Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race. Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts. May the Lord silence all flattering lips and every boastful tongue— those who say, “By our tongues we will prevail; our own lips will defend us—who is lord over us?”
Flattery seems harmless enough. So what if we "put a little extra butter on the bread" to make someone else feel good about himself? But flattery isn't just bending the truth a little in order to be nice to people. Flattery is buttering someone up with smooth words in order to get something from them. Flattery parades as something that is all about the other person. In reality it is always about the flatterer. He or she wants something and is willing to lie and deceive to get it. They flatter either in the hopes that it will endear them to the person who can give them what they want, or in order to gain the trust of someone whom they plan to betray and steal what they want from. Flattery is nothing more than manipulation for your own ends. The psalmist is right when he says "no one is faithful anymore... Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts."
Listening to flattery is dangerous. Most people agree that flattery sets such an alluring trap because we are all a little too eager to read our own fan mail. We aren't suspicious of flattery because it feeds the vanity that already resides in our hearts. "Finally!", we think. "Someone recognizes me for how great I am." This unchecked and often unnoticed pride makes us all too willing to believe flattery's lies. Proverbs 29:5 rightly warns, "Those who flatter their neighbors are spreading nets for their feet." People don't flatter us to build up our self-esteem, but to take from us what they want. They are baiting us. The employee compliments his boss in order to get a promotion. For men to flatter women with lies in order to get sex is so common a dating practice today that it is hardly even looked down upon anymore.
What are we to do against those who would attack us with such deceptively friendly methods? How can the poor protect themselves from those who gain power through flattery and then use it to extort the needy? Turn to the Lord! Psalm 12 continues: "'Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,' says the Lord. 'I will protect them from those who malign them'” (Psalm 12:5). What an encouragement for the afflicted to hear that God Himself will come to their rescue! But dare they trust God's word? You can almost hear the afflicted scoff. "Sure! God says He will arise and protect me. It sounds too good to be true to me." But the psalmist anticipates this response. "And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like gold refined seven times" (Psalm 12:6). He tells us that God's words are not like the flatterer's. God's words can be trusted. They are pure and true. Thus, we can say in confidence, "You, Lord, will keep the needy safe and will protect us forever from the wicked, who freely strut about when what is vile is honored by the human race" (Psalm 12:7-8).
So what can you do in the face of flattery?
- Turn to God for protection from those who would afflict you with power gained by deceptive means.
- Ask God for wisdom and discernment to identify flattery when someone tries to use it against you.
- Regularly read God's Word. It is only as we view ourselves in the light of the truth of His Word that we gain a realistic view of ourselves. This is the best way to kill that remaining pride in our hearts which makes us so susceptible to flattery.
- And guard your mouth! Remind yourself that the believer should never resort to flattery and manipulation in order to gain for himself what God is so very capable of providing for His children already.
For further reading...