What is wrong with flattery? Why does the Bible make such a big deal about "flattery" being wrong?
What is flattery? The first entry for flattery in Webster's dictionary is: To praise excessively especially from motives of self-interest. Or to: To portray too favorably. Or to: to display to advantage. The basic truth is that flattery is an "over the top" statement generally offered in order to gain advantage for yourself. Have you ever seen someone telling a person how great they are, how wonderful they are, how awesome they are and every other superlative you can think of? A flatterer is one who says things to people and about people in order to gain advantage.
The question is; why do we offer flattering comments? For instance, if one kid says to another, "you are a totally righteous dude", do they really mean that or are they saying it so the other kid will like them, include them in their group and so on. No "dude" is totally righteous and that same dude could become your enemy or worse yet, use you to their own advantage.
A genuine compliment of someone's talent is not flattery. It is an honest statement of sincere appreciation of their talent or accomplishments. We should not offer praise or compliments in order to "get something" in return. You may encourage someone and that may result in their liking you but if your motive is not "self-serving", you have done the right thing.
Listen to what Jude, the half brother of Jesus and the brother of James had to say about people who flatter: "Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him. These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage." Jude 14 NKJV. Jude's words match up perfectly with Webster's definition of flattery: Excessive praise, especially if you want to gain favor or advantage, is forbidden.
The Apostle Paul adds some information that is helpful. Listen: "For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple." Romans 16:18 NKJV
Paul taught you that in some cases, flattery and smooth words deceive the "simple". People who are "simple-minded" are easily deceived. You should see flattery for what it is; an attempt to manipulate and control you offered by a person who is seeking something from you. Don't you know when someone is "flattering" you? How does that make you feel?
What is an appropriate response to flattery? Should you immediately not trust that person? When you admire the qualities of a person, what sort of phrases can you use that will keep them from thinking that you are a "self-serving flatterer"?
For the "adults" in this study, listen to Solomon's words on this subject: "With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, with her flattering lips she seduced him." Proverbs 7:21 NKJV ...a flattering mouth works ruin." Proverbs 26:28 NKJV (men and women, please do not doubt this truth for one moment!).
Core Christian Value: Flattery is excessive and insincere praise intended to gain advantage. It is self serving and it is forbidden.2