Flattery or Encouragement

“Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver.”Edmund Burke (1729-1797), Irish philosopher, statesman. From “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” (1790).

I have often felt uneasy when receiving compliments even when I was young. Being raised in a church atmosphere from the time I was born, I was taught to believe that “flattery is vain,” and sometimes  it has been hard to distinguish between a genuine compliment or encouragement and flattery.

GotQuestions.org defines flattery as follows:

Flattery can be defined as “the act of giving excessive compliments, generally for the purpose of ingratiating oneself with the subject.” The difference between flattery and a compliment is the benefactor. Flattery has a selfish motivation. The flatterer hopes to gain approval or advantage over the one being flattered. Compliments, however, are sincere acknowledgments of admiration spoken to praise someone else. A compliment is intended to benefit the recipient, whereas flattery benefits the flatterer.

The Bible has a lot to say about flattery. The book of Proverbs warns of the “flattering lips of an adulteress” (Proverbs 6:247:521). Flattery is often the first step to an adulterous affair. A wise person learns to recognize it and separate flattery from sincere compliments. Flattery is often coupled with lying, as a flatterer is not concerned with whether or not he or she is being truthful (Psalm 5:9Romans 16:18).

Unfortunately, flattery can also be used within Christian circles under the guise of encouragement. Since biblical times, some false teachers have used flattery to lead people astray and to benefit themselves. In 1 Thessalonians 2:5, Paul reminds the church that the apostles had never resorted to flattery in spreading the gospel: “You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed.” Scripture warns of false teachers who use flattery to introduce heresies intended to deceive Christ’s followers and line their own pockets (2 Peter 2:3Romans 16:18Daniel 11:32).

Some teachers use flattery as a means to increase personal followings. Leaders desiring to attract a crowd sometimes water down their message until the gospel is reduced to little more than a God-tainted self-improvement program. They pepper their talks with cheerful verses and illustrations designed to make their hearers feel better about themselves (and about the teachers). There is much talk about discovering one’s potential and developing personal greatness. This is nothing more than flattery intended to create popularity for the speaker and his or her message. It sells books and media time, but it often bears little resemblance to the message Jesus proclaimed.

Jesus’ message did nothing to inflate the self-importance of His hearers. Rather, He stressed the need to die to ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him (Luke 9:23). He said that those who desire to keep their lives now will lose them (Luke 17:33) and that, if we love anyone more than Him, we are not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:37–39). These teachings are the opposite of flattery. Jesus never shied away from stating what someone needed to hear (Mark 10:21–22Luke 9:61–62) because His motivation was always to do His Father’s will (John 8:29). Jesus spoke the truth whether it was popular or not. He refused to compromise the Word, even when great multitudes left Him (John 6:66). He spoke in love, but He never resorted to flattery for personal gain. As His followers, we should be careful to do likewise. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on February 12, 2018, titled, Three Important Differences Between Flattery and Encouragement,” by Hannah Ploegstra, a contributor on GoThereFor.com, she writes:

There’s a fine line between words that flatter and words that encourage—so fine, in fact, that the words used might be identical. “You are so beautiful” could qualify as rank fawning; it could also, given the right circumstances, tone of voice, and context of relationship, serve as a genuine statement of appreciation, gently spurring a weary or discouraged person back into the game. It’s important to know the difference, because we are prone to getting it wrong.

Some people avoid encouraging others verbally, in fear of sounding like they’re flatterers. Other people flatter, thinking they’re encouraging, then wonder why people around them are proud and self-centered when it comes time to return the favor. Those in need of encouragement resort to soliciting mere compliments, but it doesn’t seem to help their discouragement. And when sincere encouragement does come our way, many of us get embarrassed and quickly push it off as if it’s flattery, not letting it sink in, fearing it will make us proud.

Here are some ways to tell the difference next time a compliment is paid.

