A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin. Proverbs 26, verse 28.
Call me slow but, until I read this verse, I never realized that flattery could be considered lying. Last week we talked about smooth talkers, and I acknowledged that I’ve been known as one. Part of smooth talking is flattery. Now, I’ll confess that I didn’t do it for sex, or dates, or vices, or anything like that. I simply found – and still find – that it’s better to be nice, and to say kind things, than to tear someone down or transfer your own junk to them. That’s not to say I’m a nice guy. I haven’t always been a very nice guy; really haven’t. Peel back the veneer of my life and you’ll see some seedy things. Today, I’m a work in progress, and God works overtime righting my ship, and making me right. Part of His doing that is seeing things for how they are.
Seeing things for how they are includes seeing that flattery is a subtle form of lying. It is piling selfish embellishment on top of simple truth. A flatterer doesn’t really trust that the truth can stand on its own, so she or he dog-piles on with extra compliments, extra adjectives, extra something. Maybe it is withholding truth because you don’t want to hear the reaction; maybe it is saying something is different than it really is; maybe it’s lying about someone’s appearance; maybe it is overreacting.
Yep, lies. And those work ruin. They work ruin because to work something means to intentionally do it. That requires forethought and effort. But here’s the sticky part of it: you don’t realize these things when you’re being smooth or flattering. You don’t realize that the tongue lies and that, in doing so, it quietly spreads soft forms of hatred. Hatred? That’s a pretty strong word, but if you think about it, a lie is a pretty strong thing, even a white lie or a lie of conscious omission. Lies are hatred of the truth; lies are hatred of God.
Lies ruin. And if flattery is a kind of lying, then flattery is actually a form of smooth hatred. You don’t even need to be a believer to see the simple truth in this. The tongue speaks what is inside or, as Zac Brown sings it, “my heart won’t tell my mind to tell my mouth what it should say.” Do you think Christ flattered anyone? Can you picture Him saying, “Nice job in the synagogue last Saturday, Mr. Pharisee. Really liked your commentary so much!” When God Himself walked through the Garden of Eden, do you think He flattered Adam and Eve? “Really like what you’ve done with your hair Eve…it’s very trendsetting.” Do you think it is the Spirit moving in you that motivates you to pile on with the compliments?
No, I think that God gave good enough advice on His own when He left it at “let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.” In other words, He said “be honest and say it right the first time.” Trust that His Spirit will fill your mouth with the right words to say. For a flatterer, that’s hard to do. It’s hard to first admit that your smooth talk may not be what you intend it to be, then to simply give honest compliments when they’re needed and leave it at that. I can still be nice – or try to be at least – without making it sugary sweet. It’s a good and kind to be good and kind, and even to generously hand out compliments when they are deserved. It can be an honor and a pleasure to encourage other people, and it is a Godly thing to give genuine love. But then let’s leave it at that, because Godly love doesn’t need my two cents for it to greatly multiply. It simply needs you and I to share it as is.
Yes, I may be a bit slow in that it’s taken me forty-five years to reach a conclusion that a better, quicker, and smarter man might have reached much sooner. Thank God it didn’t take eighty. Thank God for His wisdom to see things as they are, especially as it happens a little bit at a time, and with the realization that healing can always begin anew. Thank God for realizing that flattery may get you everywhere, but when you get there you may find it really isn’t where you want to be.