Enticed By Words: Flattery
Pt. 4: How Jesus Responds to Difficult People & Circumstances
In my late teens and early twenties, I was drawn to flattering “friends”. They seemingly liked the same things I liked and had the same interests. I was easily swayed by their initial amicable and gregarious personalities. With my rose-colored glasses, I thought well of the world and most people. I was naive to believe that those who initially claimed to “like me” always had my best interest in mind.
In time, these flattering “friends” eventually revealed their true colors of manipulation and control. Their initial flattery was used to gain my approval and trust so in time I was left confused by their duplicitous behavior. I initially made excuses for their poor actions and behavior until it was clear that something wasn’t quite right. I had allowed flattery to woo me into false friendships.
After plenty of ignored red flags over the years, God began showing me I was placing too much trust in people’s words rather than their actions. Each of those rushed friendships left me empty and saddened, but they were also God-given learning experiences.
Like myself, you’ve most likely interacted or had a relationship with a flatterer at some point (and if you haven’t, good for you!). It’s never a good feeling to be used for someone else’s gain.
But what exactly is flattery? How does flattery differ from genuine praise or a compliment? And how can we tell the difference?
In the “Desiring God” podcast episode, “How Do I Praise Others but Avoid Flattery?”, Pastor John Piper points out that flattery may be true, but it can be used for ill purposes. Authentic praise, or a compliment, comes from the overflow of authentic delight of what we’re hearing, viewing, experiencing, etc. Essentially, we’re honoring God and not just man when we are giving true, virtuous compliments and praise. We’re telling someone- “I love what God is doing in you”.
Praise and using our words to compliment others is giving glory back to God. Many of us have seen and understood its importance in our own lives. We’ve experienced the joy of a compliment either being given or received that seemed to be about more than any person- it was admiring something beautiful and honoring to God.
But flattery is something twisted. It is sometimes wrapped up like praise or a compliment, but it doesn’t point back to God at all. Flattery always points back to the self. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of flattery is to praise excessively with motives of self-interest; to portray too favorably; to display to advantage.
It all comes back to the heart’s intent. As the Bible reminds us in Luke 6:45, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
While we all may fall into the sin of flattery on occasion, we need to be cautious of those who make a habit of flattery. Flattery is simply a manipulation tool used to gain a false sense of trust. It’s underhandedly telling someone, “You can trust me because ‘I like you’ or ‘I like what you’re about” when in reality the flatterer is just using words to get what he wants from others in the hopes that the other party will believe him.
“For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people” (Romans 16:18 NIV).
Within the Old Testament, there’s a specific example of King Darius being swayed by flattery from those closest to him.
In Daniel 6, King Darius is told by his administrators and high officials,
“‘May King Darius live forever! The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lion’s den. Now, Your Majesty, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered- in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.’ So King Darius put the decree in writing” (Daniel 6:6-9).
Why did these administrators and officials want King Darius to sign this decree? Did they really want everyone to worship him, or did they have something to gain by him doing this? Before this passage, we learn that they were jealous of Daniel who had been made a supervisor over them because he was able to interpret the King’s dream. They couldn’t find a current law to condemn Daniel, so they had the King create a new law so that they could criticize Daniel before the King.
These administrators used flattery to persuade King Darius so that he wouldn’t question their motives. And it worked. What does this say about King Darius? Apparently, he wasn’t wise about who he kept closest to him. His pride and ego had most likely been stroked by these men so that they could gain more power and control. Because of this, King Darius’ advisers gave advice that was only helpful to them and not the King or his kingdom.
Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den for praying to God, but thankfully because of God’s intervention, Daniel was spared. And the administrators were then arrested and killed by the lions for their deceit.
Flattery had fooled King Darius into doing something based on what he wanted to hear. It sounded good to have everyone praise and honor only him, but it wasn’t actually good for him or the kingdom. If King Darius had just taken the time to seek God and think about the proposed law from the administrators, He may have seen through their schemes. Unfortunately, he eagerly signed the law which could have led to much worse results. Either way, it was heart-wrenching and embarrassing for him to see the result of his quick hand and lack of wisdom.
In the New Testament, we can find a different example of the Pharisees attempting to use flattery on Jesus.
