James 3:6 (NKJV)6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.
Gossip, slander, lies – these are some of the sins of the tongue we have displayed in our exposition of James’ warning that the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. This morning we look at flattery, a closely related cousin to our other vices.
To flatter is to praise excessively or fulsomely especially from motives of self-interest. It attempts to gratify or appeal to the self-love of its victim by artful and interested attentions. Hence flattery, when uncovered, exposes not only the insincerity of the flatterer but the vanity of the one flattered. As Dale Carnegie once quipped, “Flattery is telling the other person precisely what he thinks about himself.”
Flattery is the stock and trade of certain segments of society. Politicians regularly utilize the vice to ingratiate themselves with voters and get into office. The adulteress in Proverbs uses it to lure men to destruction. Men use it to seduce women who are lonely and in need of companionship. Girls use it with teachers to get better grades. And grown women use it in the workplace to get promotions. The list goes on and on.
Flattery is another form of lying. Proverbs 26:28 draws a parallel between the two sins. “A lying tongue hates those who are crushed by it, And a flattering mouth works ruin.” Notice then that genuine compliments are not in view. Nor are kind remarks given for the benefit of the hearer – telling your four year old that her picture of mom looks lovely even though it appears to be a cross between a dragon and a warehouse building. Flattery of the forbidden kind uses others simply as stepping stones for one’s own advantage. “A man who flatters his neighbor Spreads a net for his feet” (Prov 29:5).
And so beware – not only of flattering others but of being flattered yourself. Do not permit your vanity to lure you to destruction. Nowhere is it more necessary to be alert in this regard than in the way we view our children. Some parents simply refuse to acknowledge their children’s faults. If your “cuddly little one” is a hellion in others’ company then you’ve got a problem to deal with. So how can you protect yourself from being a victim of flattery? Learn to love reproof and correction; ask others to evaluate you honestly; ask others what the primary problems with your children are. “He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward Than he who flatters with the tongue” (Prov 28:23).
Reminded that we have not only flattered our neighbor but that we have been vain and allowed ourselves to be flattered, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.