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  • Writer's pictureAllison Wilcox

Life on the Margins: Empty Flattery

Woe to you when all speak well of you,

for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 2:3-5

Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends. ~ 2 Corinthians 10:17-18

Whoever flatters a neighbor

is spreading a net for the neighbor’s feet. ~ Proverbs 29:5

My companion laid hands on a friend

and violated a covenant with me

with speech smoother than butter,

but with a heart set on war;

with words that were softer than oil,

but in fact were drawn swords. ~ Psalm 55:20-21

Between flattery and admiration there often flows a river of contempt. ~ Minna Antrim

None are more taken in by flattery than the proud, who wish to be the first and are not. ~ Baruch Spinoza

I saw a meme recently about pastors. It was meant to be a humorous one, but there was something in it that sparked my brain to say "caution" or "danger."

It defined a pastor (and I think some might apply this to a deacon or any rostered minister) as someone who was a "skilled professional devil-stomping ninja, empowered by the Holy Spirit, often confused with a wizard, a mind reader or a therapist. See also awesome, exceptional."

Wow. Now, I believe that this was meant tongue-in-cheek and humorously. But even so, there is danger in these words. It is far too easy for those of us in ministry leadership to believe this about ourselves. Pastors, priests, deacons, bishops, popes, etc. are quite vulnerable to the kind of flattery that enlarges ego.

Well, I suppose that can be true for anyone, really. What do they say about not believing your own press?

When we start to believe flattery that is meant to stoke our egos, we begin to forget where true praise belongs.

Now, don't get me wrong. There can also be a danger to believing every bad thing people say about us as well. We can forget that we are created by God and as a beloved creation, we are deserving of love from God and others.

This doesn't mean that we shouldn't be appreciative for kind words said about us or to us. But always that should be tempered with caution. What is it those words mean? Is there something expected of us as a result of them? Are they words that stoke our pride rather than make us grateful?

Questions for thought: Have you ever received flattery that felt either unwarranted or empty? How did it make you feel? Have you ever had to remind yourself to "not believe your own press?"

Pray: Ask for God's insight into what your gifts and limitations are and for humility when you are praised.

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