Modesty—A Fine Ornament for Young and Old
MODESTY is a winning quality. It can make its possessor a likable person. And who does not appreciate being liked by others? With good reason, then, it might be said that modesty is a fine ornament for young and old.
However, it seems that youths in particular have a problem developing proper balance as regards modesty. On the one hand, there are those young persons who seem to be overly modest. They are timid about accepting responsibility, being painfully aware of their own limited knowledge and lack of experience. On the other hand, many youths are overly confident, apparently unaware of their limitations due to lack of experience. The Bible gives examples of both kinds of young persons.
That a lack of modesty can have dire consequences was illustrated in the case of King Solomon’s son Rehoboam. He was quite a young man when he succeeded his father on the throne of the 12-tribe kingdom of Israel. When the people pleaded with Rehoboam to reduce their burdens, what course did he take? Although the older counselors urged him to show compassion, he rejected their wise advice. Instead, Rehoboam accepted the counsel of the younger men, who advised him to deal harshly with the people. So he told them: “My father laid a heavy yoke on you; I will make it heavier. My father used the whip on you; but I will use the lash.” Had Rehoboam been a modest young man, he would have listened to the older counselors and reduced the burdens on the people. Failing to do so, he lost 10 of the 12 tribes.—1 Kings 12:3-24, The New English Bible.
In striking contrast with Rehoboam was Elihu. He set a fine example for all young men today, being neither excessively reserved nor overly self-confident. Even though Elihu had all the answers, so to speak, for days he listened patiently to Job and his hypocritical would-be comforters. Only when ‘the words of Job had come to an end’ did Elihu, with due modesty, speak up. “Young I am in days and you men are aged,” he said. “That is why I drew back and was afraid to declare my knowledge to you men.”—Job 31:40; 32:4-7.
How much more effective and weighty Elihu’s words were because he waited until those older men had their say! Elihu apparently had the key to the problem, whereas they had made it apparent that they did not understand what was involved. And what was involved? The issue of the rightfulness of Jehovah God’s sovereignty and whether He could have people on earth that would prove faithful to Him regardless of what they had to suffer.—Job 1:7–2:10.
Consider also Jeremiah. When Jehovah God commissioned him as a prophet, he pleaded inability due to his relative youthfulness. However, God answered: “Do not say, ‘I am but a boy.’ But to all those to whom I shall send you, you should go; and everything that I shall command you, you should speak. Do not be afraid because of their faces, for ‘I am with you to deliver you.’” (Jeremiah 1:7, 8) With the help of God’s spirit, Jeremiah overcame his timidity and spoke God’s messages fearlessly. However, the prophet never went to the extreme of being arrogant. When before kings and other officials, he always spoke with the deep respect befitting a modest person.
From the inspired Record we can gather that Timothy was another modest youth who was somewhat shy or reserved. While the Bible does not specifically state this, we may reach such a conclusion from what it does say. Please note that Timothy was told by his older friend the apostle Paul: “Let no man ever look down on your youth.” Had Timothy had plenty of self-assurance, doubtless it would not have been necessary for Paul to tell him that. Most likely it was also because of Timothy’s modesty and reserve that Paul found it necessary to counsel the Corinthian congregation: “If Timothy arrives, see that he becomes free of fear among you, for he is performing the work of Jehovah, even as I am. Let no one, therefore, look down upon him.”—1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Corinthians 16:10, 11.
Obviously, Christians young and old would want to avoid the unwise, immodest course of Rehoboam. But they are wise to imitate the respectful, modest manner of Elihu. And from Jeremiah and Timothy it is possible for younger Christians to learn that they should modestly yet courageously go forward in Jehovah’s service, even though they may be somewhat shy or reserved. If they persevere, they will in time gain something that will greatly enhance their service to Jehovah.
The Value of Experience
Younger persons have much for which to be thankful. Regarding their privileges, wise King Solomon said: “Rejoice, young man, in your youth, and let your heart do you good in the days of your young manhood, and walk in the ways of your heart and in the things seen by your eyes.”—Ecclesiastes 11:9.
However, with an abundance of health and physical energy, and often with a head crammed with book learning, youths frequently are inclined to be overconfident as to their abilities. Thus they may believe they can solve the problems that have plagued older men for generations. But with all their learning, eagerness and physical strength, the fact remains that youths lack experience. Likely, that is why the Roman dramatist Plautus observed that “modesty becomes a young man.” Experience usually tempers a person’s enthusiasm, eagerness and self-confidence. Thus it has been said that a young doctor starts out in life with a hundred remedies for every sickness, but with years of experience discovers that there are a hundred ills for every remedy!
Yes, experience—that is what makes the difference! The Bible even states that Jesus Christ was made perfect for his office as King and High Priest by experience, by reason of the things that he suffered. (Hebrews 4:15; 5:8, 9) It has been said that experience is a costly teacher, but fools will learn from no other. Of course, the world is full of people who lack the modesty needed to learn even from experience. Yet experience truly can help to make the modest person wise.
Aids to Modesty
Christians young and old may be aware that modesty is a fine ornament. But how can this desirable quality be developed? Well, among the aids to the cultivating of modesty is the daily reading of the Bible, the Word of God. This gives us a proper perspective and helps to keep us from taking ourselves too seriously. Bible reading also helps us to see things from God’s standpoint. For instance, the Scriptures indicate that to God men are like mere grasshoppers and even entire nations are as drops of water falling from a bucket. (Isaiah 40:15, 22) The Bible, in effect, counsels us to be modest when it asks: “What is Jehovah asking back from you but to exercise justice and to love kindness and to be modest in walking with your God?” And just what it means to be modest the apostle Paul shows, in saying: “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.” It is necessary to think something of ourselves, but the modest individual is careful not to overestimate his worth.—Micah 6:8; Romans 12:3.
Note that the counsel just mentioned is directed not merely to youths but to all, the old as well as the young. However, the Bible does indicate that modesty is particularly becoming to youth. Moreover, from the time of Moses to the days of Jesus’ apostles, the Scriptures show that congregational responsibility is to be shouldered by “older men,” the elders. (Exodus 3:16; 1 Peter 5:1-3) Also, the Bible states: “You younger men, be in subjection to the older men.” This means that the younger men should not be proud or high-minded. But does such counsel apply only to the younger men? No, for the apostle Peter goes on to say: “All of you gird yourselves with lowliness of mind toward one another, because God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.” Humility and modesty are close cousins, so to speak.—1 Peter 5:5.
All of us will be helped to be modest if we keep reminding ourselves that acting with modesty is the course of wisdom for young and old alike. Modesty will spare us much trouble, for it will keep us from presuming too much and from promising more than we can deliver. It will keep us from arousing in others the spirit of competition, or rivalry, and will make us more likable persons. Modesty also promotes peace of mind and contentment, qualities that are basic to happiness. So, not in vain did wise King Solomon say: “Wisdom is with the modest ones.”—Proverbs 11:2.
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Youthful Elihu modestly waited to speak the truth