Zac Poonen’s article, “True and False Prophets,” hit my heart like a battering ram when I first read it. I’ve seen flattery as dangerous for its bolstering of pride and vanity, as well as its power to manipulate and control. But I saw something new this time. Flattery encourages us to avoid affliction, and there is nothing Godly or Scriptural about that.
Affliction and Flattery
Flattery and I are old enemies. My neurotic sin nature tends more often toward the pride of self-hatred than superiority (though I am well-acquainted with both), and flattery is to self-hatred what boiling water is to human skin—screamingly painful. So while sincere compliments used to make me merely uncomfortable and embarrassed, flattery enraged me. It felt like mockery, and I hated the person doing it. I’ve been sold a bill of goods about many things and many people, and my lack of discernment has led to humiliation more times than I can count. But I’ve always been in my skin, so to speak, and the lies about who I really was rarely stuck, or not for long.
And that’s the insidiousness of flattery: it’s lie upon lie about who we are. To receive flattery takes us into the dark delusion that we’re wonderful and anyone who says otherwise can be ignored. What better way to avoid affliction than to discredit anyone that would bring the Sword of Truth? I believe that receiving flattery kills the conscience, one perfumed lie at a time. And we let it happen because the Truth is messy and painful. It sends us to our knees and makes it hard to look in the mirror. The Truth relentlessly pursues every kind of lie, and we don’t like it.
I’ve been there. I’ve stood in the middle of my living room and yelled at God, “Is there NOTHING about me that can stay? Why is everything I am so horrible to You? Can’t I keep even one thing the way it is?!” Flattery says I’m wonderful just the way I am. Flattery says I’m not nearly as bad as that guy over there, so don’t worry about it. Flattery says to the toad, “Hop in my pot of tepid water; it never boils!” Flattery dismisses affliction and attempts to hide the Purpose behind it.
The Purpose of Affliction
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
2 Corinthians 4:7-10 NASB
God’s Hand is ALWAYS behind my affliction, but as Paul so beautifully assures us, His Hand is merciful. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed.” Affliction serves great purpose in life and in many, many ways. In my own life, affliction has been a wake-up call, a Cross-encounter, a part of sanctification, preparation for new levels of empathy and compassion, the means for deeper intercession, and an incentive to behold God’s glory more clearly than ever before, just to name a few. Our affliction is holy.
There are few things more hateful or poisonous than flattery. Behind the insipid smile of the flatterer lies the heart of a serial killer, slowly blinding and lobotomizing their willing victims – the more, the merrier. And I finally see that it’s not just the ego-boost that makes flattery effective, but the promise of ease to comfort-loving humans.
The Reward of Affliction
As a believer, “we are afflicted in every way.” Paul presents the reality of our pain alongside the Mercy of God that tempers it. But he doesn’t stop there. What follows this unsettling litany of daily difficulty is the unveiling of a Prize so great that the affliction becomes nothing.
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NASB
What is my ease and comfort in this life compared to “an eternal weight of glory?” If affliction is unavoidable – and it is – then I want it to serve God’s purpose. I want the LIFE that comes with my inner man being renewed every day. I want the reward of HIM, the ultimate unseen which is eternal.