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
Article 2: Tempted to Believe Lies: Misinterpreted Scripture
5 thoughts on “Enticed By Words: Flattery”
Beautiful and most telling Amber! You touched on the many facts that must be considered when dealing with people especially those we are only just getting to know; good relationships must take time to prove themselves out and grow! Deception is an art with many and we know the father of all lies is the expert with his many minions who follow that practice to cause ruin! I learned the hard way at times too and like a wise woman told me I must take care not to trust the wrong people!
“Too much trust in people’s words rather than their actions;” that nails it for me; my own mother always said to the whole family, “Actions speak louder than words!” And we know from Scripture that we must learn to test the spirits and judge others by their fruits!
Everything you put forth here brings to the light God’s truth; as to how we can learn to trust the right persons and be wise enough to recognize the deceivers!
I just want to say what ties this all together for me is what to me has to be my favorite or in the top three always of the Psalms, which you mentioned here and I’m very happy you did; the 23rd Psalm.
Brother in Christ Jesus,
Thank you, Lawrence
Yes, I think we all fall prey to flattery at some point in our lives but learn from it for sure.
Thanks for suggesting Psalm 23. My husband and I are currently working on memorizing it, so it was funny you mentioned it. A wonderful reminder!
Here is a long comment I sent earlier which if you think it’s beneficial to the subject as you explain it then great, but, if not its fine to exclude it; because I can incorporate much of the subject matter into a posting I’ll be doing which references the 23rd Psalm.
You’re very welcome and I must thank you for this timely article along with your bringing up the Scriptures that you did which immediately brought me to my love of the 23rd Psalm which produces so much, perhaps I should say, even unlimited courage to face anything that this tumultuous world can dish out, which we must travel through while carrying our own crosses; on our way to heaven to be with our Lord God.
I agree with all of what you said from my deepest heart and soul when I say; that yes “we must learn from any personal mistake of falling prey or any wayward and foolish decisions we might make during our lifetimes,” as we can plainly see there is a learning curve involved of course! I think of the Scripture, “there but for the grace of God go I,” when observing others living in obvious mortal sin or committing crimes against others, and even transgressing God’s will that is blatantly willful.
My dad would tell me as a boy or young man after I did something wrong or foolish; “did you learn from your mistake and are you genuinely sorry; because if you did and are that is what God expects you to do; which is to learn from it and never do it again!” It’s not enough that we battle the world throughout our lives in taking care and discerning all we can, so that our daily actions are justified and proper, but, we can even be having “a battle within ourselves,” struggling with our personal imperfection by means of our free will and conscience! My dad also would tell me that; “God gave you that conscience so you can “learn and know the difference between what is right and what is wrong,” and then act accordingly.
I’m actually happy I mentioned Psalm 23 and that you and your husband are memorizing it together; that is such a beautiful thing in my eyes and I mean it! That is the first time I ever heard anyone say they were doing that; and especially as a married couple, which makes it so special, as I see it! That actually excites my heart that you both are doing that, because I have always since a young man and do now love the 23rd Psalm so much! I know that this was no mere happenstance to come up as it has in this writing; so God’s will is at work here for sure!
I have two more things to place here so I won’t get too lengthy in the comments as I already am.
First; the Scripture I referenced.
1 Corinthians 15:9-11 “For I am the least of the apostles and am unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not in vain. No, I worked harder than all of them— yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.”
Interestingly Amber this Scripture immediately came to my mind here, but, then I recalled quoting it in a posting of mine in August regarding actress Anne Heche. And I quote what she had said on the Larry King show mentioned in that posting.
“I was a perfect hider. I was raised to hide. I was raised to pretend. I was raised to always tell everybody that everything was fine, and even though I was in therapy for years I never told anybody that I had another personality,” Heche said. “I never told anybody that I heard voices and spoke to God. I never told anybody any of it.” https://transcripts.cnn.com/show/lkl/date/2001-09-06/segment/00
Your article has triggered some major vitally important matters and topics that all Christians, me included, have to honestly take a look at and discern carefully to understand well, in order to learn from ourselves or others experiences and hardships; while we are here in this “valley of tears” as my mother so often referred to it, while talking about faith with me or my siblings growing up. Wow, Anne Heche even though I never paid much attention to her or her career, she must have suffered many tears which only God knows fully how and what all of that added up to in the end; I hope that she is at peace; I do feel for her!
Now the second item is that your article was so interesting and stirring inside of me that I actually woke up during the night and wrote more about it, pretty much most of the points you mentioned! So I hope its fine to go ahead now and publish what I was thinking and writing early today, but, only now am convinced, that I should go ahead with this because of this reply comment of yours, and how I’m again inspired by this whole gist of your fine article! Of course I have to use a few lines to quote what you said, but, will of course leave reference of authorship credit for your work. I really hope what I have written will be helpful to you of course or also anyone who is interested; as my motivation I believe is to do what God directs me to say if I’m genuinely listening to Him through the Holy Spirit; as I do believe I am.
Thank you again! May God bless you and your entire family richly. Amen.
Brother in Christ Jesus,
Thank you, Lawrence for your added insight and encouragement. I will have to check those articles out. I appreciate you pointing them out. Lots to suggest in your comment, and I will look it over further later. God bless!
It was actually just one thing Amber, which I actually was looking to quote; this one line directly from your article; “God began showing me I was placing too much trust in people’s words rather than their actions,” as I referenced the subject of flattery and manipulation by others, as often a narcissist will do on social media. I’ve begun to understand and see more clearly how this addictive medium is quite habit forming and not in a good way, but, rather a detriment to many people and society overall. It’s actually the subject matter I’m following along with to point out some of my own experiences and observations, is all.