Here is a thought experiment. You have the choice of listening to a sermon entitled, “How to be an authentic Christian and stay on good terms with the world” or, “How to live an authentic Christian life when the world hates you”.
One presupposes that you can remain in step with the world while being an authentic Christian, the other presupposes that an authentic Christian is going to find himself in trouble and out of sync with the world at every second turn.
Most of us are inclined to listen to the first sermon. We like the idea of being thought of as authentic by other Christians, and we like the idea of being approved of by the world in which we must live.
We are this way because we are sorely tempted by flattery. We are tempted to flatter others and we are tempted by the flattery of others.
In the above thought experiment, we are being tempted by the flattery of others. We want someone to approve of our compromises and our attempt to straddle two worlds without guilt.
We want applause from both angels and men. We fear being different, or on the outside of the in-crowd. We desperately want to keep up with the cool kids and we want to do it without any guilt. We say yes to the first sermon because we want to accumulate teachers for ourselves in accordance with these desires (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Not only do we love to be flattered, but we are willing to flatter others for the same ends. We wink and nod at sin in a way that is calculated to remain on good terms with the sinner.
We also flatter others because we envy, and those we envy we seek to consume.
Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips and harbours deceit in his heart. When he speaks graciously, believe him not. A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin. (Proverbs 26:24-25, 28)
Then there is the terminal back-patter. Such a man always finds a way of applauding and voicing his approval of other people, no matter how off-base they are. They are desperate that no-one feels bad, embarrassed or rebuked. Such a man is not your friend.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:6)
Motivated by fear, envy or lust for approval, all flattery is sweet poison to those who speak and to those who seek it.
It’s poison because it does not deal with guilt, conceals the truth, deceives the hearer and opposes love.
Nothing compounds guilt more than lying about our sins, our weakness and our flaws. Flattery tells us we are okay when we are not. It tells us the cancer isn’t that big of a deal.
If you have fallen today don’t compound the sin by lying about it. Don’t allow yourself to be flattered by well-meaning wannabes seeking to make themselves feel good by making you feel good.
Flattery fails to deal with guilt because it conceals the truth.
You may be flat on your face, barely able to crawl toward Jesus, but if you are facing the right direction and willing to confess the truth about yourself, you are going to be okay. The truth will set you free.
Flattery is also deceptive. It is designed to trap you (Proverbs 29:5).
And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. (Mark 12:13-14)
There is almost always a kernel of truth in all flattery, which is what makes it so slippery and deceptive. The Pharisees were telling the truth when they flattered Jesus. But it was truth designed to trap through flattery.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, flattery opposes love. And so Paul writes,
Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:6)
Flattery makes for poor friendships. Flattery does not rejoice in the truth but rejoices in approval. We flatter to be admired, we flatter to win favour and we flatter to destroy with kisses the one for whom Christ died.
This is not a license to become small-minded, one-man rebuke committees. True encouragement (which is worlds away from flattery) desires to build others up in love, and according to the truth.
Let a righteous man strike me; it is a kindness; let him rebuke me; it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it. (Psalm 141:5)
True encouragement is grounded in righteousness. The righteousness of Christ. Righteousness grounded in the truth and motivated by love for others.