Are You a Discreet Guest?
WHAT kind of guest are you? What is your motive in visiting? Do you crave being the guest of those who can set the best table? Do you seek the invitation of those who are prominent, rich or powerful?
The world seeks these things. Many have made ‘social climbing’ their life’s pursuit. The “Who’s Who” list is their guide. But the Bible book of Proverbs points out the fallacy of this pursuit and gives counsel that will help one to avoid the snare that lies therein. The wise writer says:
“In case you should sit down to feed yourself with a king, you should diligently consider what is before you, and you must put a knife to your throat if you are the owner of soulful desire. Do not show yourself craving his tasty dishes, as it is the food of lies.”—Prov. 23:1-3.
The proverb admonishes “you” the reader as to your conduct in the presence of those having authority, warning against the danger of attempting a too confidential association with powerful men. Not many people get to sit at the table of an actual king, but they do sometimes eat at the table of one having authority. Usually there is a large variety of dishes, good wine, and so forth, tempting one to intemperance. A guest at such a table should be doubly careful not to overindulge. He should restrain his appetite—figuratively, ‘put a knife to his throat’—especially if he is one who has “soulful desire,” easily led into eating or drinking too much. If wise, the guest will certainly watch all his conduct in this situation, for he does not want to be judged immoderate or greedy by such a man of authority.
“Do not show yourself craving his tasty dishes, as it is the food of lies,” warns the proverb. The guest should not be deceived into thinking that this invitation to eat automatically means that he is a favored one, nor should he presumptuously try to become too intimate with the man. This could lead to his humiliation and possible downfall. Consider the case of Haman, who lost out just when he thought he was the most intimate with King Ahasuerus of Persia.—Esther 5:8-11; 7:1-10.
DISCERNMENT IS REQUIRED
On the other hand, you may be a person in position to do a favor for someone else. Or you may have some authority as an elder in the Christian congregation. The need to use discernment when you are a guest in another’s home is highlighted a few verses later: “Do not feed yourself with the food of anyone of ungenerous eye,” says ancient King Solomon, “nor show yourself craving his tasty dishes. For as one that has calculated within his soul, so he is. ‘Eat and drink,’ he says to you, but his heart itself is not with you. Your morsel that you have eaten, you will vomit it out, and you will have wasted your pleasant words.”—Prov. 23:6-8.
The admonition applies to all persons. You may accept an invitation from a person and find that he outwardly presents a very generous and hearty appearance, telling you to eat and drink freely. But actually he watches and begrudges every bite you eat. Not being the kind that gives something freeheartedly, he is expecting something back for what he gives. So he has calculated with an ulterior object in view, doing this “within his soul”—it is his way of life, the way he operates. If you get a craving for his good things, you may become a frequent visitor in his home. This would be playing into his hands. For your repeated visits can come to make you feel obligated, putting you somewhat under his power. This is what he has calculated.
Unless you exercise discernment and act to stop such intimate association at an early stage you will be caught unawares, as in a trap, and will find it very hard to get out. For example, if you are a Christian elder and the other individual comes to need correction or reproof, you may hesitate to give it. Because you feel somewhat indebted to him, there is a certain embarrassment, perhaps fear. You may excuse yourself from performing your duty as an overseer because you might seem ungrateful after accepting his “hospitality”—though actually, whether you realized it or not, ‘his heart was not with you’ all along. Or you may be afraid that he will be angry with you and remind you, even before others, that you were very willing to eat his good food.
Yes, your interest in his good things may lead you to be hesitant to endanger your ‘pleasant’ relationship with him. You may even go so far as to be partial, favoring this man in a dispute with another, thus committing injustice, injuring another person and causing harm to the congregation and reproach to yourself.—Prov. 17:23.
Then, “your morsel that you have eaten, you will vomit it out, and you will have wasted your pleasant words.” When you realize the trap you are in, it makes you sick, so to speak, to think of his food. You find that the good, wholesome fellowship you thought you were cultivating did not develop. The pleasant words of friendliness and appreciation, the things spoken to upbuild spiritually and to encourage, have been wasted, as well as your time. You indeed feel like ‘vomiting.’
The principle expressed in the proverb would also apply to things other than food. We could get into such a situation through love of our host’s fine, comfortable home, his swimming pool, his boat or other comforts or entertainment he can provide.
ANOTHER OCCASION FOR CAUTION
Lack of due caution and discretion can lead one to yet another kind of undesirable situation. Proverbs 25:17 states: “Make your foot rare at the house of your fellowman, that he may not have his sufficiency of you and certainly hate you.” Even a good friend has some need for privacy, and your too lengthy, too frequent or unseasonable visits can cause him to get to the point where he actually resents your coming.
Again, this counsel would apply also to Christian overseers in calling on brothers to offer spiritual help. They should be discreet, trying not to call at inopportune times. If there is a real problem to discuss, it is often wise to make arrangements in advance. Overseers should not call so frequently as to become annoying to the household, and should refrain from being injudiciously lengthy in their visits.
Indeed, it calls for discernment, respect and a real interest in the other person’s welfare in order to be a good guest.