“A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will not escape…A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” (Proverbs 19:5; 26:28)
A good friend of mine was embarrassed by a Mother’s Day card she received from a relative expounding all her virtues as a mother. Since my friend is a remarkable, virtuous woman, the card (which I did not see) probably hit the mark. However, I often have trouble finding greeting cards that restrain themselves to the occasion, instead of effusive flattery. We all know we’re not supposed to lie, but many of us do not know that flattery is also sinful.
David wrote, “Save, O LORD, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak. May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts, those who say, ‘With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?’” (Psalm 12:1-4)
Have you ever wondered why lying is a sin? The short answer is: because God said so. God is perfectly truthful one-hundred percent of the time. He does not need to lie to anyone to have an advantage or to protect himself, which are two specific reasons why we lie. But Satan “was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.” (John 8:44-45) When we lie, for any reason, we are aligning ourselves with the devil; when we tell the truth, we are uniting our will with God’s. When we lie to ourselves, it’s impossible to be truthful with others; we’re being honest about what we believe, but what we believe is a lie. Lying can be subtle or blatant, but it’s always tricky and destabilizing, for the liar and those hearing the lies. “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”(Colossians 3:9-10)
Flattery is insincere praise given to benefit the flatterer; it is lying to someone for your own purposes. Edmond Burke was right when he said, “Flattery corrupts both the giver and the receiver.” “Flatter and insults raise the same question: What do you want?” (Mason Cooley) If you want to praise someone, do so; if you want to inflate them, flatter them. Those who are proud will inhale flattery and become even more puffed up. The humble, like my friend, are very uncomfortable with it, knowing that it comes with this danger of making us proud and self-important.
Today, you and I will have opportunities to speak truthfully or dishonestly, with appreciation or with flattery. I’m going to ask the Lord to “…remove far from me falsehood and lying” (Proverbs 30:8). What about you?