“Wisdom Is with the Modest Ones”
WOULD you like to escape many of life’s pitfalls and embarrassments? Would you like to avoid needlessly offending others, but rather be liked by those about you? And above all, would you like to lessen the likelihood of giving offense to your Creator? Then cultivate the virtue of modesty, for it will greatly help you in all these respects.
Much has been written in praise of modesty. The best of all on the subject, however, is found in God’s Word, the Bible. By means of precept and examples—which show both the good results from being modest and the bad that results from one’s lacking it—the Bible teaches us the virtue of being modest.
“Modesty” and “modest” have several meanings, three of which are more generally used. One meaning of modest relates to size. We speak of a modest income, a modest home or a modest Kingdom Hall. In this sense modest means that which is moderate and unpretentious. Beginnings usually are modest, and so God asked the Jews that returned from Babylonian captivity: “Who has despised the day of small things?” The rebuilding of Jehovah’s temple at Jerusalem had a modest beginning, but it was not to be despised. After all, it involved the pure worship of Jehovah God.—Zech. 4:10.
“Modest” and “modesty” are also used in the sense of chasteness, decency and propriety. Generally men need to guard against immodest speech, women against immodest attire. When the apostle Paul counseled women to dress with becoming modesty, he used the term in this sense: “I desire the women to adorn themselves in well-arranged dress, with modesty and soundness of mind.” The Greek word here rendered “modesty” is aidós and comes from a root having the thought of downcast eyes or bashfulness. The current dance craze “the twist” represents the very opposite of this kind of modesty.—1 Tim. 2:9.
The third common meaning given to modesty and the one with which we are especially concerned in this discussion is “awareness of one’s limitations; absence of any undue self-confidence; lacking in vanity or conceit.” To be modest in this sense is to have “a limited and not an exaggerated estimate of one’s abilities or worth.” (Webster) It means exercising a reserve and is the very opposite of presuming too much: “Has presumptuousness come? Then dishonor will come; but wisdom is with the modest ones.”—Prov. 11:2.
The Hebrew word here rendered “modest” is also found at Micah 6:8, where it usually is translated “humbly.” But says the Soncino Bible of the expression “walk humbly”: “One is reluctant to question a phrase which has sunk so deeply into the religious consciousness of mankind; yet it is doubtful whether humbly is an adequate translation of the Hebrew. In the Bible the root tsana is found only here and in Prov. xi. 2 (elsewhere anaw is used to express humility). The lexicon turns to Rabbinic Hebrew for elucidation of its meaning, and there the word signifies ‘modesty,’ . . . ” But is it “modesty” in the sense of decency or chastity, as the Rabbinic Hebrew goes on to say? No, for the context of Micah 6:8 makes it very evident that here, as at Proverbs 11:2, what is stressed is not modesty in the sense of chasteness and propriety, but modesty in the sense of an awareness of one’s limitations, of one’s relationship with his Maker. And so correctly, and perhaps uniquely, the New World Translation reads: “He has told you, O earthling man, what is good. And what is Jehovah asking back from you but to exercise justice and to love kindness and to be modest in walking with your God?”
MODESTY AND HUMILITY
Modesty and humility are closely related, but they are not the same. The opposite of humility is pride; the opposite of modesty is presuming too much, vanity and conceit. “Humility” comes from the root humus, meaning earth, and has the thought of lowliness. “Modesty” comes from the root modestus, meaning moderate.
Modesty may be said to be an aspect of humility, which is the more basic quality. A humble person who has good sense, who is wise, who uses a sound mind, will also be modest. A humble person will not resent suggestions or criticism, but a modest person is more likely to ask, Wherein can I improve? Have you anything to offer?
Since modesty means being aware of one’s limitations, it is a quality of persons who are finite. All creatures have their limitations, and therefore modesty is becoming to them. But the Creator, being infinite, has no limitations, and so nowhere do we read in his Word of his being modest, but we do read of his humility: “Your own humility will make me great.” “Who is like Jehovah our God, him who is making his dwelling on high? He is condescending to look on heaven and earth.”—Ps. 18:35; 113:5, 6.
Does this mean that God is immodest? Not at all. It merely means that modesty is a virtue that has no application to him.
Modesty being an aspect of humility that involves sound thinking, we find it implicit in Paul’s counsel to the Romans: “I tell everyone there among you not to think more of himself than it is necessary to think; but to think so as to have a sound mind.” Yes, just as it is necessary to love ourselves and yet not to love ourselves too much, it is necessary for us to think something of ourselves but not too much.—Rom. 12:3.
Helping us to appreciate the distinction between modesty and humility is the Scriptural record which shows that, while God’s faithful servants were ever humble, at times they erred as to being modest. For one thing, they may have erred because of not being aware of their weaknesses. The apostle Peter was certainly a humble man, yet he repeatedly thought to improve on what his perfect Master said and did. His lack of modesty he especially betrayed when he said: “Even if all the others are stumbled, yet I will not be.” He was humble, but erred as to modesty, because he was not aware of his own limitations.—Mark 14:29.
At times great pressure may cause a humble servant of God to err in this respect. Moses, though the meekest man in all the earth, on one occasion, when sorely tried, presumed too much: “Hear, now, you rebels! Is it from this crag that we shall bring out water for you?” God took this error on Moses’ part seriously: “Because you did not . . . sanctify me before the eyes of the sons of Israel,” but immodestly took the credit to yourself, “you will not bring this congregation into” the Promised Land.—Num. 20:10, 12.
