The Trouble With Flattery

11 01 2012

(Deep breath…) Okay here goes.  I am a recovering manpleaser.  A flatterer.  Brown noser.  Sycophant.  There are more ugly nouns.

Because it’s not pretty.

I’m haunted by the words of AW Tozer, “The desire to be liked even if not respected is a great weakness in any man’s character.”

I’ve had plenty of screw-ups in the self-respect department over 48 years on this planet.  The most frequent, however, is rooted in the fear of man.  Desire for approval.  And it manifests itself as flattery.  Sucking up.  You get the idea.

The Bible has plenty to say about flattery, none of it good.  So then why do we flatter?  And what does flattery look like?

  • Flattery tends to gush rather than give honest and earned compliments.
  • Flattery is a form of control.  When I flatter someone, rather than just complimenting—no strings attached, I’m trying to ensure they “like” me.  I put them in the position of having to think and act well towards me.  Haven’t quite figured out why that’s so important.
  • Flattery is a form of deception because it exceeds the bounds of healthy praise and affirmation.
  • There are people in this world who use flattery for completely self-serving ends.  The Proverbs speak of the ploys of the adulteress seeking to seduce.  First in her arsenal is flattery.
  • Finally, flattery is not about the person I’m gushing about.  It’s for me.  All for me.  I want influence.  I want to be “liked.”  I want to be well-thought of.  I don’t want people saying bad stuff about me.  It is supremely selfish behavior.

I think we flatter because we’re afraid of being alone.  Invisible.  Irrelevant.  The Bible warns that “The fear of man brings a snare….” (Proverbs 29:25).  I’ve gotten trapped by this more times than I can count.  It is fear of man and desire for approval that generates flattery.

Flattery and manpleasing is sin.  Just like gossip.  Just like sexual immorality.  Just like destructive anger.

What to do:

  • Before you say or do anything to or for another person, weigh your motives.  Ask yourself, “Am I doing this for the other person or for me?” Will you be able to face yourself in the morning? Really?
  • Don’t gush.  It’s unbecoming and puts the one you’ve flattered in an untenable situation.  Instead, give honest praise in proportion to the accomplishment.  People are bright and can sniff out insincere praise like methane.  Only flattery smells worse.
  • Respect your own uniqueness as a creature, given the supreme dignity of being made in the image of God.  It is beneath you to grovel and try to control with sugar-coated words.   Stand up straight and tall.

Finally, look at Jesus.  The most fearless man who ever lived.  He never, ever flattered anyone.  And it eventually cost him his life.  But that loss of life redeemed us.

“Let me now be partial to no one, nor flatter any man.” (Job 32:21)




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