Jesus walks into a restaurant and is seated. A man walks up to him and says, “My name is Ted. I will be your server today. Are you ready to order?” Jesus orders a steak and baked potato. Ted asks, “And how would you like your steak, sir?” Being a good kosher Jew, Jesus naturally replies, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matt 25:23)
Many people anticipate hearing that phrase from the parable in Matthew. There are songs and sermons galore about the joys of hearing Jesus say, “Well done.” Consider, though, that many who want to hear that phrase are loath to use it themselves.
Educators know the value of the phrase. Many early-childhood computer-learning programs assign tasks to the child. When the tasks (identifying, matching, or ordering items) are completed properly, no matter how many times it takes to accomplish them, feedback is given. Often that feedback is “good job,” or “well done.”
A person, child or adult, who never hears that they have done something well loses motivation. On the other hand, a word of praise is often as powerful a motivator as money; more powerful perhaps, because money only motivates to minimum performance, while appropriate praise motivates to more than the minimum.
Solomon knew the value of a well-placed “well done.” One of his proverbs even compares it to a costly work of art. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” (Prov 25:11) Praise not only compliments a person, it complements them, as well.
The wise king also considered a good word to be as effective as a physician in curing some ills. “Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad.” (Prov 12:25)
Candy is often used as a reward for children. Chocolate may even be a reward for some of us older people. Solomon said praise is like candy, only healthier. “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.” (Prov 16:24) (That is not to say that chocolate is unhealthy; if Solomon had known about chocolate he might have compared pleasant words to it.)
We know how to train our pets with praise. Why can’t we treat people the same way? Too often we are quick to criticize and slow to praise. We may call it “constructive” criticism, but it is rarely so. Criticism is often destructive.
The opposite of destruction is edification (building up). Paul often had to correct errors in the early church, but even when he did this it was often accompanied by praise. The exception to this is in a discussion of corruption of the Lord’s Supper, in which he twice had to say, “I praise you not.” (1 Cor 11:17, 22) To tell the Corinthians he did not praise them in a matter was so shocking that it served as motivation, but this only works when praise is the norm.
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. (Eph 4:29)
If we want a pleasant life and good relationships, we must be people of praise. May it never be that the only time your children hear “well done” is when you are ordering steak.