“Wisdom Is With the Modest Ones”
“What is Jehovah asking back from you but to . . . be modest in walking with your God?”—MICAH 6:8.
1, 2. What is modesty, and how does it differ from presumptuousness?
A PROMINENT apostle refuses to draw attention to himself. A courageous Israelite judge calls himself the smallest in his father’s house. The greatest man who ever lived acknowledges that he does not have unlimited authority. Each of these men displays modesty.
2 Modesty is the opposite of presumptuousness. The person who is modest has a sober estimate of his abilities and worth and is free of conceit or vanity. Rather than being proud, boastful, or ambitious, the modest person is ever aware of his limitations. Hence, he respects and gives due consideration to the feelings and views of others.
3. In what way is wisdom “with the modest ones”?
3 For good reason the Bible states: “Wisdom is with the modest ones.” (Proverbs 11:2) The modest person is wise because he follows a course that God approves, and he avoids a presumptuous spirit that results in dishonor. (Proverbs 8:13; 1 Peter 5:5) The wisdom of modesty is confirmed by the life course of a number of God’s servants. Let us consider the three examples cited in the opening paragraph.
Paul—A ‘Subordinate’ and a ‘Steward’
4. What unique privileges did Paul enjoy?
4 Paul was a prominent figure among early Christians, and understandably so. In the course of his ministry, he traveled thousands of miles on sea and land, and he established numerous congregations. In addition, Jehovah blessed Paul with visions and the gift of speaking in foreign tongues. (1 Corinthians 14:18; 2 Corinthians 12:1-5) He also inspired Paul to write 14 letters that are now part of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Clearly, it can be said that Paul’s labors exceeded those of all the other apostles.—1 Corinthians 15:10.
5. How did Paul show that he had a modest view of himself?
5 Since Paul was in the forefront of Christian activity, some might expect to find him reveling in the limelight, even flaunting his authority. Not so, however, for Paul was modest. He called himself “the least of the apostles,” adding: “I am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the congregation of God.” (1 Corinthians 15:9) As a former persecutor of Christians, Paul never forgot that it was only by undeserved kindness that he could have a relationship with God at all, much less enjoy special privileges of service. (John 6:44; Ephesians 2:8) Hence, Paul did not feel that his extraordinary accomplishments in the ministry made him superior to others.—1 Corinthians 9:16.
6. How did Paul show modesty in his dealings with the Corinthians?
6 Paul’s modesty was particularly evident in his dealings with the Corinthians. Apparently, some of them were enamored of those whom they thought to be prominent overseers, including Apollos, Cephas, and Paul himself. (1 Corinthians 1:11-15) But Paul neither solicited the praise of the Corinthians nor exploited their admiration. When visiting them, he did not present himself “with an extravagance of speech or of wisdom.” Instead, Paul said regarding himself and his companions: “Let a man so appraise us as being subordinates of Christ and stewards of sacred secrets of God.”*—1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 4:1.
7. How did Paul display modesty even when giving counsel?
7 Paul even displayed modesty when he had to give strong counsel and direction. He entreated his fellow Christians “by the compassions of God” and “on the basis of love” rather than by the weight of his apostolic authority. (Romans 12:1, 2; Philemon 8, 9) Why did Paul do this? Because he truly viewed himself as a ‘fellow worker’ of his brothers, not as a ‘master of their faith.’ (2 Corinthians 1:24) No doubt it was Paul’s modesty that helped to make him especially dear to the first-century Christian congregations.—Acts 20:36-38.
A Modest View of Our Privileges
8, 9. (a) Why should we have a modest view of ourselves? (b) How can those who have a measure of responsibility display modesty?
8 Paul set a fine example for Christians today. No matter what responsibilities have been entrusted to us, none of us should feel that we are superior to others. “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing,” Paul wrote, “he is deceiving his own mind.” (Galatians 6:3) Why? Because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23; 5:12) Yes, we should never forget that all of us have inherited sin and death from Adam. Special privileges do not elevate us from our lowly sinful condition. (Ecclesiastes 9:2) As was true in Paul’s case, it is only by undeserved kindness that humans can come into a relationship with God at all, much less serve him in some privileged capacity.—Romans 3:12, 24.
9 Realizing this, a person who is modest neither gloats over his privileges nor boasts of his accomplishments. (1 Corinthians 4:7) When giving counsel or direction, he does so as a fellow worker—not as a master. Certainly, it would be wrong for one who excels in certain tasks to solicit praise from or exploit the admiration of fellow believers. (Proverbs 25:27; Matthew 6:2-4) The only praise that is worth anything comes from others—and it should come unsolicited. If it does come, we should not let it cause us to think more of ourselves than is necessary.—Proverbs 27:2; Romans 12:3.