1. Flattery is selfishly motivated; encouragement is humble.

By definition, flattering comes with an ulterior motive. Flattery, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, is “the act of praising someone, often in a way that is not sincere, because you want something from them”. Someone who flatters wants to make a purchase using counterfeit cash in the form of sweet talk (Rom 16:18). Sometimes compliment-paying customers just want reciprocal admiration; other times the stakes are higher and they’re after money, sex, power, or any number of other self-serving commodities. But whatever the case, we learn to use the currency of flattery early on as little children. Flattery is the oldest trick in the book, an unabashed misuse of power (Prov 29:5).

On the other hand, encouragement is motivated by humility. My own personal working definition for humility (a notoriously difficult trait to define) is “the earnest desire and intentional effort to make another person strong”. Real humility is so unselfconscious that it finds no reason to blush or hold back when saying something nice about another person to their face. Sometimes the reason we can’t speak encouragement to another person is that, deep down inside, we are jealous or fearful of puffing them up. But encouragement, which is humble, desires to build strength—and that’s altogether the opposite of puff. Encouragement, rather than misusing power, gives it away for the sake of empowering someone else (1 Thess 2:5-8).

2. Flattery is insincere; encouragement is truthful.

While little kids can be Jedi-masters at flattery, they can also be refreshingly incapable of it (think The Emperor’s New Clothes). Job’s young friend Elihu, after waiting and waiting for one of the older guys to come up with a good explanation for Job’s suffering, finally exploded with the encouragement Job needed: God’s in control and he’s right (Job 37:23).

Elihu was incapable of flattery:

“I will not show partiality to any man or use flattery toward any person. For I do not know how to flatter, else my Maker would soon take me away.” (Job 32:21-22).

He didn’t pat Job on the back with vain compliments (“You’re a good guy, Job”) or make empty promises (“Everything’s going to work out”). He simply cut through all the lame philosophizing and made the truth plain and clear. And then (humbly) he stepped back to let God prove it himself.

When someone you love is suffering, don’t butter them up with empty praise and man-centered pride; instead soothe them by pouring on the oil of truth (Ps 141:5Prov 28:23). It may not hit them like a Hallmark card. But it will give them courage.

3. Flattery builds pride; encouragement builds strength.

Often flattery begins with the phrase “You are so…”. Granted, that doesn’t automatically define a statement as flattery, but when what follows is a thick syrup of meaningless praise, it’s a pretty good indicator. Since the flatterer is driven by self-serving motives, it makes sense they would appeal to selfishness in their attempts to get what they want. Pride is flattery’s middle name.

But a proper biblical alternative to flattery is not to refrain from saying anything affirming. God’s people aren’t to be stingy about their admiration, respect, appreciation, and gratitude for one another. Instead, we are to be lavishly encouraging. And biblical encouragement doesn’t begin and end with mere doctrinal abstractions about the attributes of God.

We need to learn to free our tongues to be directly personal at times when someone is losing heart in the work God has given them to do. Whether that work is professional ministry or parenting, persevering in faith or resisting the temptations of a besetting sin, often in addition to needing the gospel truth of the Bible weary souls need to hear something even more firsthand. They need someone who shares life with them—not a book or a blog or a podcast, but a person—to tell them something real and true and historically undeniable about God’s work in their own lives.

Paul was never pinched in giving concrete praise. He noticed the Thessalonians’ “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope” and commended them for being “an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia”, even claiming that their excellent example had reached the ears of virtually all the churches (1 Thess 1:378). Would the knowledge of this fame make their heads big? Paul took the risk, knowing that a much greater risk was that their courage would shrink if he didn’t. Paul knew his praise wouldn’t puff them up; he knew it was substantive and would fill them with strength to continue.

Over in Corinth he was doing the same, perhaps even more affectionately: “I have great pride in you” (2 Cor 7:4). He goes into detail, first speaking objective truth (2 Cor 7:10) and then describing fully how he sees that truth playing out in living color among them (2 Cor 7:11). He finds rich adjectives to describe them: they are earnest, innocent, refreshing, and obedient, and Paul has no reservations in boasting about them to others, because he knows that the good things he sees in them are the very work of God (2 Cor 7:14, 16).

