Dealing with Flattery
An article in the October, 2016, AARP Bulletin revealed the efforts of casinos to urge senior citizens to gamble. How do they do that? One tactic in particular: “Casino hosts often lavish personal attention on high-rolling older charges, asking about their health, reminding them to take their medicine and eating meals with them … For older people, the host becomes their friend, giving them attention they may not be getting from their children or friends” (20).
Melynda Litchfield, who lost her life savings by compulsive gambling, says, “They gave me so much personal attention and TLC that you get the false impression these people – who are milking away all of your money – actually care about you” (ibid). That’s a pretty good working definition of flattery.
Flattery is more than an insincere compliment. It is the attempt to take advantage of someone by lying to gain their confidence. For example, Proverbs refers to the “seductress who flatters with her words” (2:16; 7:5). “With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, with her flattering lips she seduced him” (7:21). The flatterer’s only interest in their target is to use them as leverage for selfish gain.
Sadly, there are some in local churches who act this way. Paul says of those who cause divisions, “For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:18). Thayer defines eulogia in this context as “language artfully adapted to captivate the hearer.” Those intent on stirring up strife inevitably try to sway others to their side in order to build an influential base.
The sweet talk used to woo the naïve often turns vicious when addressing their opponents.
Who among us has not been taken in by a flatterer? Perhaps we were talked into buying something we didn’t need by a smooth-talking salesman. Or maybe we were persuaded to do something ill-advised by a flattering friend. What makes us vulnerable to flattery?
In a word, pride. Flattery is an appeal to the pleasure of hearing good things spoken about one-self. And in the euphoria of praise, we easily conclude that someone so astute as to recognize our superior qualities can’t be all bad! This can be something as inane as complementing our appearance. No doubt the seductress mentioned above preyed on her male victims by appeals to vanity (which she uses with the next dupe, and the next, and the next …). Or we might be told how great we are as parents, or how lovely our home is, or how wisely we handled a business deal, or …
So how do we combat this particular brand of lying?
1) Don’t flatter. Don’t inflate praise to gain an advantage. That advantage may appear small: defusing an awkward situation or appeasing a critic. Stick with the truth. Praise others, but mean it.
2) Don’t be a sucker. Insecurity leads to vulnerability. Make God’s approval your first priority. We all want to be liked and acknowledged for our good qualities. But don’t be so taken with yourself that the flatterer can manipulate you via insincere praise.
3) Be honest. Is someone going overboard in their praise? Are they giving undeserved complements? Do they mean it? Or are you in a situation where the other will benefit from your good will? In congregational strife there is always the ringleader or instigator, and there is the supporting cast. Don’t be in either category.