You have heard the cliché, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” You might never have viewed yourself as someone’s enemy, but you are.
I just love warm words of encouragement! When someone thoughtfully lifts my spirit with a word of sincere encouragement, I can feel the effect for days! This may not come around often, but when it shows up, we connect to it with all of our hearts, don’t we? Proverbs puts it this way, “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Prv 25:11); beautiful. How refreshing are the wholesome words that give grace to their hearers (Eph 4:29).
In a fallen world, however, not all apparent encouragement benefits us. Some of it is corrupt, tainted and coming from an enemy. The Bible offers a good word for encouraging words that poison—flattery.
The Hebrew word for flattery means “smoothness.” Like tiny stones that have been smoothened by ocean waves, the flatterer’s words have been smoothened by his own pride. The flatterer is the person who will use his smooth tongue to take advantage of you!
So, how can we tell if one or more of our friends are actually enemies?
Here are four ways that you can avoid the flatterers (enemies) in your life:
1. Beware of those who praise you excessively.
Even Jesus was given excessive praise from his enemies.
Luke 20 indicates that on one occasion, some smooth-talking men made an attempt to snag Jesus in a trap. The trap to catch Jesus was set with flowery but empty praise (see Prv 29:25 again)! The men were actually spies. Luke 20:20 states, “so they (Jewish leaders) watched Him (Jesus), and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, in order that they might catch Him in some statement…” These men used excessive praise, hoping that Jesus would be disarmed by their charms and then they would have him!
Luke 20:21 shows them turning on the charm, “teacher, we know that You speak and teach correctly, and You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth …” Who would not want to hear that massive compliment? But flattery is not always obvious.
While the spies’ words were not false in themselves, they were tainted and corrupted by a double-heart (Ps 12:2). The spies did not love Jesus, they hated him. They were enemies, not friends; flatterers, not followers of our Lord. They used their smooth tongues to take him down (Jude 16). Luke 20:21 gives the real reason for their coming: “…that they could deliver Him to the rule and the authority of the governor.” Like Judas, their ultimate goal was not to adore Jesus but to arrest him! “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Prv 27:6).
2. Beware of those who constantly tear others down to make you look better.
I have often observed the gossip and flatterer (see Prv 26:22–28 below) as birds of the same feather. They tell you how wonderful you are and how lousy other people are by comparison. God says that their hearts are full of hate (Prv 26:24a, 26a, 28a), not love. If you have not figured it out by now, flatterers are liars (Prv 26:28)! If you trust them, it is to your own destruction!
22 The words of a whisperer [gossip who tears down others] are like dainty morsels,
And they go down into the innermost parts of the body.
23 Like an earthen vessel overlaid with silver dross
Are burning lips and a wicked heart.
24 He who hates disguises it with his lips,
But he lays up deceit in his heart.
25 When he speaks graciously [with a charming voice], do not believe him,
For there are seven abominations in his heart.
26 Though his hatred covers itself with guile,
His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly.
27 He who digs a pit will fall into it,
And he who rolls a stone, it will come back on him.
28 A lying tongue hates those it crushes,
And a flattering mouth works ruin.
3. Don’t underestimate your love for the enemy-flattering praise.
Proverbs warns us of the one whose words taste like sweet pieces of dessert (Prv 26:25). These are the gossips/flatterers who like to use their charming voices to work their schemes (v 25). They flatter you by putting others—who could never measure up to you—down! You are more vulnerable than you think because you, too, have areas of pride that are not fully sanctified.
Spurgeon tells an insightful experience that really helps to illustrate the love of flattery in every human heart:
“Praise is a thing we all love. I met with a man the other day who said he was impervious to [not influenced by] flattery; I was walking with him at the time, and turning round rather sharply, I said, “At any rate, sir, you seem to have a high gift in flattering yourself, for you are really doing so, in saying you are impervious to flattery.” “You can not flatter me,” he said. I replied, “I can, if I like to try; and perhaps may do so before the day is out.”
I found I could not flatter him directly, so I began by saying what a fine child that was of his; and he drank it in as a precious draught; and when I praised this thing and that thing belonging to him, I could see that he was very easily flattered; not directly, but indirectly. We are all pervious to [subject to the influence of] flattery; we like the soothing cordial, only it must not be labeled flattery; for we have a religious abhorrence of flattery if it be so called; call it by any other name, and we drink it in, even as the ox drinketh in water.
For you it might be, “I know my spouse is amazing!” “I know I’m the best around at what I do.” “I know, I am a great _________.”
Ask yourself these three helpful questions:
- Do I love to hear my own name praised?
- Do I hope to hear that my work has been noticed and applauded by others, especially my boss?
- Do I enjoy it when, compared with others, I come out on top?
If so, then you are easy prey for the flatterer. You are in love with the enemy.
4. Repent of your own flattery and cut it out of your life.
Isn’t flattery an awful habit that has too comfortable a place in our everyday conversation? Shouldn’t we be reminded that it is the skill of the false teacher (Jude 16, Rm 16:18), the ruse of the seductress (Prv 7:23) and the abhorrence of the godly (Job 32:21; 1 Thes 2:5). Shouldn’t we be reminded that flatterers are liars (Ps 12:2) and that unrepentant liars don’t go to heaven (Rv 21:8)?
You say, “I’m no flatterer. I know many others are flatterers, but not me.” Okay. Let me urge you to examine yourself the next time you speak to a brother so that you can be the judge over your own heart (Heb 4:12):
- What am I hoping to gain by what I am about to say?
- What am I more preoccupied with, this person’s good or my own?
- Is what I am saying 100% truthful?
- Would I repeat what I am saying to someone else when this person is no longer present?
- Would I say this in the presence of Jesus Christ?
I pray that these questions will help you to see that sincere love for God and others always expresses itself in truthful speech. Let’s quit the flattery and glorify the Lord Christ (Col 3:17)! Let’s avoid frivolous or thoughtless words that guarantee more than we are ready to deliver. Let’s seek to be more pleasing to God than people. Let’s resist the flatterers we encounter. Let’s kill the flatterer within and not stand as someone else’s enemy.