Proverbs 26:28

Flattery: Helpful or Harmful?

A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin. Proverbs 26:28

I like to receive a compliment as much as anyone else does. An appreciative comment, a few words of praise—those verbal sweets go down easy, like a York peppermint patty. But flattery is chocolate-covered poison. It looks good and smells good. A quick lick might indicate it’s good for you, too, but once it’s in your system, it makes you ill.

Proverbs 26:28 reminds us that flattery is our enemy, not our friend. The Hebrew word translated “ruin” is midcheh, which means “a throwing down,” or something that causes us to stumble. The root word is dachah, which means “to push violently, to overthrow.”[1]

What’s so harmful about a few insincere words that might make others feel good about themselves? Notice the thought that is coupled with “a flattering mouth” in verse 28: “a lying tongue hates those it hurts.” Flattery is untruth packaged as truth, and it always has an ulterior motive. It’s neither praise nor encouragement; it’s manipulation. Proverbs 29:5 says, “A flattering neighbor is up to no good; he’s probably planning to take advantage of you” (MSG). In Romans 16:18, Paul observed, “For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people.”

In Proverbs, the wise are associated with words that nourish (10:21), instruct (16:21), and heal (16:24). The wise focus on others: the goal is to edify them, to build them up. Flatterers, on the other hand, are always looking to gain something for themselves: a favor, a position, an upper hand. God wants us to avoid flattery on any level, from fishing for a compliment to lying for financial profit.

As children of God, we are to “have sincere love for each other” (1 Peter 1:22). Sincere love requires sincere words—“whole, clean, pure, uninjured, and unmixed.”[2] When we speak sweet words to someone, we need to make sure they are genuine—intended to nourish, not merely to please.

What words will you offer to others today?


According to Proverbs 26:17-28, what kind of words are destructive? Of the types listed, which are you most prone to speak? Ask God to help you eliminate those speech patterns.

Read Proverbs 16:20-24. What guidelines do these verses give for determining what to say and when to say it?

How can Paul’s advice about our thoughts in Philippians 4:8-9 help us with our words?

Denise K. Loock

[1] Entry for midcheh: “Hebrew Lexicon :: H4072 (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 20 Oct, 2014.

Entry for dachah: “Hebrew Lexicon :: H1760 (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 20 Oct, 2014.

[2] Word origin for sincere:


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