“Wisdom is with the modest ones.”—PROV. 11:2.
1, 2. Why was a once modest man rejected by God? (See opening picture.)
KING SAUL of ancient Israel began his reign as a modest and respected man. (1 Sam. 9:1, 2, 21; 10:20-24) But soon after he became king, he carried out a series of presumptuous acts. When God’s prophet Samuel did not show up in Gilgal at the appointed time, Saul became impatient. The Philistines were preparing for battle, and the Israelites were deserting Saul. He must have thought, ‘I have to do something—and quickly.’ So he offered up a sacrifice to God, which he was not authorized to do. Jehovah was not pleased.—1 Sam. 13:5-9.
2 When Samuel arrived in Gilgal, he rebuked Saul. Instead of accepting the correction, Saul made excuses, tried to shift the blame, and minimized what he had done. (1 Sam. 13:10-14) That started a terrible chain of events that eventually cost Saul his kingship and, more important, Jehovah’s approval. (1 Sam. 15:22, 23) Despite a promising beginning, Saul’s life ended in complete disaster.—1 Sam. 31:1-6.
3. (a) What do many people think about modesty? (b) What questions need to be answered?
3 In today’s competitive world, many feel that they have to stand out from the crowd in order to get ahead. In doing so, they may sacrifice all modesty. For example, a well-known movie star, turned politician, once said: “Modesty is not a word that applies to me in any way—I hope it never will.” Why, though, does modesty still matter? What is modesty, and what is it not? And how can we remain modest despite challenging situations or pressure from others? In this article, we will answer the first two questions. The third question will be addressed in the following article.
WHY IS MODESTY IMPORTANT?
4. How would you define a presumptuous act?
4 The Bible contrasts modesty with presumptuousness. (Read Proverbs 11:2.) Wisely, David asked Jehovah to “hold [him] back from presumptuous acts.” (Ps. 19:13) What are “presumptuous acts”? By definition, when someone rashly or impertinently does something that he is not authorized to do, he is acting presumptuously. Because of inherited sin, we all act presumptuously at times. But as King Saul’s example illustrates, if we develop a pattern of pushing ahead, sooner or later we will find ourselves in serious trouble with God. Psalm 119:21 says of Jehovah: “You rebuke the presumptuous.” Why is that?
5. Why are presumptuous acts serious?
5 Presumptuous acts are more serious than innocent mistakes. First, when we act immodestly, we fail to honor Jehovah as our rightful Sovereign. Second, if we act beyond the scope of our authority, we are likely to get into conflict with others. (Prov. 13:10) And third, when it becomes clear that we have acted presumptuously, we may be embarrassed or even humiliated. (Luke 14:8, 9) Presumptuous acts do not turn out well. As the Scriptures show, modesty is always the right course.
WHAT DOES MODESTY INVOLVE?
6, 7. What is humility, and how is modesty related to it?
6 Modesty and humility are closely linked traits. In the Bible, humility refers to being free from pride or arrogance. It is described as “lowliness of mind.” (Phil. 2:3, ftn.) A humble person is generally also a modest person, able to estimate accurately his own abilities and achievements, to acknowledge his mistakes, and to accept suggestions and new ideas. Humility greatly pleases Jehovah.
7 In the Bible, modesty similarly refers to having a proper estimate of ourselves and an awareness of our limitations. In the original language of the text, the emphasis seems to be on how that awareness should affect our behavior toward others.
8. What are some warning signs of immodest thinking or behavior?
8 When might we start to think or act immodestly? Consider a few of the warning signs. We might be taking ourselves or our privileges too seriously. (Rom. 12:16) We might be drawing attention to ourselves in inappropriate ways. (1 Tim. 2:9, 10) Or we might be advocating strong opinions solely on the basis of our position, connections, or personal thinking. (1 Cor. 4:6) Often, when we act like this, we may not even be aware that we have crossed the line from modesty to presumptuousness.
9. What has led some to become presumptuous? Give a Bible example.
9 Anyone can act immodestly if he allows himself temporarily to be overcome by fleshly desires. Selfish ambition, envy, and uncontrolled anger have led many to presumptuous acts. Bible characters like Absalom, Uzziah, and Nebuchadnezzar succumbed to such works of the flesh and were humbled by Jehovah for their presumptuousness.—2 Sam. 15:1-6; 18:9-17; 2 Chron. 26:16-21; Dan. 5:18-21.
10. Why should we avoid judging other people’s motives? Give a Bible example.
10 There are other reasons, though, why someone may act immodestly. Consider, for example, the following Bible accounts: Genesis 20:2-7 and Matthew 26:31-35. Were the seemingly presumptuous actions of Abimelech and Peter motivated by sinful desires? Or were these individuals simply unaware of all the facts, or were they caught off guard? Since we cannot read hearts, it is both wise and loving to avoid jumping to conclusions about other people’s motives.—Read James 4:12.