10. Explain how some who may appear to be lowly may really be “rich in faith.”
10 When we are entrusted with a measure of responsibility, modesty will help us to avoid putting undue emphasis on ourselves, creating the impression that the congregation is thriving solely because of our efforts and abilities. For example, we might be especially gifted at teaching. (Ephesians 4:11, 12) In all modesty, however, we must recognize that some of the greatest lessons learned at a congregation meeting are not delivered from the platform. Are you not encouraged when you see, for example, the single parent who regularly comes to the Kingdom Hall with children in tow? Or the depressed soul who faithfully comes to meetings despite persistent feelings of worthlessness? Or the youth who steadily makes spiritual advancement in spite of bad influences in school and elsewhere? (Psalm 84:10) These individuals may not be in the limelight. The tests of integrity they face go largely unnoticed by others. Yet, they may be as “rich in faith” as those who have more prominence. (James 2:5) After all, in the end it is faithfulness that wins Jehovah’s favor.—Matthew 10:22; 1 Corinthians 4:2.
Gideon—“The Smallest” in His Father’s House
11. In what way did Gideon show modesty in speaking with God’s angel?
11 Gideon, a stalwart young man of the tribe of Manasseh, lived during a turbulent time in Israel’s history. For seven years, God’s people had suffered under Midianite oppression. However, the time had now come for Jehovah to deliver his people. Hence, an angel appeared to Gideon and said: “Jehovah is with you, you valiant, mighty one.” Gideon was modest, so he did not bask in the glory of this unexpected compliment. Instead, he respectfully said to the angel: “Excuse me, my lord, but if Jehovah is with us, then why has all this come upon us?” The angel clarified matters and told Gideon: “You will certainly save Israel out of Midian’s palm.” How did Gideon respond? Instead of hungrily seizing the assignment as an opportunity to make himself a national hero, Gideon replied: “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.” What modesty!—Judges 6:11-15.
12. How did Gideon show discretion in carrying out his assignment?
12 Before sending Gideon into battle, Jehovah tested him. How? Gideon was told to demolish his father’s altar to Baal and to cut down the sacred pole that stood alongside it. This assignment would take courage, but Gideon also showed modesty and discretion in the way he carried it out. Instead of making a public spectacle of himself, Gideon worked under cover of night when he would most likely pass unnoticed. Furthermore, Gideon approached his assignment with due caution. He took along ten servants—perhaps so that some could stand guard while the rest helped him to destroy the altar and the sacred pole.* In any event, with Jehovah’s blessing, Gideon carried out his assignment, and in time he was used by God to liberate Israel from the Midianites.—Judges 6:25-27.
Displaying Modesty and Discretion
13, 14. (a) How can we show modesty when a privilege of service is extended to us? (b) How did Brother A. H. Macmillan set a fine example in displaying modesty?
13 There is much we can learn from Gideon’s modesty. For example, how do we respond when a privilege of service is extended to us? Do we think first of the prominence or prestige that will result? Or do we modestly and prayerfully consider whether we can fulfill the demands of the assignment? Brother A. H. Macmillan, who finished his earthly course in 1966, set a fine example in this regard. C. T. Russell, the first president of the Watch Tower Society, once asked Brother Macmillan for his thoughts on who might take charge of the work in his absence. In the discussion that followed, Brother Macmillan did not once promote himself, though it would have been quite convenient for him to do so. In the end, Brother Russell invited Brother Macmillan to consider accepting the assignment. “I stood there half dazed,” Brother Macmillan wrote years later. “I did think it over, very seriously, and prayed about it for some time before I finally told him I would be happy to do all that I could do to assist him.”
14 Not long afterward, Brother Russell passed away, leaving the office of the Watch Tower Society’s presidency vacant. Since Brother Macmillan was in charge during Brother Russell’s final preaching tour, a brother remarked to him: “Mac, you have a strong chance of getting in yourself. You were Brother Russell’s special representative when he was gone, and he told all of us to do as you say. Well, he went away and never did return. It looks like you’re the man to carry on.” Brother Macmillan responded: “Brother, that’s not the way to look at this matter. This is the Lord’s work and the only position you get in the Lord’s organization is what the Lord sees fit to give you; and I am sure I’m not the man for the job.” Then Brother Macmillan recommended someone else for the position. Like Gideon, he had a modest view of himself—a view we do well to adopt.
