclaim of others. And so, when an up-and-coming hero named David starts to win the people’s affection, he doesn’t deal with it well.
David starts to rack-up a string of military victories, and the Bible tells us:
When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres. As they danced, they sang:
“Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands.”
Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David.
(1 Samuel 18:6-9)
Thus is planted a seed of jealousy that eventually grows to consume Saul, sowing discord and division among God’s people in the process.
How different, then, is the response of John the Baptist in the New Testament. He, too, experienced the acclaim of others. And when Jesus started to attract some of that acclaim, it would have been easy for John to respond with similar displeasure and jealousy. But when someone pointed out to him that Jesus was stepping into the spotlight, John replied: “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)
I hope that some acclaim comes your way today. But even if it doesn’t, my deeper prayer is that you find yourself able to rejoice in the acclaim of others. May God create within you the kind of heart that is truly able to celebrate their success, trusting that when you humble yourself before the Lord, He will lift you up. (James 4:10)