Reading this proverb makes me think of a rewrite of the Beatles song "Yesterday." My version goes like this . . .
"Vanity, all I ever do is think of me, I'm the greatest person that I see, Cause I'm so filled with vanity."
Proverbs tells us here to "let another praise you, and not your own mouth." When it comes to compliments and praise - it is always wise to let them flow from other people - than to spend time praising yourself. Self-praise is nothing more than arrogance and self-promotion. When you live this way - you will fall into the trap of believing your own press. Since you are the one who writes your own press - there is no objectivity in what is being said. The real danger over time is that in belieiving and writing your own press, you will become less and less responsive to any constructive criticism offered. Do this long enough and you will have a little tyrant in your heart who, when it comes to those who try to help you identify character flaws and imperfections, rejects everything that is said out of hand.
One of the keys to a healthy psyche is the ability to look at yourself honestly and offer self-critique. The ability to receive correction and teaching from yourself and others is vital to not only good psychological health, but more importantly good spiritual health.
The other thing we learn from this passage is when praise matters. Proverbs tells us that the praise we should consider is when a stranger praises us. What is a stranger? It is someone who surprises you with kind words. Another way of defining this person is that they are a person who you don't realize is watching you and examining your works. When they praise you - you are assured that the way you were living was not an act. You were relaxed and living the way you normally would. Thus when they offer praise - it is true praise. What they see is the closest to when you are living without trying to impress anyone.
A personal story that illustrates this is in order. This happened when I was at Auburn University. Unfortunately, I have a normal amount of vanity in my heart that God wants me to overcome by His grace. Sooo - although its embarassing to admit - there are times when I try harder when people are looking to be a better Christian. My desire is for God to deliver me from such pride - and instead, I would live to please and honor God alone. One day, during a testimony meeting at church, a brother stood up and spoke of how he desired to follow the Lord due to the example he saw of God's grace in my life. Boy was I shocked! I had spoken to him a couple of times - but was not particularly close to him. It not only shocked me, but it also concerned me as well. The thought went through my mind immediately, "I didn't know he was watching and looking for an example from how I lived." Rather than feel proud - I actually felt a little freaked out. Another thought went racing through my head, "I wonder who else is watching?" At that moment the Lord sent a third thought across the bow, "I am!" Suddenly all other praise from men went silent. There was only One before Whom I should walk and live. If I had His praise and approval - that of mere mortals meant nothing. Even better than this - the lack of praise from mere mortals would not affect me negatively - for I wouldn't be seeking it. By the end of this event a lot had changed in my heart. I was thankful for the gracious words of my brother - but there was a more important Person Whose praise I truly desired. This kind stranger had been a blessing in two ways: first, he offered encouragement that I was growing and honoring God in what I was doing, but second, he was used by God to turn my eyes away from any other praise than that which comes from above - and which is true in every way.
Here is wisdom for today . . . live not for praise that originates from your own vanity - or from those before you can perform. Live for the praise of those who watch from the secret places of your life - who cheer from the wings. But most of all - live for the evaluation that will come at the end - when each man will receive the "true praise" which is due him from God.