You recognize smooth talk when you hear it. Sometimes it’s too late, though, after you’ve set your heart on what you’ve heard. By then you’ve likely given away something you never thought you would.
Smooth talk is a grifter. Thievery’s chiseled but sinister cousin. Always cutting the corner as he pickpockets his way out of town. He was good. Too good. He said just enough but never quite enough. He was always a half-step ahead until he was miles gone.
The Bible calls it “flattery” (see Ps 5.9; 12.2; Prov 2.16; 7.5, 21; 26.28). It’s often a strategy of those causing church fights (see Rom 16.17-18). And it’s self-entrapment (Prov 29.5). Smooth talkers often take the bait they set for others.
It’s one thing to flatter one another. I do my share of it because I love being praised. But, it’s a far different matter when trying to smooth talk God.
I flatter God when I pray words I know he wants to hear. I actually think God will fall for it like he’s some forlorn schoolgirl desperate for a prom date. Could God actually be manipulated by pseudo-sorrow and faux praise?
We know when our kids are smooth talking us. And to think God doesn’t know when I’m doing it to him?
It’s one of the oldest tricks in the Book.
“…this people draw near with their words and honor me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from me” (Is 29.13).
The Pharisees and scribes were masters at smooth talking “for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men” (Mt 6.5).
Jesus knew better:
“You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me'” (Mt 15.7-8).
Smooth talk is the native language of a hypocritical heart. It knows all the right words to say but ducks out just when those words demand proof. Hypocrisy cares more about appearances than substance. More about sounding righteous than actually having to be righteous. More about sounding repentant than actually being repentant. It’s verbal and emotional mockery.
That may fool everyone in town. But “God is not mocked” (Gal 6.7).
Why do we smooth talk one another? It’s ultimately about love. Flattery achieves through hypocrisy what we don’t think honesty could achieve through love.
We assume someone must be persuaded to do us good in a way they wouldn’t otherwise be predisposed to do. We assume they wouldn’t be motivated by their love for us. Rather, they will be good to us when they have a good reason for it. I don’t think you love me enough to know the truth about me and still be good to me. So I’ll convince you I’m better than I am so you’ll be better to me than you should.
I smooth talk God for the same reason. Because I don’t really think he’s motivated by love for me. So I say the words he wants to hear whether I really mean them or not. They sound silly, really. And he knows that. He knows I don’t mean them. He even knows layers of my heart I don’t even know to cover up.
“And there is no creature hidden from his sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with some we have to do” (Heb 4.13).
And yet he still loves me.
God doesn’t need persuasion to love us. He loved us first (Jn 3.16; 1 Jn 4.10, 19). If anyone needs persuading it’s us! Paul prayed God would grant we “may be able…to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3.19).
I don’t have to butter God up before he’ll bend his goodness toward me. That certainly offends his holiness. But worse, it offends his love.
Kids attempt to flatter their way through a “scratch” when it’s really a dent. They assume they could be loved through a scratch but a dent might be too much. Rather than trust Dad’s love by being honest, they take a shortcut. They fear Dad quite well (hence, the strategy). It’s his love they don’t trust.
God sent Jesus to be spit on, punched, mocked and hung like a two-bit carnival act for us; and I think God’s love is so shallow it can be manipulated with flattery?
He knows every bit of the junk buried deep inside me. I don’t know the half of it. There is no sense trying to convince God (or others for that matter) I’m more honest, sorrowful, repentant, holy than I really am. Putting on airs is unbecoming of heirs.
The same God before whom “all things are laid bare” (Heb 4.13) invites us to his throne:
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4.15-16).
There are no grifters in Zion because there are no shortcuts to it. God loves us more than we could ever know. Let’s pray like it.