In the above verses our Lord by a parable disapproves of the disgrace of forwardness and approves of the grace of modesty. The disgrace of forwardness is illustrated by the actions of some guests who, invited to a wedding, would seek for and take the highest places at a feast, and who would be abased in the presence of the entire company by being asked by the host to take lower places. The grace of modesty is illustrated by the actions of other guests who, invited to the wedding, would seek for and take the lower places, and who would be honored in the presence of the entire company by being asked by the host to take higher places at the feast.
The Definition of Modesty
Modesty is a quality of the heart that expresses itself in acts. It may be defined as that thought and feeling which makes one think and feel unostentatiously, guilelessly and reticently, and that expresses itself into acts that are unostentatiously guileless and reticent.
The Bible gives many fine examples of modesty. Saul exemplified it when he considered himself too obscure to be praised by Samuel as the Lord’s and Israel’s choice to be king, and he even hid himself and had to be searched for and brought forward. Jesus exemplified this grace when he gave up His pre-human nature, office and honor and became a human being, even submitting to the humiliations of crucifixion and its attendant shame and disgrace. John the Baptist practiced modesty when he disclaimed worthiness to baptize Jesus and to be of Messiah’s Bride, contenting himself with the office of being the Friend of the Bridegroom. The Apostle Paul also showed it when he withdrew from the multitudes to Arabia to learn the Word better, and refrained from service for years until ready.
There are disgraces that stand in striking contrast with modesty: (1) ostentatiousness, the showing-off spirit, which delights to impress upon others its real or imagined superiorities; (2) pomposity, which loves to present oneself with the mark of greatness and bombast; and (3) forwardness, which inappropriately thrusts itself forward.
The Ingredients of Modesty
(1.) Unostentatiousness does not seek to show off; it avoids the limelight; it prefers to be unobserved; it never does things to attract attention to itself; and whenever it is necessary to speak of oneself, it seeks to hide self as much as possible, and gives the praise to God for whatever of good in itself requires mention.
(2.) Simplicity, guilelessness avoids all artificiality and every trickery to attract attention and admiration to itself; it is natural in thought, motive, word, tone, look, gesture and act, and condescends to the lowly in personality and in rank; and it is open-hearted and aboveboard.
(3.) Reticense prefers to be unnoticed; it feels at home in solitude; it hides its merits as much as possible from others’ view; and it is self-effacing.
The Enemies of Modesty
Satan hates and opposes it; the world in certain ways despises it and sets it aside; and the flesh finds much in it that it hates and opposes. There are especially three impersonal enemies that it has: (1) pride hates and opposes it, especially because modesty is out of harmony with all its faults of overweening self-confidence, self-satisfaction and self-exaltation; (2) praise, unless one is humble, will quite likely overthrow one’s modesty. Let us hesitate to bestow praise, until we are satisfied that it will not undermine one’s modesty. And when we think we can wisely bestow it, let us do so in a manner that will give proper encouragement and not cause injury; and (3) flattery, is an unmerited and insincere praise. When it is bestowed, it is usually at Satan’s suggestion and is almost always immediately followed up by his working on the mind, heart and will of the one flattered to make him become proud and to exercise modesty’s opposite disgraces.
Abuses of Modesty
Modesty can also be abused. One can have an exaggerated modesty that causes one to shrink back from undertaking what one has the ability to perform successfully. Many others are so modest that they make a failure in what their talents qualify them for success. Another misuse of modesty is a deficiency of it, which makes one so pushful as to “rush in where angels fear to tread,” and stirs up in him the “vaunting ambition that overleaps itself.”