An awareness of one’s limitations; also chastity or personal purity. The Hebrew root verb tsa·naʽʹ is rendered “be modest” in Micah 6:8, its only occurrence. The related adjective tsa·nuʹaʽ (modest) occurs in Proverbs 11:2, where it is contrasted with presumptuousness. Although some modern scholars believe that the sense of this root is “be cautious, careful, judicious,” many take it to mean “be modest.” For example, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (by Brown, Driver, and Briggs, 1980, p. 857) says that the root conveys the idea of one who is retiring, modest, or humble. “Modesty” is a translation of the Greek ai·dosʹ. (1Ti 2:9) Ai·dosʹ used in a moral sense expresses the thought of reverence, awe, respect for the feeling or opinion of others or for one’s own conscience and so expresses shame, self-respect, a sense of honor, sobriety, and moderation. (A Greek-English Lexicon by H. Liddell and R. Scott, revised by H. Jones, Oxford, 1968, p. 36) Comparing ai·dosʹ with the more common Greek word for “shame” (ai·skhyʹne; 1Co 1:27; Php 3:19), lexicographer Richard Trench says that ai·dosʹ is “the nobler word, and implies the nobler motive: in it is involved an innate moral repugnance to the doing of the dishonorable act, which moral repugnance scarcely or not at all exists in the [ai·skhyʹne].” He states that “[ai·dosʹ] would always restrain a good man from an unworthy act, while [ai·skhyʹne] might sometimes restrain a bad one.” (Synonyms of the New Testament, London, 1961, pp. 64, 65) Thus, the conscience is especially involved in the restraining effect implied in ai·dosʹ.
Before God. With regard to modesty, in the sense of a proper estimate of one’s own self, the Scriptures give much counsel. “Wisdom is with the modest ones,” says the proverb. This is because the person manifesting modesty avoids the dishonor that accompanies presumptuousness or boastfulness. (Pr 11:2) He is following the course approved by Jehovah and is therefore wise. (Pr 3:5, 6; 8:13, 14) Jehovah loves and grants to such one wisdom. One of the requirements for gaining Jehovah’s favor is ‘to be modest in walking with him.’ (Mic 6:8) This involves a proper appreciation of one’s position before God, recognizing one’s sinful state as contrasted with Jehovah’s greatness, purity, and holiness. It also means that a person should recognize himself as a creature of Jehovah, altogether dependent on Him and subject to His sovereignty. Eve was one who failed to appreciate this. She stepped out for complete independence and self-determination. Modesty would have helped her to dismiss from her mind the thought of becoming “like God, knowing good and bad.” (Ge 3:4, 5) The apostle Paul counsels against overconfidence and presumptuousness, saying, “Keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”—Php 2:12.
In What to Boast. Boastfulness is the opposite of modesty. The rule is: “May a stranger, and not your own mouth, praise you; may a foreigner, and not your own lips, do so.” (Pr 27:2) Jehovah’s own words are: “Let not the wise man brag about himself because of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man brag about himself because of his mightiness. Let not the rich man brag about himself because of his riches. But let the one bragging about himself brag about himself because of this very thing, the having of insight and the having of knowledge of me, that I am Jehovah, the One exercising loving-kindness, justice and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I do take delight.”—Jer 9:23, 24; compare Pr 12:9; 16:18, 19.
God’s Regard for Modest Ones. The apostle Paul shows God’s regard for the modest ones and also cites his own conduct in the congregation as exemplary of such modest attitude. He wrote to the Christians at Corinth: “For you behold his calling of you, brothers, that not many wise in a fleshly way were called, not many powerful, not many of noble birth; but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put the wise men to shame; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put the strong things to shame; and God chose the ignoble things of the world and the things looked down upon, the things that are not, that he might bring to nothing the things that are, in order that no flesh might boast in the sight of God . . . just as it is written: ‘He that boasts, let him boast in Jehovah.’ And so I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come with an extravagance of speech or of wisdom declaring the sacred secret of God to you. For I decided not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and him impaled. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling; and my speech and what I preached were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of spirit and power, that your faith might be, not in men’s wisdom, but in God’s power.”—1Co 1:26–2:5.
‘Do Not Go Beyond the Things Written.’ Later in his letter Paul emphasized the need for modesty on the part of all, just as he himself had displayed modesty, a proper evaluation of himself. The Corinthians had fallen into the trap of boasting in certain men, such as Apollos, and even in Paul himself. Paul corrected them, telling them that they were fleshly, not spiritual, in doing this, and said: “Now, brothers, these things I have transferred so as to apply to myself and Apollos for your good, that in our case you may learn the rule: ‘Do not go beyond the things that are written [that is, do not go beyond the limits that the Scriptures set for humans in their attitude toward one another and toward themselves],’ in order that you may not be puffed up individually in favor of the one against the other. For who makes you to differ from another? Indeed, what do you have that you did not receive? If, now, you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as though you did not receive it?” Keeping this in mind will prevent haughtiness and boastfulness in regard to oneself or another as to family descent, race, color or nationality, physical beauty, ability, knowledge, mental brilliance, and so forth.—1Co 4:6, 7.
Jesus Christ’s Example. Jesus Christ is the finest example of modesty. He told his disciples that he could not do a single thing of his own initiative, but only what he beheld the Father doing, and that his Father is greater than he is. (Joh 5:19, 30; 14:28) Jesus refused to accept titles not due him. When a ruler called him “Good Teacher,” Jesus replied: “Why do you call me good? Nobody is good, except one, God.” (Lu 18:18, 19) And he told his disciples that as slaves to Jehovah they should not feel puffed up, either over things accomplished in God’s service or because of their worth to God. Rather, they should have the attitude, when they had done all the things assigned to them, that “we are good-for-nothing slaves. What we have done is what we ought to have done.”—Lu 17:10.
Additionally, the Lord Jesus Christ, as a perfect man on earth, was superior to his imperfect disciples and also possessed great authority from his Father. Yet, in dealing with his disciples, he was considerate of their limitations. He employed delicacy in training them and propriety of speech toward them. He did not put upon them more than they could bear at the time.—Joh 16:12; compare Mt 11:28-30; 26:40, 41.
In Dress and Other Possessions. In instructing the overseer Timothy as to seeing that proper conduct was observed in the congregation, Paul said: “I desire the women to adorn themselves in well-arranged dress, with modesty and soundness of mind, not with styles of hair braiding and gold or pearls or very expensive garb, but in the way that befits women professing to reverence God, namely, through good works.” (1Ti 2:9, 10) Here the apostle does not counsel against neatness and good, pleasing appearance, for he recommends “well-arranged dress.” But he shows the impropriety of vanity and ostentatiousness in dress—calling attention to oneself or to one’s means of life thereby. Also modesty relating to respect for the feelings of others and to self-respect and a sense of honor is involved. The Christian’s manner of dress should not be shocking to decency, to the moral susceptibilities of the congregation, causing offense to some. This counsel as to dress would shed further light on Jehovah’s attitude toward the proper view and use of other material possessions that a Christian may have.—See HUMILITY.