The Lips of Flattery

1 Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men.
2 Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception.
3 May the Lord cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue
4 that says, “We will triumph with our tongues; we own our lips—who is our master?” (Psalm 12:1-4)

David is so upset here by the wickedness he sees around him that despairs that righteous people were disappearing from the earth. Maybe you have felt that way as you've read newspaper reports of the latest examples of man's inhumanity to man. But what has David so upset here are neighbors who lie to one another "with flattering lips and insincere hearts." Of all the sins evidenced in the world around him, it was insincere flattery that upsets David! He is so moved by what he see that he cries out to God, "May the Lord cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue..." (12:3). And God responds that He will do just that (Psalm 12:5).

Is flattery really such a bad thing? In the way in which we generally use the word, flattery isn't a bad at all. It certainly isn't bad for a husband to tell his wife that she looks nice or for a parent to praise his or her child for getting an "A" on the big spelling test. David isn't discouraging co-workers from commending one another on a job well done or one church member from recognizing the faithful ministry of another. Hey, it is even OK to tell the preacher that he did a good job on a sermon.

This flattery isn't really flattery, at least not in the sense in which David uses the word in Psalm 12. He is speaking of the untruthful and insincere compliments that some dole out in an attempt to deceive or manipulate another person to achieve their own end. If complimentary words are used to put someone off guard or to mislead them into thinking one thing when the person giving the compliment really thinks something else entirely-- that is the flattery David is striking against here.

Here is a rule of thumb that you can use to make sure that your compliments are not really flattery. If your compliment was given or your kind words were spoken for the benefit of the person receiving them, then that is not the kind of flattery that David warns us against. However, if your compliment or kind words were said because of a benefit that you receive or an ulterior motive that you have, then you are on dangerous ground. It is good and holy to uplift the heart of another with kind words. But God will cut off the lips of the flatterer!