It ought to hit us like a slap. “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,” Jesus says. (Luke 6:26) Can this really be?
The things that cause people to speak well of someone include many traits that we are exhorted, even commanded, to display. Honesty. Being true to our word. Selflessness in helping others. Patience, humility, kindness. The list goes on. Can it be true that the Lord pronounces woe on us, if people around us recognize these traits in us?
Probably Jesus fully intended that this would feel like a slap, but his sentence doesn’t end there. I have unfairly cut him off—as I think we humans are prone to do. Why would it bring woe to be spoken well of? He qualifies it:
The false prophets pandered to people, fed them what they wanted to hear. They were spoken well of, but not for those traits we were talking about.
There’s a companion thought a few verses earlier:
This, Jesus says, is what we can expect from being like him. Why? Because our honesty and integrity makes others look bad.
In real life, not all praise will be for being like the false prophets, and not all will hate us for being associated with Jesus. It will be a mix. What Jesus is doing, I believe, is giving us a pair of cautions:
- Don’t be discouraged or lose faith because people hate you, if they are hating you for being honest and true to me. Hang on. There will be eternal blessings.
- Be suspicious of praise, and in particular be suspicious of yourself. Ask, “Am I just currying favor, giving people what they want to hear, in order to get their praise?” For such, there will be eternal consequences of a different kind.
His overall point is: put no stock in what others have to say about you, good or bad. What they have to say might be right, or it might be upside down from the Lord’s point of view. And anyway, they’re liable to change at any moment.
Rather, faced with either praise or rejection, we need to keep on striving to the utmost to be like Jesus in all those ways we are exhorted to be. The ultimate blessing or woe is in his hands—and he sees us for what we truly are.