Flattery puffs up, but encouragement pumps up. The difference between them has everything to do with the quality of what’s inside both the speaker and the listener. Flattery is full of nothing; encouragement is full of muscle. Encouragement is good fat that soothes and strengthens; flattery is bad fat that clogs the spiritual arteries.

In the final analysis, flattery is something God forbids while encouragement is something he commands—a skill we can all refine and increase for the sake of finishing the race together. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on May 7, 2020, titled, Flattery is Not Encouragement,” by James Williams, Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church Atlanta (TX), he writes:

Lurking in the shadow of every good gift from God is a twisted perversion that seeks to imitate and destroy. These destructive copycats disguise themselves as good but are actually out to cause chaos and confusion. God creates healthy friendships as a gift, but sin turns them into something codependent or abusive. God blesses a person with a strong work ethic, but sin twists it so he becomes a work-a-holic. Patience can morph into passivity, a desire for kindness can lead to avoiding tough conversations, and a passion for unity can cause us to downplay truth. For every good gift of God, sin has an unhealthy perversion that leads to spoiled fruit.

One good gift of God is receiving an encouraging word. Over and over in Scripture God reminds us of the power of such words. We are told that “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Prov. 25:11). An anxious heart can weigh a person down, but “a good word makes him glad” (Prov. 12:25). Many of us grew up singing “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” but Scripture says otherwise: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Prov. 18:21).

However, like other good gifts from God, even the gift of encouragement has a sinister imitation: flattery. While at times looking very similar to encouragement, Scripture warns that flattery leads to selfish and destructive ends.

The Difference Between Encouragement and Flattery

It can be difficult to discern between encouraging words and flattery since the exact same phrase can be used for either. For example, two different people may say, “You are very gifted,” and yet one may be encouraging you while the other may be flattering you.

It’s difficult to distinguish between the two because it’s often a matter of motive. Flattery is defined in Webster’s dictionary as “praise excessively especially from motives of self-interest.” Sometimes flattery is detectable because it is “excessive,” but other times it’s simply the motive of the speaker that differentiates it from encouragement.

While Scripture doesn’t provide an explicit definition of flattery, it does confirm the definition provided above. It tells us that flattery is deceptive (Psalm 12:2; Romans 16:18) and leads to ruin (Proverbs 26:24-28). Encouragement, on the other hand, builds up (1 Thess. 5:11, Ephesians 4:29). Encouragement stirs up love (Hebrews 10:24), but flattery sets a trap for the hearer (Proverbs 29:5). Flattery doesn’t rebuke (Proverbs 28:23) even when it would be beneficial to the hearer because doing so doesn’t accomplish the desired ends of the speaker. The flatterer’s concern isn’t for good of the hearer but rather his own interest.

The encourager speaks words of truth to build you up and spur you on. The flatterer will tell you what you want to hear so you’ll do what he wants you to do. Scripture warns that his words will be convincing: “His speech was smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords” (Psalm 55:21). Someone’s words may appear encouraging even when there’s something darker hidden in their heart: “Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks deceitfully; with his mouth each speaks peace to his neighbor, but in his heart he plans an ambush for him” (Jer. 9:8).

Be Discerning

Whenever possible, we should assume the best when we receive kind words. However, that doesn’t mean we avoid being discerning. Jesus tells us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). Do you only receive “encouragement” from a certain person when they need something from you? Beware. Let us not be deceived and fall into the trap of the flatterer.

We need to discern our own motives as well. Do I “encourage” others to gain some advantage? Do I encourage those who cannot do anything for me? Perhaps asking ourselves such questions will reveal unhealthy motives in our own heart. By the power of the Spirit, may we strive to pluck such impurities hidden within ourselves. May we not taint God’s good gift of encouragement or use it for our own ends. Let us be known as people of encouragement, not as flatterers seeking power or prestige. May we continually be “encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25). (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from Paul in Ephesians 4:32Be kind to one another, tenderhearted…

Forgiving one another . . .

As God in Christ . . .

Forgave you . . . .