ACKNOWLEDGING OUR PLACE
11. How is modesty related to acknowledging our place in God’s arrangement?
11 Modesty really starts with acknowledging our place in God’s arrangement. As a God of order, Jehovah gives each one of us a place or sphere of operation in his household. Everyone’s role in the congregation is unique, but all of us are needed. In his undeserved kindness, Jehovah has given each of us certain gifts, assets, abilities, or talents. We can use them to glorify him and to benefit others. (Rom. 12:4-8) Jehovah has entrusted us with a stewardship that comes with honor, trust, and responsibility.—Read 1 Peter 4:10.
12, 13. Why should we not be surprised if our place in God’s arrangement changes from time to time?
12 Our place in God’s arrangement is not fixed, however. It can change over time. Consider Jesus’ example. Initially, he was alone with Jehovah. (Prov. 8:22) Then he helped make other spirit creatures, the material universe, and finally, humans. (Col. 1:16) Still later, Jesus took on a new role on earth, first as a helpless baby and then as an adult. (Phil. 2:7) After his sacrificial death, Jesus returned to heavenly spirit life to become the King of God’s Kingdom in 1914. (Heb. 2:9) And that will not be his last change of assignment. After his Thousand Year Reign, Jesus will hand over his Kingdom to Jehovah so that “God may be all things to everyone.”—1 Cor. 15:28.
13 We can likewise expect our assignments to change from time to time, often because of decisions we make. For example, were you single, but then you got married? Have you begun raising children? In your later years, have you simplified your life to take up the full-time ministry? Each of those decisions came with certain privileges and responsibilities. Our changing circumstances can expand or limit our sphere of operation. Are you young or up in years? Is your health good or fragile? Jehovah always considers how each of us might best be used in his service. He only expects from us what is reasonable, and he greatly appreciates whatever we do.—Heb. 6:10.
14. How can a modest outlook help us to find fulfillment and keep our joy in any situation?
14 Jesus found joy in every one of his assignments, and we can find joy in ours. (Prov. 8:30, 31) A modest person does not feel cramped by his current assignments or responsibilities in the congregation. He does not worry about gaining future privileges or about what others are achieving. Instead, he focuses his energies on finding purpose and enjoyment in his present role because he views it as coming from Jehovah. At the same time, he sincerely respects the role or place that Jehovah has given to others. Modesty helps us to enjoy giving others due honor and support.—Rom. 12:10.
WHAT MODESTY IS NOT
15. What can we learn from Gideon’s modesty?
15 Gideon is an excellent example of modesty in action. When Jehovah’s angel first appeared to him, Gideon readily acknowledged his modest background and credentials. (Judg. 6:15) After he accepted Jehovah’s assignment, Gideon made sure that he thoroughly understood what was required, and he looked to Jehovah for guidance. (Judg. 6:36-40) Gideon was bold and courageous. Yet, he acted with caution and shrewdness. (Judg. 6:11, 27) He did not seize upon his assignment to gain prominence. Rather, as soon as he could, he gladly returned to his former place.—Judg. 8:22, 23, 29.
16, 17. What does a modest person take into consideration when thinking about making spiritual progress?
16 Being modest does not mean that we should never reach out for or accept additional privileges of service. The Scriptures encourage all of us to make advancement. (1 Tim. 4:13-15) Does this always require a change of assignment though? Not necessarily. With Jehovah’s blessing, we can make spiritual progress in whatever role we are currently serving. We can continue to cultivate our God-given abilities and expand in doing good works.
17 Before accepting a new assignment, a modest person will first find out what will be required of him. He can then make an honest evaluation of his circumstances. For example, will he be able to take on more work or responsibility without neglecting other important things? Can some of his current work be delegated to make room for the new responsibility? If the answer to one or both of these questions is no, perhaps there is someone else who might be in a better position to care for the assignment right now. A prayerful and realistic analysis will help us to avoid overreaching our current abilities and limitations. Modesty may lead us to say no.
18. (a) What will modesty move us to do in a new role or assignment? (b) How does Romans 12:3 apply to a modest person?
18 When we do accept a new assignment, Gideon’s example reminds us that we cannot succeed without Jehovah’s direction and blessing. After all, we have been invited “to walk in modesty with [our] God.” (Mic. 6:8) So any time we take on new responsibilities, we need to reflect prayerfully on whatever Jehovah tells us through his Word and his organization. We have to learn to adjust our unsteady steps to match Jehovah’s steady lead. Let us remember that it is Jehovah’s humility and not our own ability that ‘makes us great.’ (Ps. 18:35) Choosing to walk modestly with God will therefore help us to think neither too much nor too little of ourselves.—Read Romans 12:3.
19. For what reasons should we cultivate modesty?
19 A modest person gives Jehovah the honor he deserves, since Jehovah is our Creator and Universal Sovereign. (Rev. 4:11) Modesty helps us to be satisfied with and productive in our assigned place in God’s arrangement. Modesty restrains us from acting dishonorably, and it promotes unity among Jehovah’s people. Modesty motivates us to consider others ahead of ourselves, and it encourages us to be cautious, thus avoiding serious mistakes. For these reasons, modesty still matters to all of God’s people, and Jehovah treasures those who cultivate it. But what about when we are under pressure? The next article will show us how to remain modest in stressful situations.