Flattery is One Thing I Really Hate…
If there is one thing I really hate it is a false flattering tongue–including in myself. Flattery is worthy of hate as it is a particular nasty evil. Strangely enough, though the Bible says much about this, flattering speech is often very prevalent in ministry circles. It is a frequent tool for bolstering one’s political status. While encouragement and authentic appreciation are great things, essential things even, they can easily become tools of subversion. It is the work and aim of the Holy Spirit to purify this stream as He hates it too!
Some Biblical Perspective on Flattery
The scripture is very clear on God’s attitude toward those who flatter with their tongue. A distinct pattern emerges where righteousness and flattery are on opposite sides. In this scripture, David makes the point very clear.
“For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is destruction; their throat is an open tomb; they flatter with their tongue.” – Psalm 5:9
David laments this evil while again and again appealing for resolution from heaven.
“They speak idly everyone with his neighbour; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak. May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, And the tongue that speaks proud things,” – Psalm 12:2-3
God says the Same
Equally aware of this evil is God who speaks through Jeremiah.
“Their tongue is a deadly arrow; It speaks deceit; With his mouth one speaks peace to his neighbour, But inwardly he sets an ambush for him.” – Jeremiah 9:8
Here the real motive behind flattery emerges; it is designed to set a trap.
Every righteous man, including Jesus, had to wrestle with this distinct expression of evil. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were masters at this kind of political manipulation. They were essentially skilled liars. While they presented themselves as allies, their real objective was to bring a person into subjection. The New Testament writers considered it important enough to also warn Christians in their letters.
In the following verse, Jude cites ‘flattery’ as an obviously subversive tactic. In this particular case He is warning against these same political animals Jesus met in the religious. It becomes part of a key list of characteristics in untrustworthy leaders.
“These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage.” – Jude 16
The sinister aspect stands out right here, as they ‘flatter people to gain advantage’. While we are often quick to befriend those who flatter, these people are not your friends. Paul gives a similar warning to the Romans. He, like Jude, is again writing to protect the sheep from divisive voices whose only motivation is supremacy.
“Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.” – Romans 16:17-18
Again, the warning highlights ‘smooth words’ and the kind of speech designed to entice those hungry for affirmation. Notice that those who engage in this do not serve the Lord.
Proof of Concept
Finally Paul, speaking to the Church at Thessalonica, uses the inverse of this very thing as proof of an apostles’ authority in God.
“But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:4-6
Men pleasing and flattering words will always go together. This is serious and the reason is quite simple! Mainly, we cannot serve two masters; we cannot be drawing from the well of the Kingdom of God with a motive to serve ourselves. The two are mutually exclusive so that those whose aim is to please God must be equally immune to pleasing men. And to be sure God will test the hearts!
In my case God has certainly been faithful to expose and refine. Those who know me personally might never imagine the time when I used insincere praise. But I did, habitually in fact, until God began to reveal how contrary it was to His own nature. His chastening began severely and has continued many years to this day.
As a result I may have swung too far the other way. Which is to say, I have perhaps neglected to encourage and praise, so as not to be guilty of insincere flattery. Yet the Holy Spirit is making something clear to me now, which is that avoiding flattery is not enough. I must be able to encourage with sincerity. So while I have been too slow to release a compliment… for which I apologize, God is shifting me into the second half of this journey.
In my case I have been unwilling to trust the sincerity of praise having witnessed so much duplicity within myself. Yet, I believe it is a new day for me. I feel God igniting in me a desire to encourage and praise with sincerity, without fear of alternate motives. Even so, you and I might be in very different chapters. If God is exposing duplicity in your words, I encourage you to let Him prune you. As there are few things He hates more than perverse lips.