Many professions require proficiency in the art of
talking. Beyond the obvious application to public speakers—such as preachers
and teachers—are the lawyers who present cases to juries and the salesmen and
women who make pitches to potential customers. A temptation in each of these
professions is to allow a talent for manipulative language to override any
concern for a matter’s truth. A preacher can twist the Word of God to the
destruction of himself and those who hear him (cf. 2
Peter 3:16 and 1 Timothy 4:16).
Lawyers are often blamed for the avoidance of truth through clever exploitation
of the law’s loopholes. Salesmen are accused of exaggerating the benefits of
their products. Anyone of any occupation can be guilty of saying too little or
too much to mask the faults of some used item he may have for sale. When these
things take place, the guilty have earned the label, “smooth talker.”
Whenever the aptitude for persuasive speech is used to
deceive, the devil has won a victory. He has somehow convinced the talker to
forfeit the good standing of his soul in trade for a sale, a verdict or a
superficial conversion. But, the devil may win another victory if listeners are
not vigilant. Yes, in spiritual things, those who hear the false ones will
still be held accountable for being deceived, a fate quite reasonable when one
considers all the biblical warnings against such self-motivated prophets.
“By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive
words…” reminds Peter (2 Peter 2:3). “Beware of false prophets” was the
predictive counsel of the Lord (Matthew 7:15). Christians are told to mark and
withdraw from those who “by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the
hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18).
Inevitably, when one such deceiver comes along, he
still gains his following. Many will cling to his ear-tickling doctrines and
willingly abdicate their responsibility of discernment. This makes the task of
objecting all the more difficult for those who see through the faulted one’s
ploy. Secular history abounds with back and forth arguments about whether key
political figures were correctly and honestly motivated. Sometimes, years
later, a public still wonders if it has been duped.
But, inspired history clarifies unquestionably some
times that smooth speech wrought havoc. David’s son Absalom was an early
practitioner of the campaign promise. He connected with the populace by
decrying his father’s administration’s ineptitude, and promising complete
justice in his own—should he get one (2 Samuel 15:1-6). First century scribes
evoked Jesus’ rebuke. Among their sins were the beautiful long prayers which
made them appear holier than they were (Mark 12:40). The Proverb writer even
warned of the harm of flattery (Proverbs 29:5; 26:28).
Somewhere this side of mental paranoia is a balanced
and healthy alternative to two extremes. One extreme is never trusting anyone. Another
is believing everything from everyone who seems sincere. The Christian has the
obligation to discern (1 John 4:1).
This can only be done by constant training in the Word of God, and the
application of the Scriptures to all that anyone says (Acts 17:11; 2 Timothy 2:15; Hebrews
5:12-14). Beware the smooth-talker; he can work ruin for