In the realm of human relationships there are forms of communication that are less honest than others. There are subtle ways to curry favour and influence people without raising alarm or suspicion. One such method is flattery. It often comes in the form of personal compliments but can also be public praise, the granting of special privileges, more intimate levels of connection with a privileged circle of people, or prestigious appointments. All these things are tactics deployed in order to communicate to someone how special they are, how important they are how good they are.
Someone I once knew, lets call him Steve, was thinking of leaving a church where covering theology is taught. Steve was an ardent critic of the theology and stood strongly against it. The pastor called him in to his office and started praising him for his leadership abilities and offered him the leadership of a prominent ministry in the church. Steve is gifted but at the time had some serious problems in his life that would have made most church leaders pause before putting him in any leadership position. Unfortunately Steve took his words at face value. One year later the man was stomped on by the church.
The trouble with accepting indulging ourselves in flattery we receive comes in the end when reality hits us right in the face. Steve found out later exactly what the leadership thought of him and it wasn’t pretty. Why the pastor didn’t just let him leave the church in the beginning is something of mystery. Was he really trying to win him back to the fold? Was the pastor so co-dependent that he couldn’t stand the thought of another person leaving his church? I don’t really know.
The status that flattery provides is a very shaky platform because most flattery is inherently dishonest. There is no telling when your true value and status will be revealed. Will you be cast away as the flatterer finds a new person to invest in? Will you be cast down when your inflated position is now hindering the agenda of the flatterer?
Although the topic of flattery isn’t huge in the New Testament it is mentioned a couple of times.
Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned. Avoid them! For these are the kind who do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By their smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of the naive.
(Rom 16:17-18 NET.)
For we never appeared with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed — God is our witness –nor to seek glory from people, either from you or from others,
(1Th 2:5-6 NET.)
Notice how Paul mentions flattery along with greed and the desire for glory in 1Thessalonians. The use of flattery is always with an aim to receive something in return. The transaction works like this. I flattery you and you in turn publicly and personally praise me or give me something I want. Flattery is like a the free gift that comes with a hidden contract. It is almost like a cell phone. I’ll give you a free phone and some accessories you just need to pay me back over our 3 year contract. If you try to get out too soon I’ll nail you with contract termination fees.
In church situations the transaction looks like this: I give you a little bit of glory and you give me some glory. I’ll praise you and lift you up and you do the same for me. In many churches where some kind of false teaching is prevalent you’ll see the pastoring lavish praise on the elite in the church and the elite returning the favour.