Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Flattery & Compliments
Pastor Steve Schell
Acts 12:18-24
Every human being needs encouragement. Many of us are our own worst critic, so a sincere compliment or word of thanks can be like a “cup of cold water” to someone who’s thirsty. Of course, there are people who are proud, but in most cases, I think, much of that is bluff, or if nothing else the passing of time tends to humble even the best of us. Discouragement, self-hatred and shame become the enemies we wrestle with. So when someone speaks positively to us it can have a powerful impact…so powerful that if wielded by the wrong person such words can be used to control us. They can lure us into a strange state of self-deception in which we actually begin to believe what we’re being told. And if someone doesn’t rescue us by confronting us with the truth, it can ruin our personality and take away our effectiveness in serving God.

Luke’s account of Herod’s strange death allows us to watch a man fall prey to flattery. For years this man had pretended to be a devout Jew, yet when a crowd of people tell him he is a god, for a few seconds he believes it, for a few seconds he basks in their worship and in that few seconds God’s patience runs out. An angel strikes him and exposes the lie. Admittedly, Herod Agrippa’s death is bizarre, but the forces at play in that amphitheater aren’t. They are all too familiar. We’ve all felt the temptation to believe too much about ourselves, to receive flattery, because we are all in need of encouragement. How we speak to one another is of great concern to God. The Bible has much to say about this topic. So let’s learn from Herod’s example what to avoid, and then let’s learn how God wants us to compliment and honor one another.

What happened?
• DBS (Fri, Sat)
• Josephus (Antiquities xix.8.2)

Flattery is a form of manipulation by which the flatterer perceives a person’s insecurity or pride, and plays on that vulnerability. They tell the person what they think that person longs to hear.
“A man who flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his steps.” (Pr 29:5)
It’s a way of trapping someone and bringing them under control. It’s like a drug. A person becomes addicted, so when the flatterer withdraws it, you seek to regain their favor. Then, they only give it to you as a reward for “good” behavior. But another proverb says this:
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” (Pr 27:6)

There are people who consider any sort of correction or negative observation about themselves to be a betrayal. They are so insecure they won’t tolerate anything but positive affirmation. Yet, thankfully, God provides friends who love us enough to tell us the truth even if it means risking losing our friendship. They “wound” us to protect us.

Spreading a net
The delegates from Phoenicia probably hated Herod. The whole region was experiencing a terrible famine (Ac 11:28) and in the midst of it Herod had stopped exporting grain to their cities because he bitterly resented something they had done. But they had studied him and spotted a weakness in this vain king. He loved the way the Romans treated their emperors. He had actually grown up with Caligula in Rome, and Claudius was a dear friend. So they began shouting out the sorts of things Romans said to their “divine” caesars, and he loved it. He had longed to be treated like a caesar, and in spite of his claim to be an observant Pharisaical Jew, he let them call him a god.

Their flattery wasn’t sincere. They didn’t think he was a god, they thought he was a vulnerable man. So they said what they needed to say to win back his favor, to get the grain imports flowing again to their cities. How should he have responded? Let’s watch another Pharisee respond when people tried to worship him (Ac 14:8-18).

Escaping flattery
1) Don’t use it: We are called to “speak the truth in love.” (Eph 4:15)
2) Don’t receive it: When you taste the poison, spit it out. Recognize what is happening. The Holy Spirit is faithful to alert us, and then simply speak the truth yourself. Don’t leave the lie hanging in the air. Firmly, kindly, turn everyone’s attention to God acknowledging Him as the true source of whatever good thing is being attributed to you. Let’s watch Jesus do this. When a person genuinely saw the truth of who He is, He actually received their worship (Jn 9:35-41), but when it was flattery, He quickly turned the attention to the Father.

“A ruler questioned Him saying, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.’” (Lk 18:18, 19)

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. And they sent their disciples to Him…saying, ‘Teacher, we know you are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for you are not partial to any. Tell us, then, what do you think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar or not?’ But Jesus perceived their malice and said, ‘Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?’” (Mt 22:15-18)

Jesus carefully redirected the glory for His miracles and words back to the Father, saying things like this:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing, for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (Jn 5:19)

“I can do nothing on My own initiative…” (Jn 5:30)

Godly compliments
A godly compliment is an honest expression of admiration or gratitude. We observe something good in a person and then want to tell them about it in order to encourage them to do it again. It doesn’t come from a desire to control a person, but to acknowledge that he or she has been a vehicle through whom God helped us. A godly compliment doesn’t confuse the source with the vessel, it doesn’t turn a person into a “god.” It keeps the glory properly directed to God, but affirms the human through whom His blessing has come.

Flattery is a great danger, but so is the absence of sincere compliments. In fact, it may be a lack of compliments from the right people at the right time that leaves a person vulnerable to flattery. Most people tend to be self-critical and unaware of how God actually uses them, so when someone compliments them, telling them how they saw God in them, using them powerfully, it helps that person recognize God’s calling on their life. And it helps counteract the negative thoughts the enemy brings to discourage them and get them to stop. Here are some guidelines for giving and receiving compliments:

1) Actively watch for God at work in others.
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Php 4:8)
When you see something good in someone, especially if you see God’s anointing at work, tell them.

2) Actively listen when people tell you how God used you to minister to them.
God divinely assists us in areas where He has called us to serve Him, so we need to watch for those areas where He comes to help us. Listen when people come up, on their own initiative, and thank you sincerely saying how much you have helped them, whether you like it or not.

“I will give thinks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” (Ps 139:14)
David wasn’t thanking God for his outward appearance. He was thanking God for giving him the gifts to fulfill his calling.

Godly compliments are wonderful things. We need to give them freely and listen to them carefully. When someone compliments us, the proper way to respond is to thank them, and then, in one way or another, acknowledge that God is the true source of their blessing. You’re just grateful He used you.

Our response
Let’s let God’s Word prepare us for the Lord’s Table. If we listen carefully, the Holy Spirit will show us where we may have listened to flattery, or from whom we may have withheld compliments. He will invite us to repent and assure us of God’s mercy, particularly as we hold the bread and cup. And then, if we keep listening, He’ll show us if there are steps we are to take to heal past damage, and how we are to walk obediently in the future. Even as He brings conviction, He pours out on us mercy and hope, for “Faithful are the wounds of a friend…”

1) Have you ever found yourself believing flattery? How did you feel when you woke up to the truth?
2) What is the best compliment you have ever received? Why was that compliment so important?


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