It’s our pride, you know, that makes us so vulnerable to the flatterer. After all, we love to hear how beautiful, intelligent, understanding, wise and talented we are. And after hearing about all that, we are just so ready to hear whatever else it is our flatterer has to say—and think what it is our flatterer wants us to think and do what our flatterer wants us to do. After all, he’s just so perceptive. And he’s my dear friend. I’m in his inner circle. I’m his kind of people. I’m one of the elite. Wow, I must be special!
I was surprised when I tried to find all the Scripture verses that deal with flattery not to find even one that instructed the believer not to be a flatterer. Maybe there is one, but I couldn't find it. However, I found a slew of them warning the believer not to be taken in by flattery and describing the wicked as flatterers. The lesson there, I suppose is that while we certainly don’t want to be like the wicked and engage in flattery, our real weakness is in receiving it.
Noah Webster defines flattery as, “False praise; commendation bestowed for the purpose of gaining favor and influence, or to accomplish some purpose.” He defines the flatterer as, “One who flatters; a wheedler, a fawner, one who praises another, with a view to please him, to gain his favor, or to accomplish some purpose.” Implicit in these definitions is the idea that the flatterer is not just a person who easily compliments. He is a person who compliments in order to serve his own ends. He has a purpose.
This is in stark contrast to the person who compliments his brothers and sisters in order to build them up and encourage them in their good works. But how can we know the difference? Part of the answer, I think, is to have a sober assessment of ourselves. Acknowledging that God has blessed us with certain talents and skills is not prideful. For this we must give Him the glory. If someone says, “Dory, you wrote a beautiful letter and it helped me to get through a difficult time,” I can praise God that He gave me the ability to write well and communicate comfort to one of His children. I will be encouraged to try to help others in this way in the future. But if I am told, “Dory, you are so much smarter than other people that I am sure you will understand, as others may not, why I am so upset by what so-and-so has done, and help me to…” Wait! Stop! Though my pride might love to hear such things, my pride is being appealed to in order to lead me to sin.
My search for Scriptures dealing with flattery associated it with other sins. Most notable was an association with faithlessness to both men and God. (Psalms 5:19, 12:1, 78:36; Prov. 2:16-17, and Dan. 11:32) Second, was what I expected to be first: deceit (Psalm 78:36, 36:1-3; Prov. 26:28; Ezek. 12:24), and also seduction and manipulation. (Prov. 6:23-24, 7:21, 29:5; Jude 16-19). It is also associated with division ( Rom 16: 17-18, Jude 16-19), destruction (Psalm 5:9, Prov. 26:28, Job 17:5), idle speech or gossip (Psalm 12:2-4, Prov. 20:19), and man pleasing ( I Thes. 2:46).
Flattery was held in contrast to the honest rebuke of a true friend (Prov. 6:23-24, 28:23) and to true wisdom and understanding (Prov. 2:10-17, 7:4-5). It was also held up in opposition to obedience (Rom. 16:17-19), faithfulness to true doctrine (I Thes. 2:46, Rom. 16:17-18), and discretion (Prov. 2:10-17)
Our pride is probably the greatest weakness of mankind. The flatterer has learned to use that weakness to accomplish his or her ends. We must always be on guard—always assess ourselves humbly, properly and soberly—so that we do not allow our pride to lead us into sin.
Jude 16 These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage. (17) But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: (18) how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. (19) These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.
Prov 29:5 A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.