Flattery Is Dangerous
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 22:16a (Holman) They sent their disciples to Him, with the
Jesus’ opponents, the Pharisees and Herodians, hated each other, but a common enemy makes strange bedfellows. In China, Chiang’s nationalists and Mao’s communists interrupted their Civil War to fight side by side against Japan’s invasion. After World War 2 they resumed their Civil War.
The Pharisees and Herodians’ shared disdain for Jesus brought them together, though they disagreed on almost everything. Herodians were lax in their moral behavior. Pharisees were staunch legalists, religious fanatics.
Common people felt the Herodians were snooty, but loved the Pharisees. The Herodians wanted to reinstate Herod’s family, which was a puppet of Rome. Pharisees were nationalists, Israeli to the core. Believing YHWH’s people should not be subject to pagan rulers, they adamantly hated the Romans. To them, being ruled by Gentiles was an intolerable stigma.
Selfish ambition brought these two opposite groups together in an unholy alliance against Jesus. They feared He would cost them position, power, influence, and wealth. Selfish ambition has been the downfall of many. Halls of government, churches, and big business can intoxicate. Beware the centers of power. They easily become halls of destructive pride.
Matt. 22:16b “Teacher,” they said, “we know that You are truthful
and teach truthfully the way of God. You defer to no
one, for You don’t show partiality.”
Had these two groups been the best friends Jesus ever had, they could not have spoken more honestly or eloquently about Him. No one could have expressed themselves better, but there was a problem. It is possible to tell the truth, and yet lie at the same time. Their words were “a fair glove on a foul hand” (Trapp). Evil people say good things in order to achieve bad things.
The Pharisees and Herodians were not the last to try to keep believers at bay by giving Jesus the tribute of mere words—good words, but not lifesaving ones. Disregard any teaching that casts Jesus as less than God.
This incident reminds us; beware flattery. A man once tried to poison Queen Elizabeth I immediately after loudly saying, “God save the queen.” Judas kissed Jesus to betray Him. Since praise can damage a person more than criticism does, we need to guard against being puffed up by flattery.
Compliments and criticisms are like shadows that look longer (compliments) and shorter (criticisms) as they come off our person. However long or short the shadow is cast, do take time to receive it kindly, consider it, and pray about it, but remember our height stays the same either way. God measures us not by what people say for or against us, but by the ongoing holiness of our inner walk with Jesus.
Matt. 22:17a “Tell us, therefore, what you think.”
The religious leaders wrongly felt Jesus could be swayed by flattery. They thought they had stroked His ego enough to trap Him; surely He would feel honored to show off His knowledge.
After their flowery introduction, they believed Jesus had to answer because the people would have considered Him unkind or insensitive if a man with His vast wisdom did not provide them an answer. The people needed Him. Wisdom withheld would be deemed unkind to the nation.
Matt. 22:17b “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
The Pharisees and Herodians felt Jesus had to make one of two equally precarious choices in any verdict on taxes: alienate the people, or commit treason against Rome. Either would end His hope of being Messiah.
The groups demanded of Jesus a yes or no answer. Sometimes life is not this simple. Mitigating circumstances can affect the nuance of an answer.
Some questions cannot be answered with a yes or no. For instance, if a loving husband is asked, “Have you quit beating your wife?” Obviously the answer is neither yes or no, he never started beating her in the first place.
Matt. 22:18 But perceiving their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you
testing Me, hypocrites?”
Awkward!! This must have been an embarrassing moment for the leaders. After they had bragged on Jesus’ knowledge and honesty, and had said He knew what He was talking about, He called them hypocrites. The Pharisees and Herodians were triple liars, pretending to seek truth, playacting to honor Jesus, and pretending to have no ulterior motives.
They are classic reminders that malice and deceit go hand in hand. Meanness has to deviously hide its true colors. Otherwise it would disgust the onlookers. Hypocrisy is vice’s way of complimenting virtue. Duplicity proves people know their sins are too hideous to be seen as they are.
Jesus spoke against no sin more forcefully than He did against hypocrisy. Sometimes, as in Matthew 23:13-29, “Woes against hypocrisy rolled from His lips in successive thunderbolts” (Thomas).
Hypocrisy is an obscene sin. To charge someone with it is a serious accusation. Be careful. We do not want to wrongly make this charge.
Hypocrites intentionally pretend to be something other than what they really are. They say one thing, but deliberately mean something else. They act in a certain way, but their deeds cover up what they really intend to do.
Always remember, a hypocrite is not one who fails due to weakness. We saw the latter in movie star Philip Hoffman’s recent death from a drug overdose. He had openly and desperately fought his addiction for years. He was weak, not a hypocrite. Would we call an alcoholic who repeatedly falls into drinking a hypocrite? Some people battle evil with every breath they breathe. Often they are doing better than we would do if we were in their situation. Be careful about throwing the “hypocrite” label around too freely.
Stephen Mattson recently wrote an excellent blog about the difficulty of living the Christian life. He reminded us we often sugarcoat it, and market it as easy. It does have its highlights, but much of it is sacrifice and work. “Following Jesus is messy, grueling, uncomfortable and requires an extraordinary amount of time, energy, effort and grace.” Amen. It’s tough.
Unbelievers, hear a Pastor’s heart. Be slow to call anyone a hypocrite. Many saved sinners do much better than they did before they believed.