Not a day passes without at least one TV or internet commercial referring to how we bear up during the COVID-19 pandemic: we are awesome, so we’re told, fearless, self-sacrificing, tough as nails and heroic. Then the sponsor brand appears so we will know who to thank for the encouragement…

…or is it flattery?

I know. It is hard to believe that someone with something to sell would so shamelessly attempt to manipulate the public. In fact, planting thoughts and fanning emotions are key to almost every sales and marketing campaign. As the old legal doctrine reminds us, caveat emptor – “let the buyer beware.” It is up to us to see through the blarney and make a business decision.

Yet flattery extends beyond commercial transactions. The morning devotional group that is walking through the psalms has now heard King David weigh in more than once against those who “flatter with their tongue.” Flattery comes from a bad place where trust in God is absent; where we depend solely on our ability to spot weakness in order to survive and thrive. Manipulative and cynical, flatterers dope up their victims to make them more submissive and trusting. This works at cross-purposes with actual encouragement.

Unlike flattery, encouragement does not have an end-game. It is the end-game. The edification of others is the aim of encouragement. This is an important element of fellowship. “Fellowship is a mutual bond that Christians have with Christ that puts us in a deep, eternal relationship with one another,” John Piper has preached. Therein lies the difference: encouragement as a pillar of fellowship is a permanent practice and state of relationship, as perpetual as our risen Lord. Flattery is episodic and fleeting, lasting only as long as it takes to close the deal. Flattery is superficial; encouragement is, well, authentic.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)

The Session is committed to fulfilling the values of Grace Redeemer Church as defined in our vision. Among its components is the building and sustaining of authentic community. You might be tasting that now: in a growth group, Bible study, or discipleship cluster. Our desire is that every person who calls GRC home will know that they have a fellowship in which they can share their brokenness with the confident expectation of open ears and sensitive hearts. This community is also a place where encouragement goes hand-in-hand with correction. Authentic community is not harsh and judgmental; neither does it soft-pedal and overlook sin. Essentially, it is a place of spiritual refuge and sustenance for God’s hurting children.

Will you pray about how GRC can achieve a higher level of authentic community? Pray further that we may each embrace it and not back away. We will either gravitate toward this more intimate fellowship or drift in the direction of shallow church-going, with all of the arms-length relationships – and flattery – that go along with it.

By the way, if you see me in church and I tell you that you look fabulous, count it as encouragement.

John Gregory is a Ruling Elder.

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