And let him repent of his sins, for he seeketh the praise of the world. (D&C 58:39)
This was written of Martin Harris about the time that Joseph Smith and other church leaders had arrived in Jackson county Missouri to have the land of Zion revealed.
I think it is worth it to ask some questions about this quality of seeking the praise of the world, which the Lord calls a sin.
Is seeking praise the problem, or is it seeking it from the wrong people—the world—that is wrong?
One thing I see is that seeking praise tends to cause us to confine our efforts to things that are the most visible, but the visible is very often not as important as the things that no one sees. How many godly character traits are developed and practiced inside us where no one can see? How much of prayer and repentance will be observed by others? Should we neglect these things simply because we can’t get a pat on the back for them?
Another problem is that not everybody praises the same things, and it is a sad truth that the better a person becomes, the less his or her goodness is appreciated and praised by the masses. So it matters very much the quality of people we accept praise from. Joseph Smith was told in D&C 121:1-2 that the pure, wise, noble, and virtuous would seek blessings and counsel from him, while fools would deride him and hell would rage against him. Could Joseph Smith expect the praise of the world? No, he would not get it, and if he intended to do the Lord’s work, he could not expect any praise from the foolish or from those who sided with hell.
It is also worth thinking about what appeal praise from the world has and what we hope it will do. From the perspective of economic survival, we hope that praise from the world (or at least a nice letter of recommendation) will encourage others to accept us, take a chance on us, trust us, give us jobs that will help us provide for ourselves, and increase our influence so we can do good in the world.
But sometimes we take it farther than that and want that praise to be a sign that we have worth, that we are good people, that we are adequate. But can the world really tell us the eternal truth about those things? No. Two of those things we can only really know from God. And as for signs that we are adequate, are we likely to reach out to God for help if we are convinced of our own adequacy?
What do you think?