The Death of Piety
“Lord, come to my rescue; piety is dead; in a base world, true hearts have grown rare.” (Psalm 12:1 Knox)
“Critical mass” is a term sociologists have borrowed from nuclear scientists to describe the phenomenon within a culture when a certain idea is championed by a few and eventually adopted by the majority. As we saw yesterday, Psalms 11 and 12 describe a period when society on the whole had taken on an evil flavor. The momentum had gradually shifted from prevailing decency to widespread corruption.
“When vileness is exalted” one of the features of human interaction that is most affected is speech. David said that in such times, “They speak vanity every one with his neighbor: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak… the tongue that speaketh proud things.” (Psalm 12:2-3 KJV)
Most translations use the term “falsehood” in place of “vanity” in this sentence. Both are correct. This word (Heb. shâv) is used to describe “vain idols” (Psalm 31:6) and “deceitful men” (Psalm 26:4). In either case, the sense of the term is that it describes something that is void of reality; when describing speech, the point is that people are using words that are empty of truth. David is here describing a time that had become so corrupted that “This spirit of falsehood infested their most intimate relations.” Dishonesty and fraudulence had become so entrenched in the culture that David lamented finding any honest souls.
The time of which David referred was also one where flattery abounded. Of course, a person flatters another—exaggerates the person’s qualities or talents—for his own selfish purposes. He lavishes the person with praise because he knows it is the quickest way into the person’s good graces. Influential people are continually subjected to flatterers who wish to use them for their own advancement.
Such people not only flatter others, but they flatter themselves. They love to talk glowingly about their talents and accomplishments. They speak “proud things” and are quick to “name-drop” to prove their value. Times are indeed bad when such fawning, morally-bankrupt people worm their way into positions of influence.
What distresses me is to see the evangelical community infected with this same spirit. The Church is in trouble when its leaders flatter their audiences rather than telling them the truth about their spiritual condition; when liars, flatterers and prideful preachers use their smooth speech to gain influence among God’s people; when man is exalted rather than Christ. They are “perilous times” indeed when the Church is overrun with such charlatans.
Whatever might be the moral climate of our generation, we must stand firm in the Truth; we must be honest about our spiritual condition, avoid all forms of flattery and prideful talk. Only then can we stand as lights within an evil generation.
And how about you? Do you ever witness this kind of falsehood in the Church? Do you ever engage in flattery yourself? We must pray that the Lord will weed out the false teachers in our midst. We must also pray that the Lord will help us to keep our own hearts honest and upright even when there is a temptation to use flattering words to gain someone’s approval.