Flattery or compliment?

Do you like to receive compliments?  Do you like to give them?  Have you ever received a compliment that sounded fake, phony or flat?

The other day I engaged in a conversation on Facebook about this very topic.  A friend posted a comment that read something like “Do you want to build a bridge to someone?  Give a compliment. ”  I agree…giving a genuine compliment is a wonderful way to build a bridge.

But being the complicated thinker that I am, always seeming to muddy up even the simplest idea, I began to think about it.  I’ve often received compliments that were genuine and I welcomed them.  They warmed my heart and lifted my spirit.  But I’ve also felt somewhat manipulated by a comment that sounded contrived or disingenuous.  It SOUNDED good, but it FELT weird, as if it was intended to manufacture a specific positive response from me.   I think that’s  difference between a compliment and flattery.

A compliment is meant to build up the other person.  Flattery is meant to build up self.  It comes down to motive.  Who do I want to build up,  you or me?  Do I want to make myself seem more significant in your eyes?  Do I want you to see me as someone worthy?  Do I want to elevate myself and appear as a brown-noser?  Flattery’s evil is in minimizing the perceived gap of worth between you and another person, or elevating yourself above someone else.

A compliment, a genuine & heartfelt compliment does the exact opposite.  It actually increases the gap, elevating the other person to a place of great honor and dignity.   The bible says in Phil 2:3:  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”   The Greek word for “better” is “huperecho.” It means that you assign excellence to someone by how you view them.  It does not mean they are more excellent than you…it means you treat them as such.  Subtle difference…A compliment is a tool that brings this mindset to life.  It is actually carefully balanced with Romans 12:3:  “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”  You are no better or worse than anyone else.  Yet, the bible calls us to TREAT each other as if they are better than us.

It’s a balancing act:  Think correctly of yourself in relation to others.  Don’t think of yourself as too low, beneath everyone else or less significant or less worthy, because that will lead to the temptation to FLATTER and manipulate.  On the other hand, don’t think of yourself too highly, because that leads to the sin of pride, the very sin that got Satan tossed out of heaven!

So, the next time you offer a compliment, think through your motive.  And maybe word the compliment in a way that truly lifts the other person up.  Speak to their character.  Speak to how they influence you.  Speak to their heart.  Speak to build them up, not to build you up.

And you’ll find that in the end, what you really want is what you’ll really get anyway!

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