My favorite book outside of the Bible is the classic work by John Bunyan titled The Pilgrim’s Progress. I have learned much of the Christian life by Bunyan’s words and it has served me well through the years. It was Charles Spurgeon, “The Prince of Preachers” who described Bunyan as one who would bleed “bibline” if pricked in his flesh. In Spurgeon’s estimation, Bunyan was so filled with Scripture, that if his flesh was pricked the Bible would flow from him. It was Spurgeon who encouraged me to read and reread The Pilgrim’s Progress through the years.
In his classic allegory of the Christian life, on one occasion Bunyan describes Christian and Hopeful as coming upon a character who led them into a net of confusion that entangled them and kept them from continuing onward to the Celestial City. Upon finding themselves entangled in the net, they recalled the warnings of Scripture about flattery. It was in the net that they were able to see their mistake and their errors. We should learn a key lesson from the mistake of Christian and Hopeful and avoid being influenced by a flatterer who seeks to influence us to depart from God’s will and take a wrong turn that leads us into danger.
The Enticing Words of the Flatterer
One of the great weapons employed against the children of God is a deceiving tongue. We find this in the first rebellion of mankind in the Garden of Eden as Satan embodied a serpent and enticed Eve to rebel against God and the headship of her own husband. In so doing, Adam failed to lead and protect his wife and the rest is history. Sin entered the world and with it came death and destruction.
All throughout the Bible we find deceivers who plague God’s people. We see this in various ways from the Old Testament to the New Testament.
- A young man is seduced by the flattering lips of a harlot (Prov. 7).
- False prophets speak loud boasts of folly and entice people (2 Pet. 2).
- Paul warns the church at Colossae about people who would entice or delude them with plausible arguments (Col. 2).
- The Psalmist prays, “May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts” (Psalm 12:3).
- James warns about the dangerous power of the tongue (James 3).
- The Psalmist prays, “Deliver me, O LORD, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue” (Psalm 120:2).
- Paul warns the church at Rome about divisive people who seek to harm the church. He writes, “For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive” (Rom. 16:18).
Such enticing flatterers remain with us today. Newly graduated high school students who make their way to the university campuses will encounter flatterers who will seek to lead them down a pathway of doom. Unsuspecting Christians who lack discernment will wander off down the pathway of the Internet to “Christian” websites and ministries who will promote compromising positions and doctrines in the name of Jesus. We see this almost daily as “Christian” articles promote “third way” options for Christians to avoid making abortion such a driving force in the way we approach politics. They encourage Christians to think differently and to embrace a “womb to tomb” approach which encourages people to lower their passion on the abortion issue and vote differently.
From social justice to other mainline heresies, false teachers proselytize people with enticing words and compelling arguments which necessitates discernment in the journey of faith. Apart from discernment and a commitment to God’s revealed will in the pages of Scripture, we will wander off down a flatterer’s path only to find ourselves entangled in a net of confusion.
The Entangled Trap of the Flatterer
The Flatterer is lurking in the shadows and looking for opportunities to deceive. As Christian said soon after being entrapped in the net, “Now do I see myself in an error. Did not the shepherds bid us beware of the flatterers? As is the saying of the wise man, so we have found it this day: ‘A man that flatters his neighbour spreads a net for his feet.’” Christian was quoting from Proverbs 29:5.
Flattery is dangerous, but not only is it employed by false teachers and those who seek to deceive, it’s sometimes used by immature Christians as a means of encouraging people or seeking the approval of others relationally. For instance, sometimes we see this on social media as Christians will retweet an article or a person’s tweet with kind words that seek to gain acceptance points with the author. It happens in private through conversations as people flatter a boss in attempt to climb the corporate ladder.
Christians must avoid being entrapped by flattery and we must avoid using it as a tool to gain friends or climb ladders. Gossip is something said about someone in private that would never be spoken in public. Flattery is something said about someone publicly that would not be agreed to in private. In short, flattery is deceitful speech used to entice people or precipitate a positive response for selfish gain.
As Christians, we must be committed to the truth. When we use flattery for our advantage, it’s damaging for those to whom we speak because it leads them down a pathway of deceit. Flattery is harmful because it makes people believe lies about themselves or about specific relationships. If you flatter your boss, you make him believe a lie about himself. If you flatter your children, you cause them to embrace deceitful perceptions rather than the true reality of their abilities or condition.
Christians are to be people of truth who walk the pathway of truth and speak the truth—all for the glory of God. In the life of the church, we must be committed to the truth. If a young man comes forward and seeks approval and affirmation of the elders and the church regarding pastoral ministry and seminary, if he does not demonstrate the giftedness of a pastor, he needs truth rather than flattery. If a young couple comes to the elders seeking affirmation as they pursue marriage and they are walking down a sinful path, they need truth rather than flattery. If a family is seeking to join the local church from another church across town, but they have unresolved issues in that church, they need truth rather than flattery. If your child comes to you seeking approval on their lifestyle choice of homosexuality, your child needs truth rather than flattery.
Beware of the deceitful trap of the flatterer. Following the angel who came and released Christian and Hopeful from their entangled net, they were disciplined for their error. They would learn a very important lesson from their mistake. It would be good for us to learn from their example in order to avoid much pain on the journey of faith. At the end of this section in Bunyan’s work, we find this short little poem as a reminder:
“Come hither, you that walk along the way;
See how the pilgrims fare that go astray!
They catched are in an entangling net,
‘Cause they good counsel lightly did forget.
‘Tis true they rescued were; but yet you see
They’re scourged to boot. Let this your caution be!”