Flattery can be thought of as the giving of excessive, insincere praise, especially that which is given in order to further one's personal interests. Flattering can be viewed in opposition to complimenting. The difference between flattery and a compliment is the motivation behind the words. A person who compliments is one who says something to build up another person. Compliments are to the benefit of the receiver. A person who flatters seeks to gain approval or recognition for their words. Flattery is self-serving.
Flattery is often mentioned in the Bible, especially in the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 6:24 warns of the "flattery of the tongue of a strange woman" (KJV; see also Proverbs 7:5, 21), translated as "the smooth tongue of an adulteress woman" in the ESV. Proverbs also says that a person who is wise learns to distinguish between lying and flattering lips and sincere compliments. Truth is not the flatterer's main concern, rather it is what they can receive from their words (Psalm 5:9; Romans 16:18).
Flattery is also dangerous when it grows within Christian circles. Often, within Christian circles, flattery is disguised as encouragement. Paul teaches the church to never use flattery to gain followers for Christ, saying, "For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness" (1 Thessalonians 2:5). False teachers are also known to use flattery to finagle money from Christians and those who want to please Christ (2 Peter 2:3; Romans 16:18; Daniel 11:32). With wisdom and discernment, we can learn when false teachers are speaking for their own gain.
We are also to be wary of teachers who use flattery to gain followers. When Christ's message is watered down to little more than a self-improvement program, we are at risk of being deceived. Messages that are self-focused, such as sermons with cheery illustrations that make the congregation feel good about themselves, can gain followers, but are empty without focusing on Christ. This is a form of flattery that places reaching personal greatness over the message of Christ.
When false teachers flatter their followers, they build up their followers' self-importance. This is in opposition to the message that Jesus taught, that we must die to ourselves to serve God and others. We must choose to put God above everything else in our lives, daily. We shall not allow anyone control over our perception of Christ's message through stroking our egos. Jesus never flattered His followers and always told people what they needed to hear (Mark 10:21–22; Luke 9:61–62). Jesus was able to preach His message without flattery because His main focus was doing His father's will (John 8:29). There is a vast difference between flattery and speaking in love. The tough messages that Jesus delivered, He delivered in love, because He knew that His people needed to hear them. We are called to follow Christ and speak the truth with other people's benefit in mind.
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