15. What are some practical ways in which we can use discernment when we preach to others?
15 We too should be modest in the manner in which we carry out our assignment. Gideon was discreet, and he strove not to anger his opposers unnecessarily. Similarly, in our preaching work, we should be modest and discreet about how we talk to others. True, we are engaged in a spiritual warfare to overturn “strongly entrenched things” and “reasonings.” (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5) But we should not talk down to others or give them any valid cause for taking offense at our message. Instead, we should respect their views, emphasize what we may hold in common, and then focus on the positive aspects of our message.—Acts 22:1-3; 1 Corinthians 9:22; Revelation 21:4.
Jesus—The Supreme Example of Modesty
16. How did Jesus show that he had a modest view of himself?
16 The finest example of modesty is that of Jesus Christ.* Despite his intimate relationship with his Father, Jesus did not hesitate to acknowledge that some matters were beyond the scope of his authority. (John 1:14) For instance, when the mother of James and John requested that her two sons sit beside Jesus in his kingdom, Jesus said: “This sitting down at my right hand and at my left is not mine to give.” (Matthew 20:20-23) On another occasion, Jesus freely admitted: “I cannot do a single thing of my own initiative . . . I seek, not my own will, but the will of him that sent me.”—John 5:30; 14:28; Philippians 2:5, 6.
17. How did Jesus show modesty in his dealings with others?
17 Jesus was superior to imperfect humans in every way, and he possessed unmatched authority from his Father, Jehovah. Nevertheless, Jesus was modest in his dealings with his followers. He did not overwhelm them with an impressive display of knowledge. He showed sensitivity and compassion and took their human needs into consideration. (Matthew 15:32; 26:40, 41; Mark 6:31) Thus, although Jesus was perfect, he was not a perfectionist. He never demanded more of his disciples than they could give, and he never put upon them more than they could bear. (John 16:12) No wonder so many found him to be refreshing!—Matthew 11:29.
Imitate Jesus’ Example of Modesty
18, 19. How can we imitate Jesus’ modesty in (a) the way we view ourselves, and (b) the way we treat others?
18 If the greatest man who ever lived showed modesty, how much more so should we. Imperfect humans are often reluctant to admit that they simply do not possess absolute authority. In imitation of Jesus, however, Christians strive to be modest. They are not too proud to give responsibility to those who are qualified to have it; nor are they haughty and unwilling to accept direction from those who are authorized to give it. Showing a cooperative spirit, they allow all things in the congregation to take place “decently and by arrangement.”—1 Corinthians 14:40.
19 Modesty will also move us to be reasonable in our expectations of others and to be considerate of their needs. (Philippians 4:5) We may possess certain abilities and strengths that others may lack. Yet, if we are modest, we will not always expect others to perform as we would like them to. Knowing that each person has his own limitations, we will in all modesty make allowances for the shortcomings of others. Peter wrote: “Above all things, have intense love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”—1 Peter 4:8.
20. What can we do to overcome any inclination toward immodesty?
20 As we have learned, wisdom is indeed with the modest ones. What, though, if you find that you have inclinations toward immodesty or presumptuousness? Do not be discouraged. Instead, follow the example of David, who prayed: “From presumptuous acts hold your servant back; do not let them dominate me.” (Psalm 19:13) By imitating the faith of men like Paul, Gideon, and—above everyone else—Jesus Christ, we will personally come to experience the truth of the words: “Wisdom is with the modest ones.”—Proverbs 11:2.
The Greek word translated “subordinates” can refer to a slave who rowed in the lower bank of oars on a large ship. In contrast, “stewards” might be entrusted with more responsibilities, perhaps caring for an estate. Nonetheless, in the eyes of most masters, the steward was as much in servitude as the galley slave.
Gideon’s discretion and caution should not be misinterpreted as a sign of cowardice. On the contrary, his courage is confirmed by Hebrews 11:32-38, which includes Gideon among those who “were made powerful” and who “became valiant in war.”
Since modesty includes an awareness of one’s limitations, Jehovah cannot rightly be spoken of as being modest. However, he is humble.—Psalm 18:35.
Do You Recall?
• What is modesty?
• How can we imitate Paul’s modesty?
• What can we learn about modesty from Gideon’s example?
• How did Jesus set the supreme example of modesty?
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Paul’s modesty endeared him to his fellow Christians
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Gideon used discretion in carrying out God’s will
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Jesus, the Son of God, shows modesty in all that he does