Three important differences between Flatter and Encouragement—Part 2
(for part 1 please visit our web site)
- 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 labour 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 1:3, 7, 8). 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 colour 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.
Hannah Ploegstra and her husband, John, are founders of learnChrist, a ministry which provides resources for Scripture memorization and study. Hannah and John’s recordings of Bible memory songs can be listened to and downloaded for free on Hannah’s blog at www.hannahploegstra.com. Through learnChrist, annah writes Disciple Curriculum, directs SHEMA Bible Choir, and encourages moms in their disciple-making at home.