When Stephen Spielberg was a skinny teenager, he became the target of a bully. Fed up with the constant harassment which he later described as ‘hell on earth’, he decided to flatter the bully by telling him he looked like John Wayne and should consider playing the hero in an eight-millimetre movie about World War ll he was thinking of making. Once Spielberg outfitted him and cast him as a heroic squad leader, the bully became putty in his hands. However, unlike Spielberg’s bully, emotionally healthy people only appreciate sincere praise they have earned. And they can detect a compliment given with an ulterior motive or to gain their favour.
The paradox is that most people tend to look with disfavour on someone who compliments them, for no apparent reason. Elihu—the patriarch Job’s friend—said, ‘I will show partiality to no-one, nor will I flatter any man; for if I were skilled in flattery, my Maker would soon take me away.’ (Job 32:21–22 NIV) And the psalmist tells us, ‘The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips.’ (Psalm 12:3 KJV) So here’s the question: is flattery worth being cut off from the blessing of God?
When you engage in or become susceptible to flattery, it’s clear evidence of your lack of faith in God’s ability to give you favour with other people. Favour is a fringe benefit of being in right standing with Him. ‘Surely… Lord, You bless the righteous; You surround them with Your favour as with a shield.’ (Psalm 5:12 NIV)