More than one thousand years ago, there was a king by the name of Canute. He had many courtiers who spent their days telling Canute that he was wise and clever. They told Canute that he was so powerful that he would even be able to command the sea and it would obey him. With flattery such as this, the courtiers filled Canute’s days until he really began to become quite tired of listening to them.
One day, when the courtiers had again been telling Canute that he was so powerful he would even be able to command the sea, the king decided to teach them a lesson. The courtiers were instructed to carry Canute’s throne down to the seashore. He would show them whether or not he could command the sea.
The king chose a time when the tide was coming in. The waves were gradually creeping up the shore. Canute sat on his throne and spoke to them. “I command you to turn and go back’, he said. The waves ignored him. “I am the King. I command you to turn around and go back the way you came.” Still the sea ignored Canute.
Watched by his courtiers, Canute repeatedly commanded the sea to go back. Every one of his orders was ignored. Gradually the waves crept up the shore until they touched the feet of the king. It was time to go. Canute had made his point.
When people flatter us, they are rarely telling us the truth. There is a big difference between flattery and a compliment. A compliment tells us the truth when we are least expecting it. A compliment tells us something good about ourselves. It helps us to grow more confident and to appreciate our value in our own eyes and in those of the people around us. A compliment is never given with the hope of payment. The pleasure given by the complimenter to the complimented is its own reward and strengthens a relationship.
Flattery, on the other hand, can be a lie or a half-truth. It is usually told because the flatterer wants to extract some benefit from us. Canute’s courtiers wanted to be more important in the eyes of their king. They wanted favours. They thought that if they were to tell him even the most fantastic stories, the king would be so pleased with them that he would give out some reward. Yes, as king, Canute had a certain amount of power, but only God has the sort of power that orders the sea and it obeys.
We all need a good compliment from time to time. It helps to make life more pleasant. None of us needs flattery. Flattery makes us conceited and proud. A compliment can make us grateful. Flattery causes us to make ourselves the centre of the Universe when we are not. God is at the heart of the Universe. The devil flattered Jesus in the wilderness when he told Jesus to throw himself from the Temple because God would rescue him. The devil hoped Jesus would be flattered and would make a display of his power. Jesus refused. Jesus gave the glory and honour to his Father. It is only through God that we are of any importance in this world. Our value does not lie in power and wealth. Our value is in goodness. Our value is in love.
Lord, there are occasions when someone will try to use flattery as a means of getting some favour from me. To some extent, flattery is pleasant. It makes me feel important. But, Lord, flattery makes me feel important for the wrong reasons. Lord, really all I want out of life is to be important to you and to the people I love. Help me to reject flattery when it appears. Help me just simply to concentrate on being a loving person. Amen