Summary: When lovers cease to compliment one another, they are losing their admiration, and taking each other for granted. Healthy love never stops singing the praises of the lover.
A neurologist was flattered when a patient in a mental
hospital said to him, "We like you better than any other
doctor we have ever had." "But why?" asked the doctor,
with a smile, showing his delight. "Because," replied the
inmate, "You are more like one of us." Sometimes flattery
can be a flop. Even if it is sincere, it can come out wrong.
Like the woman who said to her pastor, "That message was
like water to a drowning man." He thought she meant it as
a compliment, but he could never be sure. Flattery can be
used to deceive people in so many ways that it usually has a
negative meaning. The Jewish Talmud says, "A community
where flattery prevails will end in exile."
Almost every reference to flattery in the Bible shows it to
be a tool of evil. Paul wrote in I Thess. 2:5, "We never used
words of flattery..." When Paul said he was all things to all
men, he did not mean he was even a flatterer. Paul
considered this to be deceitful and not an acceptable tool in
evangelism. It could be so used, however, for we all like to
think well of ourselves, and we are always delighted with
anyone else who can perceive our good points. So we are all
susceptible to flattery. Benjamin Franklin said,
A flatterer never seems absurd:
The flattered always takes his word.
In the realm of romance flattery is a dangerous weapon,
for it is possible to so love the nice things that are said that
one soon believes he, or she, loves the sayer of them. The
sayer is even himself deceived, and many people get married,
not because they love each other, but because they love
themselves, and enjoy being told how wonderful they are.
Flattery can be used to deliberately deceive for the sake of
immoral gratification as well, and many a foolish girl lets
sweet talk her life sour.
Shakespeare said, "You play the Spaniel and think with
waging of your tongue to win me." A dogs waging tail is an
honest expression of love, but a waging tongue of flattery is
more often a tool of deceit. David portraying a society which
is totally corrupt says in Psalms 12:2, "Everyone utters lies
to his neighbor with flattering lips and a double heart they
speak." Lying and flattery are like partners, as we see in
Prov. 26:28, "A lying tongue hates its victims, and a
flattering mouth works ruin."
Groucho Marx was an expert as using flattery in a
negative way. He was leaving a party he felt was exceedingly
dull. He said to the hostess, "I've had a wonderful evening,
but this wasn't it." Sometimes the truth does need to be told
subtly. Samuel Johnson said to an author, after reading his
book, "Your manuscript was both good and original, but the
part that is good is not original, and the part that is original
is not good." That is telling it like it is, and is not really a
negative use of flattery. The person to be wary of is the
person who agrees with everything you say and do. Such
flattery will hinder, rather than help.
How can we reconcile the negatives of flattery with the
positives of compliments and honest appreciation? If I tell a
person they look sharp, am I guilty of flattery, and using my
tongue for evil? If I see value, talents, and gifts in people,
must I keep silent because of the danger of flattery?
Definitely not. The Song of Solomon is filled with constant
compliments coming from the mouths of lovers. They flatter
each other, as most lovers do, as being the two most
beautiful people on the planet. The complimentary language
of lovers is essential to their love. Without beautiful words
they would have a hard time expressing their love. Yet, they
may use all the same words that are used by the flatterer.
What is the difference?
The difference between good and evil in so many areas of
life is in love. Love makes the difference. If I have the
tongue of men and of angels, but have not love,
I am sounding brass and a clanging symbol. All the evil of
flattery is a matter of nice words without love. When hate
and deceit speak, they may use the best words for their evil
ends. Evil needs good words to get anywhere. The evil of
flattery could not exist without the use of good words, and so
evil uses the very vocabulary of love.
When love speaks, it looks for the best in everyone. It
looks for a way of being constructive and encouraging. Jesus
was a master at the art of complimenting. Instead of
blasting sinners with words of condemnation, He said, "Go