GOD FAVORS MODEST ONES
Why is it said that “wisdom is with the modest ones”? First of all, because Jehovah God can best use those who are modest, who are not self-confident, who are aware of their own limitations. Such ones will not draw attention away from Jehovah God to themselves and such are also more likely to look to Jehovah God for guidance and strength.
As is to be expected, Jesus Christ is the most striking example of modesty found in the Scriptures. Because of this his Father was able to commit so much into his hands. Even though no one could convict him of sin and even though God made him the sole way of approach to his Father, Jesus remained modest, always directing all glory to his Father: “Why do you call me good? Nobody is good, except one, God.” “The Son cannot do a single thing of his own initiative.” “I seek, not my own will, but the will of him that sent me.”—Luke 18:18, 19; John 5:19, 30; 8:46; 14:6.
Moses, who foreshadowed Jesus Christ, likewise was generally modest. In fact, he was painfully aware of his limitations. (Ex. 3:11, 12; 4:10-13) Gideon had the same mental disposition: “Excuse me, Jehovah. With what shall I save Israel? Look! My thousand is the least in Manasseh, and I am the smallest in my father’s house.” King Saul’s presumptuousness caused him to end up badly, but at first he was modest: “Was it not when you were little in your own eyes that you were head of the tribes of Israel, and Jehovah proceeded to anoint you as king over Israel?”—Judg. 6:15; 1 Sam. 15:17.
King Solomon also started out modestly: “God, you yourself have made your servant king in the place of David my father, and I am but a little boy. I do not know how to go out and how to come in.” Jeremiah, when commissioned as prophet to the nations, expressed himself similarly: “Alas, O Lord Jehovah! Here I actually do not know how to speak, for I am but a boy.” And let it be noted that in all these instances Jehovah God supplied their lack as well as giving them encouragement.—1 Ki. 3:7; Jer. 1:6.
No question about it, modesty is an asset in our relations with our Creator. He that would be more fully used by him must be modest in walking with his God. True, it is commendable to be reaching out for the office of overseer, but this should be done, not ambitiously, but with due awareness of one’s limitations.—1 Tim. 3:1.
MODESTY MAKES FRIENDS
Wisdom is also with the modest ones in that modesty aids in avoiding giving offense and in making friends. Few things so grate on others as a lack of modesty, and few things so make for goodwill as modesty. One who presumes too much is prone to encroach on the rights of others and so arouses fear and antagonism. One who is not aware of his own limitations is bound to annoy others. If we are modest we will not be talking too much, will not be monopolizing conversations, will not run overtime when giving a scheduled talk. Also, we will not sound harsh, gruff or needlessly loud, but the very tone of our voice will be modest, unassuming.
Then, too, we will not estrange our acquaintances, arousing envy, rivalry or the spirit of trying to keep up with the Joneses by word or action. Rather, we will be modest in the clothes we wear, in the auto we drive and in the home we occupy. We will not call attention to our accomplishments, be they in business, sports, in the arts or in the Christian ministry. As the proverbs remind us: “For people to search out their own glory, is it glory?” “May a stranger, and not your own mouth, praise you; may a foreigner, and not your own lips, do so.” The modest person does not blow a trumpet to call attention to his good works but will keep his right hand from knowing what his left hand is doing.—Prov. 25:27; 27:2; Matt. 6:1-6.
We may even pacify ambitious rivals by going out of our way to manifest modesty. That is what Gideon did, when the Ephraimites “vehemently tried to pick a quarrel with him.” He smoothed down their ruffled feathers by saying: ‘Why, what I did was as nothing in comparison with you. Did not God give into your hands the princes of Midian?’ Gideon’s modesty paid off, for “their spirit calmed down toward him when he spoke this word.”—Judg. 8:1-3.
MODESTY A SAFEGUARD
Modesty is also the course of wisdom in that it acts as a safeguard. For one thing, it helps protect from the snares of the Devil. Had Jesus not been modest he might well have yielded to one of Satan’s temptations. Satan did ensnare many in the post-apostolic Christian congregation because of their lack of modesty.
Modesty also protects from the temptations brought by the world. Neither Gideon nor Jesus allowed the people to make him king. A less modest person would have yielded. Modesty protects one against the world’s “desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life.”—1 John 2:16.
Modesty also protects us from our own weaknesses. It will keep us from being frustrated or disappointed because of aiming too high in our ambitions or goals. The two disciples that asked to be seated at the right and left of Jesus in his kingdom were disappointed and had to be told by Jesus: “You do not know what you are asking for.”—Mark 10:38.
Modesty will keep us from being unduly affected by either public praise or public censure. It will make it easier for children to be submissive to their parents; wives, to their husbands; and members of a congregation to their overseers. Modesty will keep us from boasting about tomorrow. And it will keep us from needless embarrassment, as when we presume to take the most prominent seat at a feast and then have to yield it to one more distinguished than ourselves.—Luke 14:8-10.
Truly “wisdom is with the modest ones” and God’s Word gives us much counsel on modesty. Modesty puts us in line to be used more by our Creator, it makes for better relations with our fellowman, it safeguards us from the temptations by Satan, the world and the flesh and helps us to avoid needless disappointments, frustrations and embarrassments. So make friends with modesty. Clothe yourself with modesty.