Sunday, 07 September 2008 00:00

Pierces of Swords: Flattering Speech

Psalm 5:8-9 (ESV)

Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me. For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue.

In this Psalm, as well as the first four in the Book of Psalms, the subject is a contrast between the position, character and prospects of the righteous and wicked. David carries out a contrast between himself, made righteous by God's grace, and the wicked who opposed him. One of the contrasts made is that the wicked "flatter with their speech." Flattery means giving excessive compliments for the purpose of gaining favor with the subject.

  1. Flattery is recognized by the speaker, but seldom noticed by the subject.
    Encouraging words, sincere expressions of gratitude, and heartfelt admiration are not flattery. "Flattery is form the teeth out. Appreciation is from the heart out" (Dale Carnegie). A few times, because it is outlandish, flattery is obvious to both the speaker and the subject. But at most times it is hard to notice. Politicians flatter voters, adulterers flatter to entice, students flatter teachers, employees flatter bosses, church members flatter preachers, etc. "We like to think that the smarter a person is, the higher she ascends up the ladder of success, the less susceptible that individual is to flattery. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case. People of high self-esteem and accomplishment generally see the praise directed at them as shrewd judgment rather than flattery" (Richard Stengel). Someone said, "Flattery is telling a person precisely what he thinks about himself."
  2. Flattery is harmful to both the speaker and the subject.
    "A man that flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet" (Proverbs 29:5). Who is this "his"?
    1. The danger that comes to the speaker of flattery is idolatry.
      "A flattering mouth works ruin" (Proverbs 26:28). "The wicked flatter" (Psalm 5:9).
      1. We value most what we delight in most. Pleasure is not God's competitor, idols are. Pleasure is the measure of our treasure.
      2. The great theologian Jonathan Edwards said "praise is the consummation of enjoyment (pleasure). "All enjoyment tends toward praise and adoration as its appointed end. Praise is the consummation of pleasure.
      3. Flattery is idolatry of the lips—it is the substitution of people for God. "A flattering mouth works ruin" (Proverbs 26:28). "The wicked flatter" (Psalm 5:9).
    2. The danger that comes to the subject of flattery is the loss of humility.
      The usefulness of a true servant of Christ depends on his humility; as soon as he thinks himself as a great man, and is puffed up, the Spirit is grieved and the real power of his ministry will be gone. To acknowledge blessing received through ministry, to thank the Lord for His grace and gifts, that is another matter.
  3. Flattery will be absent from heaven and should be within the body of Christ.
    The LORD shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaks proud things (Psalm 12:3). Paul said, "For neither at any time used we flattering words," (I Thessalonians 2:5). We are clearly told to "meddle not with him that flatters with his lips" (Proverbs 20:19).

    Flattery, when uncovered, exposes not only the self-gratification and idolatry of the flatterer but the vanity of the one flattered. "He that rebukes a man afterwards shall find more favor than he that flatters with the tongue" (Proverbs 28:23). Examine your heart.

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