Several weeks ago, my son Max asked me if I thought his hair looked good but quickly recanted the question saying, “You’ll say it looks good no matter what; I’ll ask Dad.” After getting over the initial offense, I transitioned into introspection mode and realized that I was not okay with my discovery. Deep wounds resurfaced as I was forced to recount many scenarios in my life where my desire to make someone feel good in the moment trumped truth that should have been spoken in love. It was not as though I was outright lying to them, or was it? It was from a good place in my heart - I think? The sin of flattery, so often overlooked, is easily equated with encouragement that many times slips quietly under the radar, seemingly causing no harm.
Flattery is not encouragement, and truth is not unloving, but rather flattery is the most selfish and cruelest form of dishonesty that is completely void of love.
Ouch. So why do we flatter people?
- “They have counseled only to thrust him down from his high position; They delight in falsehood; They bless with their mouth, but inwardly they curse.” Psalm 62:4
- “Their tongue is a deadly arrow; It speaks deceit; With his mouth one speaks peace to his neighbor, but inwardly he sets an ambush for him.” Jeremiah 9:8
- “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6
- “There is nothing reliable in what they say; Their inward part is destruction itself. Their throat is an open grave; They flatter with their tongue.” Psalm 5:9
One might be tempted to read through these verses and cringe at the thought of “people” who would do such a thing. Perhaps there was even a name or two that came to your mind as you read through these verses. I can admit to that. But over the past several years, God has been whispering four words to me over and over and over again to the point that, at times, I want to run far away from these words, but then I find myself crawling back to them because these same four words have brought me freedom in the most unlikely ways. I am going to share them with you but only if you promise to handle them with care, receive them with love, and consider them with an open heart.
BUT WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Yes, it is that simple question we should all be asking ourselves. When our carnal instinct is to devour everyone around us, to assign motives to their hearts that we cannot possibly know to be true, then we are willingly falling right into the hands of Satan himself.
I would invite you to read those verses again and consider the following:
- When was the last time you greeted your friend with a smile when only moments earlier you were “lovingly” discussing the flaws of her character with another in the name of “concern?” You were so concerned about her on the phone with your friend, but it’s funny that she has no idea because you have all but failed to actually bring up any of those concerns to her personally.
- Or what about slander? You knowingly lay seeds of falsehood about another brother or sister for honestly no other reason than you are feeling quite insecure about yourself. However, if you see them on the road, they are sure to receive a smile from you and possibly even a compliment because we will often do whatever it takes to convince ourselves that we do not struggle with jealousy.
- Then there is the question of truth. A friend asks for your advice and after contemplating in your mind the answer you believe to be the truth, you buckle at the last minute and choose to tell her what you know she wants to hear. You selfishly made this choice because you knew in the moment that to tell her the truth would cause pain, and pain is something you attempt to avoid at all costs. Much less, you have made it your duty to please people, to assure that they all love you and like you, and the truth would have completely ruined your people-pleasing streak.
Here’s the TRUTH. GODS TRUTH.
- “He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue.” Proverbs 28:23
- “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10
- “Righteous lips are the delight of kings, And he who speaks right is loved.” Proverbs 16:13
- “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, so a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend.” Proverbs 27:9
I can honestly say of myself that the many times I have chosen to flatter with my words over lovingly presenting the truth, it was almost always due to my own selfish desire of not wanting someone to not like me or be mad at me. As I typed that last sentence, it was as if I was back in middle school still trying to compete in a popularity contest of sorts. Sadly enough, if I allow myself to go back to that place in my mind, that place of making sure everyone is happy with me, then in an instant, I can find myself back in middle school. I am not above or have not arrived at a level of spirituality that would prevent me from becoming as deceitful a person as described in the verses written at the beginning of this post. It will be only through the grace of God by a faith that continues to encourage me to ask the question, “But what about you?” that will force me to look inwardly.
As I allow myself to look into the depths of my soul, I am simultaneously inviting the Holy Spirit into every area of my life. It is through His guidance that I can overcome my natural instinct to appease and replace it with a love that enables me to push through tough conversations. A love that invites pain and, at times, conflict because I know that when TRUTH is present, FREEDOM is waiting just around the corner.
The TRUTH is the most beautiful thing you could ever offer someone and the most amazing thing you could ever receive. While truth often brings about seasons of pain, it most always also brings into light the source of that pain. When the source is exposed, it then begins to lose its power, and one is able to catch a glimpse of life beyond the pain. I want to be a part of that type of healing in my own life and in the lives of others. I want to see past my own thirst for personal acceptance and look ahead to experience what happens when God’s body operates the way He designed us. A body that counsels one another through the lens of God's word and not one that is driven by flattery and fear. A body that is willing to walk through the fire with and for each other even if it means we have to drag one another at times. A body that refuses to fall prey to slander and gossip and realizes that, although Satan will often bless those relationships with the feeling of an intense bond, it is merely a trojan horse lying in wait to become their demise.
God is good. His words are true. His promises still stand. Let us live our lives and truly love one another as though we believe it.
For the record, Max’s hair really did look good that day.