Flattery is the counterfeit of true honor.
One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn was to know the difference between flattery and true honor. I fell hard and banged up my knees pretty bad with this one. Looking back, I can honestly say that one of the reasons I succumbed to it was because I’d hit a pocket in my life where I’d not dealt with some hidden insecurities. So when flattering words came along, I fell into their trap. Thankfully, God picked me up, dusted me off, healed up the scrapes and bruises and reminded me of who I am. And as He restored Me, I got to the point where I can now easily spot flattery and steer clear of it.
So what is flattery? How is it different from genuine honor or compliments? And why is it important to know the difference?
“He who speaks flattery to his friends, even the eyes of his children will fail.” Job 17:5
The Hebrew word for flattery is “cheleq” and it means smoothness or seductiveness. Defined, it is the act of giving excessive compliments, generally for the purpose of ingratiating oneself with the subject. In other words, it is an attempt to bring oneself into favor with someone by speaking smooth words to them, often under the guise of encouragement. It is the fleshly way of trying to obtain or buy favor or access into someone’s life and the currency that is used, are words.
Flattery is the counterfeit of true honor. The difference is the source it comes from and the motive behind it. We have to be able to discern which words are true and which are false. A wise person learns to recognize the difference and can separate flattery from sincere compliments or honor. Flattery may sound great on the surface, it may strengthen us in the moment, it may be very complimentary, but it is ultimately self-serving of the person giving it, and it is rooted in pride and manipulation. It is false, and therefore it is deceptive.
Honor, on the other hand, is given freely with no strings attached and it is one of the chief ways we give glory to God as we acknowledge the great work of God in other people. Honor is true, sincere and genuine. The seeds of flattery can only be planted in an insecure heart, but honor finds root in the heart of the humble.
“A man’s pride and sense of self-importance will bring him down, but he who has a humble spirit will obtain honor.” Proverbs 29:23
The difference between flattery and honor is in the benefactor, the person giving it. A great way to tell is to look at the fruit of their life. If someone has true honor, they will be a person of honor. They will conduct themselves in an honorable way and they will honor people across the board – not just people that are in key positions or in the spotlight or people whom they wish to be associated with. They won’t change depending on who they happen to be around or what room they’re in. Their words won’t be betrayed by their life. (Check out Psalm 55:20-21 in the MSG)
Jesus didn’t entrust Himself to those whom He could see were superficial or spoke well of Him on the surface but weren’t genuine in their hearts. There were lots of people that celebrated the miracles He did and spoke well of Him, but He could tell the difference. And because He was secure in who He was, He wasn’t moved by their words. (see John 2:24 as just one example) We must learn to lovingly do the same. Receive the good with a glad heart, but don’t become entangled by the false.
Proverbs 29:5 says, “A man who flatters his neighbors spreads a net for his feet.” Flattery is a trap. So how do we further guard our hearts against this? The first way is to be honest about any insecurities we have and let God heal those areas. Any fracture in our identity will leave us vulnerable otherwise. If we don’t know who we are, or if we are insecure, we can easily fall into this trap.
Secondly, we need to be honest about who we have surrounded ourselves with. Insecure people will typically gravitate towards those who flatter them. But wisdom warns us to choose wisely when it comes to those we surround ourselves with. As 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” A heart that yearns for truth however will say, “Remove falsehood far from me…” Proverbs 30:8
Relationships or associations that are built with flattery have to be sustained with flattery and in the end, they will crumble because flattery is made of wood, hay and stubble. But good words, gracious words, are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. (Prov 16:24) They add courage (en-courage) to our lives and point us to grow more in God.
Lastly, choose to be a person of honor. Commit to only giving words that are true, sincere and genuine. Give compliments when you feel prompted to, but don’t flatter. And when you see insecurity functioning in the life of another, love them enough to call out their God-given potential and remind them of who they are in Christ.
-Linda G Riddle