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Vol.  9  No. 10 October 2007  Page 16
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Andy RobisonBeware of the Smooth-Talker

By Andy Robison

    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 one’s soul.

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