YouTube Video: “I Will Fear No More” by The Afters:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Twelve years ago I lost a job because I was being electronically tracked on not only my work computer (which is the employer’s right to do) but also on my own personal PC and personal laptop, my personal smartphone, my personal email accounts, and everything else I did on my personal electronic equipment including my landline. And I found cyber-evidence of that proof and mailed it to my lawyer by certified mail, but I did not hear back from her.

The information I sent to my lawyer included an IP address (which is the equivalent of an electronic fingerprint) to a computer located at my former employer’s business that had been tracking me electronically while I worked there. I found that IP address on my personal laptop and PC three months after I lost that job that dated back to the time I was working there. And my lawyer could have had it investigated since an IP address is just like a fingerprint.

What brought this back to my mind today was that I came across an article this morning that was published on March 30, 2021 and modified on April 13, 2021 titled, Data Bit x Data Bit, We’re Building Our Own Concentration Camps,” by Jacqueline, RN and stay-at-home Mom, on her blog, Deep Roots at Home.” She opens her blog post quoting parts of an article published March 16, 2021, on The Rutherford Institute titled, Digital Trails: How the FBI in Identifying, Tracking, and Rounding Up Dissidents,” by John W. Whitehead, Constitutional attorney, author, founder and president of The Rutherford Institute, and Nisha Whitehead, Executive Director of The Rutherford Institute. The following quote is from the opening sentences of Jacqueline’s blog post taken from the Rutherford article:

With every new smart piece of smart technology we acquire, every new app we download, every new photo or post we share online, we are making it that much easier for the government and its corporate partners to identify, track and eventually find us.

Saint or sinner, it doesn’t matter because we’re all being swept up into a massive digital data dragnet that does not distinguish between those who are innocent of wrongdoing, suspects, or criminals.

Forget about being innocent until proven guilty.

In a suspect society such as ours, the burden of proof has been flipped: now, you start off guilty and have to prove your innocence. [Emphasis mine.]

Chances are, as The Washington Post reports, you have already been assigned a color-coded threat score—green, yellow or red—so police are forewarned about your potential inclination to be a troublemaker depending on whether you’ve had a career in the military, posted a comment perceived as threatening on Facebook, suffer from a particular medical condition, or know someone who knows someone who might have committed a crime…. (Quote source here and here.)

John W. Whitehead wrote a news analysis on Truthout.org titled, Life in the Electronic Concentration Camp: The Many Ways That You’re Being Tracked and Controlled,” dated January 10, 2014–note that it was published seven years ago. In that analysis he wrote:

“[A security camera] doesn’t respond to complaint, threats, or insults. Instead, it just watches you in a forbidding manner. Today, the surveillance state is so deeply enmeshed in our data devices that we don’t even scream back because technology companies have convinced us that we need to be connected to them to be happy.”Pratap Chatterjee, journalist

What is most striking about the American police state is not the mega-corporations running amok in the halls of Congress, the militarized police crashing through doors and shooting unarmed citizens, or the invasive surveillance regime which has come to dominate every aspect of our lives. No, what has been most disconcerting about the emergence of the American police state is the extent to which the citizenry appears content to passively wait for someone else to solve our nation’s many problems. Unless Americans are prepared to engage in militant nonviolent resistance in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, true reform, if any, will be a long time coming.

Yet as I detail in my book,A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State,” if we don’t act soon, all that is in need of fixing will soon be unfixable, especially as it relates to the police state that becomes more entrenched with each passing day. By “police state,” I am referring to more than a society overrun by the long arm of the police. I am referring to a society in which all aspects of a person’s life are policed by government agents, one in which all citizens are suspects, their activities monitored and regulated, their movements tracked, their communications spied upon, and their lives, liberties and pursuit of happiness dependent on the government’s say-so.

That said, how can anyone be expected to “fix” what is broken unless they first understand the lengths to which the government with its arsenal of technology is going in order to accustom the American people to life in a police state and why being spied on by government agents, both state and federal, as well as their partners in the corporate world, is a problem, even if you’ve done nothing wrong.

