John 13:34-35 ESV
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Ephesians 4:32 ESV
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
Proverbs 29:5 ESV
A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.
Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart; when he speaks graciously, believe him not, for there are seven abominations in his heart; though his hatred be covered with deception, his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly. Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling. A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.
Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.
Chapter 2 of Dale Carnegie’s widely successful book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” discusses “the craving to be appreciated” and quotes John Dewey, an American philosopher who said that the deepest urge in human nature is “the desire to be important”. Now, I’m not encouraging you to follow the ways of the world or to put your trust in the philosophies of men — but I can tell you that they see something that is true about the human nature — men and women alike who have not found and fully trusted in their identity in Christ crave to have their self-esteem stroked and inflated to Christ-like statuses. That book goes on to say of appreciation that “showing sincere appreciation can change a person’s life” and I can appreciate this as truth — and continues to say in contrast about flattery:
“Of course flattery seldom works with discerning people. It is shallow, selfish and insincere. It ought to fail and it usually does. True, some people are so hungry, so thirsty, for appreciation that they will swallow anything, just as a starving man will eat grass and fishworms.”
And those looking to be sincere and effective need to know the difference between the two, so they aren’t so much attempting to manipulate others with flattery, as they are to encourage those who are in need of encouragement. As Carnegie points out in his book, “The difference between appreciation and flattery? That is simple. One is sincere and the other insincere. One comes from the heart out; the other from the teeth out. One is unselfish; the other selfish. One is universally admired; the other universally condemned.” Yes, the two have very different application and intent.
A good leader (and by virtue a good servant first) will see a proud and rebellious man and bring to him or her the correct level of correction to deflate the ego and bring him back down to a reasonable, useful, and practical level — and will also see the one hurt, afraid, unsure and bring to him or her the appreciation that is love wrapped up so beautifully for them to open from their Good Good Father. But those tools weilded without thought or discernment are even more dangerous than taking food away from the starving or giving an abundance of food to the obese diabetic.
James 1:5 ESV
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
James 3:17 ESV
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
The Heart of Praise
And if discerning people can tell the difference between appreciation and flattery, how much moreso can God? I wonder how often we have gone to God with empty words of praise, saying “Thank you God” right through our teeth, because we have something lined up to ask of Him immediately following that false worship, not because it true worship coming from a place of gratitude? If our praise has a selfish purpose and goal, then it is not praise, but it is flattery — this is the very thing that is a stench in the nostrils of many discerning people about things like “prosperity gospel” where people are taught to “do this so that God has to do that”. Praise is sincere, flattery is insincere. One pleases God, while the other is sin.
Lord, give us wisdom to lead and to serve, and give us wisdom to submit ourselves to those in authority as long as it does not lead us into temptation or rebellion. Help us to be sincere in all we do. Lord, teach us to find all of our worth and value in who you have declared us to be so that we might not be swayed by the flattery of manipulators — and so that we might not be hindered from accepting encouragement from others. Yes, we know that anything good in us is Christ — but you have made us a new creation, and we do not find our identity in the old, but in the new — so let anything that is honest appreciation bring glory and honor to YOUR NAME, Oh Lord, and let any flatteries fall dead at our ears and never feed the parts of self that breed pride. Lord, give us discernment and a hunger for you above all else. Teach us to seek first the Kingdom of God and YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS and to not seek to build up our own kingdoms or self-righteousness. Lead us to encourage and appreciate others from our hearts and our actions first, so that any words are clearly demonstrated as love flowing from you. Lead us, oh Lord. Amen.