Better is he who is lightly esteemed and has a servant, than he who honors himself and lacks bread. Proverbs 12:9
The message Bible says:
Better to be ordinary and work for a living than act important and starve in the process. Proverbs 12:9 MSG
I like the way the Pulpit commentary frames it up:
“Has a servant” literally means a servant to himself. So the Vulgate has, “sufficing himself,” and the Septuagint, “serving himself.” And the expression implies attending to his own concerns, supplying his own wants. Hence the gnome means, “It is wiser to look after one’s own business and provide for one’s own necessities, even if thereby he meets with contempt and detraction, than to be in real want, and all the time assuming the airs of a rich and prosperous man.”
The contrast in this proverb is between individuals that both have the ability to work and produce something substantial to pragmatically help themselves in life. To provide a real need. The result of one is the ability to feed and take care of his own household. The result of the other is hunger. You will know a tree by the fruit it produces. The differentiator is their self view. In one of these individuals, something is out of whack.
Need speaks. Ultimately any need which I cannot meet, something out of my control to provide for myself, may be met in God. Abraham called him Yahweh Yireh, “I am the Lord your provider” in Genesis 22:14. God’s name “I am” is purposefully missing the object. He is… what we need him to be. And he is a good provider. Yet, there are many things he puts in my power to take care of. In fact he expects me to take care of certain things. If I have a sliver yet I believe in divine healing, why would I wait on God to pull it out if I could do it myself? If I have bundled my need in a self-honoring, self-affirming context and lobbed it in basket of faith claiming divine provision when it was in my power to do for myself what was needed, I act foolishly.
But why would I do that? What philosophy, ideology, makes my behavior, position or belief about a topic so important that I need God’s affirmation (or honor) to validate it at the expense of something very practical? From the very beginning he’s charged me to work for my food. “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” The Hebrew word for “honoring yourself” comes from a root meaning: to be heavy either in a bad sense (burdensome, severe, dull) or in a good sense (numerous, rich, honorable; causatively, to make weighty). Honor is interesting. It’s heavy. For someone else to offer it to me is kind. Affirming. It builds me up. And dangerous. Especially when I feel entitle to it. When I demand honor the very weight of it becomes unbearable, even deadly. That heaviness, when honor is self-applied, is actually pride. It’s an inflated view of myself that knocks perspective out of whack, even to the point of starvation and poverty — as Solomon says in this proverb.
Loving God and walking in faith is a precarious balance. The words, commands, and promises in the written word of God can only be fully understood by the Spirit. Jesus’ commands to “eat his flesh” or “hate our father and mother” or to “pluck out our eye” must be understood in context and intent. That includes the promise of “ask anything in my name and my father in heaven will give it to you.” I have rarely walked this balance perfectly. My heart is right, but my application often needs refinement. That’s why the feedback loop of life is so important. I must listen — to the Holy Spirit, to friends and counsel, to needs, to hunger and supply. What are they telling me?
My personal story: At one point my super-faith made some conclusions from the fact that Christ died and became a curse for me. At the time I was frustrated with my work and with what seemed like a silent heaven. I grasped in “faith” (and creativity) that not only did Christ conquer death, but also the other curses given to Adam in the Garden, including the need to work for food. So I believed that I could stop working and God would provide. To make a complicated story simple, God definitely provided and my family was fed, but my choices placed us on the fringes of poverty. When I finally realized that need was speaking to me, I embraced work again. I really do believe that Christ conquered poverty and death. And I believe God is deeply attracted to faith. But there is a timing element of his victory that I am not in control over. I must be aligned with the Holy Spirit. By faith I may grasp it… while I work. Now, as much as I’d like to be going about life as I want, I choose to embrace the work I do — whatever it is. I expected God to “honor” my faith, which ended up being, in reality, a form of self-honoring. It was much too heavy for me.
Whether I’m lightly esteemed, or not, is not up to me. But what I do control is how I honor my Father with all of my body, soul, mind and strength. Better fed, than hungry.