Indeed, as the trend towards overcriminalization makes clear, it won’t be long before the average law-abiding American is breaking laws she didn’t even know existed during the course of a routine day. The point, of course, is that while you may be oblivious to your so-called law-breaking—whether it was collecting rainwater to water your lawn, lighting a cigarette in the privacy of your home, or gathering with friends in your backyard for a Sunday evening Bible study—the government will know each and every transgression and use them against you.

As noted by the Brookings Institution, “For the first time ever, it will become technologically and financially feasible for authoritarian governments to record nearly everything that is said or done within their borders—every phone conversation, electronic message, social media interaction, the movements of nearly every person and vehicle, and video from every street corner.”

As the following will show, the electronic concentration camp, as I have dubbed the surveillance state, is perhaps the most insidious of the police state’s many tentacles, impacting almost every aspect of our lives and making it that much easier for the government to encroach on our most vital freedoms, ranging from free speech, assembly and the press to due process, privacy, and property, by eavesdropping on our communications, tracking our movements and spying on our activities.

Tracking you based on your consumer activities: Fusion centers, federal-state law enforcement partnerships which attempt to aggregate a variety of data on so-called “suspicious persons,” have actually collected reports on people buying pallets of bottled water, photographing government buildings, and applying for a pilot’s license as “suspicious activity.” Retailers are getting in on the surveillance game as well. Large corporations such as Target have been tracking and assessing the behavior of their customers, particularly their purchasing patterns, for years. In 2015, mega-food corporations will be rolling out high-tech shelving outfitted with cameras in order to track the shopping behavior of customers, as well as information like the age and sex of shoppers.

Tracking you based on your public activities: Sensing a booming industry, private corporations are jumping on the surveillance state bandwagon, negotiating lucrative contracts with police agencies throughout the country in order to create a web of surveillance that encompasses all major urban centers. Companies such as “NICE” and “Bright Planet” are selling equipment and services to police departments with the promise of monitoring large groups of people seamlessly, as in the case of protests and rallies. They are also engaging in extensive online surveillance, looking for any hints of “large public events, social unrest, gang communications, and criminally predicated individuals.” Defense contractors are attempting to take a bite out of this lucrative market as well. Raytheon has recently developed a software package known as “Riot,” which promises to predict the future behavior of an individual based upon his social media posts.

Tracking you based on your phone activities: The CIA has been paying AT&T over $10 million per year in order to gain access to data on Americans’ phone calls abroad. This is in addition to telecommunications employees being embedded in government facilities to assist with quick analysis of call records and respond to government requests for customer location data. They receive hundreds of thousands of such requests per year.

Tracking you based on your computer activities: Federal agents now employ a number of hacking methods in order to gain access to your computer activities and “see” whatever you’re seeing on your monitor. Malicious hacking software can be installed via a number of inconspicuous methods, including USB, or via an email attachment or software update. It can then be used to search through files stored on a hard drive, log keystrokes, or take real time screenshots of whatever a person is looking at on their computer, whether personal files, web pages, or email messages. It can also be used to remotely activate cameras and microphones, offering another means of glimpsing into the personal business of a target.

Tracking you based on your behavior: Thanks to a torrent of federal grants, police departments across the country are able to fund outrageous new surveillance systems that turn the most basic human behaviors into suspicious situations to be studied and analyzed. Police in California, Massachusetts, and New York have all received federal funds to create systems like that operated by the New York Police Department, which “links 3,000 surveillance cameras with license plate readers, radiation sensors, criminal databases and terror suspect lists.” Police all across the country are also now engaging in big data mining operations, often with the help of private companies, in order to develop city-wide nets of surveillance. For example, police in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, now work with IBM in order to “integrate new data and analytics tools into everyday crime fighting.”

Tracking you based on your face: Facial recognition software promises to create a society in which every individual who steps out into public is tracked and recorded as they go about their daily business. The goal is for government agents to be able to scan a crowd of people and instantaneously identify all of the individuals present. Facial recognition programs are being rolled out in states all across the country (only twelve states do not use facial recognition software). For example, in Ohio, 30,000 police officers and court employees are able to access the driver’s license images of people in the state, without any form of oversight to track their views or why they’re accessing them. The FBI is developing a $1 billion program, Next Generation Identification, which involves creating a massive database of mugshots for police all across the country.

