Speaking of the apostolic ministry, Paul wrote the Thessalonians: “For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness” (1 Thess. 2:5).
Flattery is one of the great sins of Christians, and it is often a thinly veiled cloak for covetousness. Flattery comes in various forms, but often it is either praise for that which should not be praised (e.g. complimenting an immodest dress) or it avoids godly confrontation of sin (refusing to speak up when gossip or slander is being shared, often as a prayer request or in the name of pastoral concerns), which is just suffering fools gladly, and often, for the sake of personal gain.
In Psalm 12, flattery is described as having a double heart, and flattering lips are described as proud. Flattery is a form of lying and deception. Pretending friendship, respect, kindness, but in its heart or in secret it is aiming for something other than the person’s good and Christian fellowship. It wants to get something. It covets friendship, respect, admiration, promotion, money, fame, speaking engagements, book deals, committee positions, whatever. In Prov. 20, a flatterer is also a talebearer, someone with loose lips, revealing secrets, apparently in an attempt to win friends and influence people.
A gathering of Christians and Christian ministers can be a particularly easy place for the sin of flattery to proliferate. Everyone hopes to be encouraged. There are many good connections and friendships to make and renew. And we pray for unity and true fellowship – all good and glorious things. And of course Christian love is kind and is not rude. But in the name of kindness we must not lie. In the name of manners, do not be duplicitous. Faithful are the wounds of a friend. Open rebuke is better than secret love. Rebuke a wise man and he will love you.
We represent many congregations and families, and as representatives, we ought to think of our interaction here as a model for how we want our people to interact in their families and in our congregations. We should talk the way we want them to talk. Yes, full of joy and kindness and fellowship, but also on guard against all flattery and envy. Psalm 12 says, the Lord will cut off all flattering lips, and that would be the end of any kind of fruitful ministry. And God is witness.