“…the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman.” (Proverbs 6:24)
In his book, Disciplines of a Godly Man, R. Kent Hughes has said, “Gossip involves saying behind a person’s back what you would never say to his or her face. Flattery means saying to a person’s face what you would never say behind his or her back.” I find this to be a very good way of determining if what I’m saying is a sincere compliment or lying flattery. If the compliment I give to my husband is a way I would never describe him to others, then the so-called “compliment” is simply a lovely lie. And lest you doubt this, I would refer you to Psalm 78:36, where the two are used interchangeably.
I chose to challenge us today on this topic because I happen to think that although flattery may be a genderless trait, it is especially developed to a fine art in the feminine gender. When it’s seen in men, you generally see other more feminine characteristics. This is not to say such men are less men, only that as society fondly points out, they have been able to connect to their “feminine side,” as well. But as I say, it just seems to come natural to you and me. It’s easier for us to praise our children as they grow up, while fathers often find it hard to find just the right words. This should also teach us, those most susceptible to flattery are those most immature, or as the Bible calls them, “simple” (Prov. 7:7 & Rom. 16:18).
Solomon was obviously one who knew what it was to succumb to the charms of a flattering woman, and he warned his own son about her in chapters six and seven of his Proverbs. And you will read in chapter seven that it wasn’t her kisses or her inviting bed that finally broke the simple young man down, but it was her “fair speech “ and “flattering lips” (v. 21). Flattery was this woman’s weapon of choice and it proved to be invincible. I point this out not to suggest you or I have such conquests in our sights, but simply to show you the lethal potential of this trait that comes so easily to us.
And mark it down; flattery always has an ulterior motive. This woman’s goal was not the wellbeing of the young man but the satisfaction of her own desires. And when our compliments and praise run to excess and morph into flattery, we’re satisfying a personal need or seeking a personal advantage. We may be looking for attention, friendship, love, or material gain; but you’ll be hard pressed to find anything noble in flattery.
I find several unintended consequences to flattery:
1. It often engenders envy as in the case of David and Saul (1 Sam. 18:7-9). The foolish flattery of these women severed both a friendship and a kingdom.
2. If we find it easy to lie to others by inordinate praise, we most certainly will do the same thing for ourselves. “For he flattereth himself in his own eyes, until his iniquity be found to be hateful” (Psl. 36:2). There is nothing less attractive than a self-deceived braggart.
3. Our children are harmed by our penchant for flattery. There is an enigmatic verse in Job that I don’t fully understand, but I do accept it as a warning from God that our flattery can so distort our children’s discernment that they are less likely later to see people as they truly are. “He that speaketh flattery to his friends, even the eyes of his children shall fail” (Job 17:5).
4. Saddest of all, our flattery can degenerate to the point of our trying to use it on God. “Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues” (Psl. 78:36). If you read this entire chapter you will see that the “him” in this verse is God. Their praise of Him was mere flattery, not because what they said about him was untrue, but because they didn’t really believe it. Their hearts and lives said just the opposite (v. 37). They might say it to His face, but not behind His back.
I don’t know about you but I have been very convicted in my own heart while writing this. I have had to stop periodically to ask God to forgive me for succumbing to this little considered, but potentially dangerous sin. I think if you and I can understand how easy it is to reach for it as our “weapon of choice” to get what we want, we’ll be more hesitant to pull it out.
Someone has said, “Some people go through life with their hands on the holster”; and in all probability, as women, the thing in our holsters is…flattery.