Tracking you based on your car: License plate readers, which can identify the owner of any car that comes within its sights, are growing in popularity among police agencies. Affixed to overpasses or cop cars, these devices give police a clear idea of where your car was at a specific date and time, whether the doctor’s office, the bar, the mosque, or at a political rally. State police in Virginia used license plate readers to record every single vehicle that arrived to President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 from Virginia. They also recorded the license plates of attendees at rallies prior to the election, including for then-candidate Obama and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. This data collection came at the request of the U.S. Secret Service. Incredibly, Virginia police stored data on some 8 million license plates, some for up to three years.

Tracking you based on your social media activities: The obsession with social media as a form of surveillance will have some frightening consequences in coming years. As Helen A.S. Popkin, writing for NBC News, has astutely observed, “We may very well face a future where algorithms bust people en masse for referencing illegal ‘Game of Thrones’ downloads, or run sweeps for insurance companies seeking non-smokers confessing to lapsing back into the habit. Instead of that one guy getting busted for a lame joke misinterpreted as a real threat, the new software has the potential to roll, Terminator-style, targeting every social media user with a shameful confession or questionable sense of humor.”

Tracking you based on your metadata: Metadata is an incredibly invasive set of data to have on a person. Indeed, with access to one’s metadata, one can “identify people’s friends and associates, detect where they were at a certain time, acquire clues to religious or political affiliations, and pick up sensitive information like regular calls to a psychiatrist’s office, late-night messages to an extramarital partner or exchanges with a fellow plotter.” The National Security Agency (NSA) has been particularly interested in metadata, compiling information on Americans’ social connections “that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information.” “Mainway,” the main NSA tool used to connect the dots on American social connections, collected 700 million phone records per day in 2011. That number increased by 1.1 billion in August 2011. The NSA is now working on creating “a metadata repository capable of taking in 20 billion ‘record events’ daily and making them available to N.S.A. analysts within 60 minutes.”

Tracking you from the skies: Nothing, and I mean nothing, will escape government eyes, especially when drones take to the skies in 2015. These gadgets, ranging from the colossal to the miniature, will have the capability of seeing through the walls of your home and tracking your every movement.

To put it bluntly, we are living in an electronic concentration camp. Through a series of imperceptible steps, we have willingly allowed ourselves to become enmeshed in a system that knows the most intimate details of our lives, analyzes them, and treats us accordingly. Whether via fear of terrorism, narcissistic pleasure, or lazy materialism, we have slowly handed over our information to all sorts of entities, corporate and governmental, public and private, who are now using that information to cow and control us for their profit. As George Orwell warned, “You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

Thus, we have arrived in Orwell’s world. The question now is: will we take a stand and fight to remain free or will we go gently into the concentration camp? (Quote source here.)

Seven years later since that article was published, it appears we have gone “gently into the concentration camp” as Whitehead stated at the end of his article. And there is no turning back, either.

Electronic surveillance was done without my knowledge or consent and it changed my life and not for the better twelve years ago, and it can and will change your life even though it is mostly unknown to you as to its effects on your life at this point in time. I just happened to stumble across what happened to me twelve years ago because of my interest in technology and my search for what really happened that caused me to lose that job back then. As Whitehead stated above, we do live in an electronic concentration camp today.

I don’t usually publish blog posts on this type of stuff; however, it cannot be ignored, either.  And it really has massively affected my own life probably going much farther back then just twelve years ago when I first discovered it. There is not much (if anything) the average person can do about any of it; however, awareness is a key component. To be aware is better then to not be aware. So I am posting this as an FYI. You can take it or leave it, but at least you’ve been informed.

I’ll end this post with words from the chorus of the song, Private Eyes,” sung by Hall and Oates (Lyrics source here; YouTube video below):

Private eyes, they’re watching you; they see your every move. Private eyes, they’re watching you…

Watching you . . .

Watching you . . .

Watching you . . .

YouTube Video: “Private Eyes” (1981) by Hall and Oates:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here