At a reception in Washington, a widow asked a young man to guess her age. “You must have some idea,” she said, as he hesitated. “I have several ideas,” he admitted with a smile. “The trouble is that I hesitate whether to make it ten years younger on account of you looks, or ten years older on account of your intelligence.”
At times, we look at flattery with amusement. For example, after receiving a compliment, one might say in a jovial mood, “Flattery will get you nowhere.” Most understand this type of flattery to be in jest, with no intent on the flatter’s part to deceive or manipulate. On the other hand, the type of flattery that one speaks intending to deceive or manipulate, true flattery, should be avoided.
During the last week of Christ’s life, Jewish leaders tried to trap Him by asking various questions, not out of sincere desire for the truth, but out of a desire to portray Him as a blasphemer and false teacher. For example, the Herodians asked Jesus if it was lawful to give to Caesar or not, but before their question, they tried to “butter Him up” with flattery. Apparently, they wanted to put Jesus off guard. They said, “. . .Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality” (Mt. 22:16, NRSV). Jesus did not fall for their flattery. He recognized it and responded, “Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?”
In the Old Testament, several passages in the book of Proverbs instruct us about flattery. Two passages reveal the destructive nature of flattery. Proverbs 26:28 says, “A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin.” Proverbs 29:5 points out, “A man that flattereth his neighbour spreadeth a net for his feet.” Proverbs 20:19 tells us to say away from the flatterer as it says, “He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips.” It is too easy to be taken in by the flatterer. Although rebuke is not pleasant, it is more beneficial for us than flattery. This is pointed out in Proverbs 28:23 which says, “He that rebuketh a man afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue.” We prefer flattery; it is music to our ears. No matter how much it may hurt, constructive criticism is better for us.
The New Testament teaches that Paul and other apostles tried to avoid flattery in working with the early church. In I Thessalonians 2:5, he pointed out to the Thessalonians, “For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness.”
It is important to understand that a flatterer depends on giving compliments (which he usually does not even believe) for his own personal gain. These compliments are typically designed to inflate people’s egos. And, people have a tendency to like compliments; they love to hear good things said about themselves.
The person most susceptible to flattery is the one who is lacking in humility, and one who is full of pride. This type of person will lap up flattery as a cat does its milk. Also, people with very low self-confidence can be susceptible to the flatterer. Ironically, a person who attempts to flatter us, thinking that his flattery will work, really shows how little he thinks of us.
We should and must be more complimentary of others. Sometimes out of fear that our compliments might be mistaken for insincere flattery, we often neglect to build people up and to offer deserving compliments and encouragement. Motive is the difference between doing this and merely being a flatterer. One is intended to encourage and give credit where credit is due; the other is self-serving. Flattery is to be avoided. It is hypocritical to be a flatterer, and we must be careful to not use it or to be enticed by it.
By Mike Johnson
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