“Keeping close watch on him, they sent spies who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: ‘Teacher we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’
He saw through their duplicity and said to them, ‘Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?’
‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.
He said to them, ‘Then give back to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’” (Luke 20:20-26).
When the Pharisees sent spies to approach Jesus, their words, “we know that you speak truth and what is right” weren’t given out of appreciation or because they were in awe of Him. Rather, these words were used to get something from Jesus. But Jesus is on guard– knowing and seeing their duplicity.
The Pharisees wanted Jesus to either profess His allegiance to Israel or to the Roman Empire. They hoped by him professing one allegiance over another that it would stir up a group of people against Him. Instead, in sincerity and humility, Jesus replies with the wisdom of God. Jesus didn’t allow flattery to sway him into deception. He avoids any further discussion or arguments by simply stating the truth. With our primary allegiance to God, what belongs to the government should be given to the government as long as it doesn’t undermine our first allegiance. Therefore, taxes that belong to Caesar should go to Caesar.
With both King Darius and Jesus, flattery was used in an attempt to distract from what the flatterers really desired.
What can we learn from these Biblical examples on interacting with flatterers? How can we avoid falling into the trap of flattery?
First, we have to be on guard. This does not mean thinking, “Everyone is out to get me” or distrusting all people. Being on guard is having an awareness that not everyone approaches us with genuine or virtuous motives. Often it takes time to distinguish whether someone is trustworthy and what their motives are for the relationship. Jesus reminds us that we must look at the fruit of a person and not just their words,
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them… Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit… Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matt. 7:15-20).
“And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Cor. 11:14-15).
We are to be on guard for those who use words to entice us and tell us what we want to hear. But in reality, these people lead us astray from the truth of God. From King Darius’ example, these are not people we want to keep close to us.
Secondly, being secure in Christ means seeking Him for truth and wisdom. This is why it’s so important to have God’s Word in our hearts as a reminder of who we are and Whose we are. Words matter and the wrong words can seduce us into deceit, sin, and foolishness. This is what flattery does- it coaxes us to believe a lie. It feeds our pride and desires. Lack of direction and identity can lead us into destructive places.
We are reminded in Proverbs,
“Obey my commands and live! Guard my instructions as you guard your own eyes. Tie them on your fingers as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. Love wisdom like a sister; make insight a beloved member of your family. Let them protect you from an affair with an immoral woman, from listening to the flattery of a promiscuous woman” (Proverbs 7:2-5 NLT).
And what is more valuable than our desires? Wisdom. “For wisdom is far more valuable than rubies. Nothing you desire can compare with it” (Proverbs 8:11 NLT).
Flattery is a trap that coaxes us to believe that the lie will fill the void we are missing. When we turn to God’s Word for truth and wisdom, we will become more secure in our identity in Christ.
Our value, identity, and joy cannot be dependent on anyone but Jesus. If we are chasing after the approval of others or feel a lack of something within our hearts, we are setting ourselves up to be entrapped by a flatterer. If we feel we deserve something that God hasn’t given us, we are setting ourselves up to be enticed by a flatterer.
We must trust God. We lack nothing in Christ. Satan and our own selfish desires tempt us to believe we are missing out or lacking something because God did not provide it. No matter our feelings or circumstances, we know by the truth of God’s Word that we lack nothing in Christ.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing” (Psalm 23:1).
Red Flag Questions to Distinguish if Someone is a Flatterer:
1) Does the excessive praise from this individual seem unnatural? Do I feel off about it?
2) What have I noticed about this person’s actions versus speech? (Luke 6:43-45)
3) What do others have to say about this individual?
4) Does this person have something to gain from me?
5) How does this person respond if I disagree with him/her? Does he/she get defensive, argumentative, give excuses?
6) How does this person talk about other people?
7) Has time shown that I can trust this person?
8) How does this person respond if I ask for time to think about what he/she has proposed/offered?
Photo by Rodolfo Clix: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-holding-pink-rose-flower-1615841/
Piper, John. “How Do I Praise Others But Avoid Flattery?” Desiring God, 2 November 2015, https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/how-do-i-praise-others-but-avoid-flattery.
Article 1: False Accusations