Fun, Flattery & Frosted Flakes
we speak, not as to please people [to gain power and popularity], but to please God
1 Thessalonians 2:4
"Good morning! Brooooo, what up?!!! How was the trip? So good! Ohh you look great! Your shoes are so sick... great outfit too. You're so awesome! Oh my gosh, I saw your IG post last week, WOW... how crazy was that!!! You're such a leader, you're so creative, I love your feed..." on and on it goes.
Maybe it's me but, I've been witnessing some of what seems to be an aggressively subversive behavior toward encouraging others. Encouraging others is not wrong or something new but more so the progression of it as a cultural norm to over embellish or lavish a false pretense on someone that is (or potentially could be) harmful to their spiritual growth. Specifically, flattery. As it’s closely related to a form of selfishness and manipulation, flattery (false encouragement) has taken on this new dynamic with vigor and renewed purpose in today's common culture.
We can not afford to allow today's common culture to manipulate our character as believers—
Oddly, it's rampant in many churches today. Don’t get me wrong, there’s true encouragement that uplifts, provides foundation, direction and power based on reality and supported by scripture when there’s enduring relationship present (meaning you know that person personally). Unfortunately, there is a line that is crossed when this turns into making people feel good in the moment versus creating an attitude of substance, accountability, forgiveness and truth based on scripture.
Job 32:21-22 provides one of the great examples of this. In this passage Elihu is speaking to Job amongst the three “friends” that have been accusing him of hidden sin. Elihu makes a statement mid way through his introduction that address some of what he’s heard in the comments from the other three.
“21 I won’t play favorites or try to flatter anyone. 22 For if I tried flattery, my Creator would soon destroy me.”
However, I believe there’s a more simplistic meaning for today’s culture. How often do we find ourselves playing favoritism or flattering someone based on some ulterior motive? Yes, motive. Particularly, when you look at what Job’s friends were implying and in some cases outright suggesting. Overall, their motives were pretty clear.
In today’s culture this is primarily not the case. Whether at church or at work, we continually see and hear an overzealous exaggeration of encouragement. Almost to the point where its "cartoonish" and completely looses its authenticity. In time, those on the receiving end walk away. Leaving somewhat confused and, unfortunately, sometimes bitter. I believe, and pray, that most people can tell when someone is genuinely interested in their well being, or not and when they are placating them with fine words of false hope.
On the other hand, scripture does not make light of this topic by any means.
31“His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation. 32 With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him. 33 “Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. 34 When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them. 35 Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.
Daniel 11:31-35 (full chapter contains larger context)
17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
Romans 16:17, 18
1 Thessalonians 2
3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.
1 Thessalonians 2:3-6
As noted throughout Proverbs, and multiple other texts example the principle, our words have power. We can use these to glorify, exalt and praise God or man, to encourage and lift up (see Paul's example to Timothy, see 2 Tim. 1) or to demean and shame. The twist is that there is THIS grey area of addressing flattery vs. encouragement.
Paul uses beautiful alliteration, to "fan into flame" and to not neglect the calling of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, the encouragement takes a turn in verse 7. Paul shares with Timothy to not be timid about God's Spirit in us and because HIS Spirit gives us power, love and self discipline. Then within the guise of "encouragement" Paul tells Timothy to not be ashamed about the testimony (trials) of the Lord or Paul... but rather come and "suffer with me for the sake of the gospel by the power of God".
What kind of encouragement is this?
He's basically telling Timothy "it's not about you" (Ephesians 2:9) yet completely about Christ and what He has done FOR you through his life, death and powerful resurrection. Paul goes on to provide sound proof by way of historical accounts of Christ's return and first hand experience of his (Paul's) suffering and calling. This would serve as undeniable examples for Timothy to wrap his mind and heart into as a response of Paul's inspirations.
20 Words satisfy the mind as much as fruit does the stomach;
good talk is as gratifying as a good harvest.
21 Words kill, words give life;
they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.
False encouragement is rampant in today's culture. I have a growing concern against the many that are being led astray and prayer for each of us to become more authentic in uplifting our brothers and sisters.
There is an encouragement that leads someone toward the Lord and there's encouragement that reinforces the sinful self, the carnal mind, our attitudes and behaviors that tend to glorify selfish thinking and acts. When encouragement is driven out of false motives and people pleasing for popularity-sake and to appear relevant we lose sight of the true character of the Father. My brothers and sisters this should not be so.
A couple points to Consider:
Let us take the log out of our own eye and examine ourselves first. Here's a short list of considerations for how, why and when we are encouraging others.
- What are our internal motivations for encouragement?
- Am I trying to gain favor, attention or impress others in some way (aka posing)?
- Is our encouragement from a genuine place of love one for another?
- Is this a "surfacey" conversation and am I able (or willing) to take it deeper to build relationship to understand the need of the person I am about to encourage?
- Am I falsely building someone up because I want them to feel welcome?
- Am I (intentionally or unintentionally) manipulating through flattery or compliments?
- Planting seeds of demise (a parable of weeds) juxtaposed to what Jesus says. (Ref. Don't think of yourself more highly than you ought...)
Let's be disciples and examine scripture to see where and how our Savior Jesus Christ, the apostles and prophets and other biblical figures brought this idea to life. We can not afford to allow today's common culture to manipulate our character as believers. We must care enough about the person next to us to give them truth born out of authentic relationship rather than empty words like sugar coated frosted flakes with no substance.