“Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness; but a faithful man who can find?” (Proverbs 20: 6)
In the above verse, King Solomon, the author of the Book of Proverbs, highlights the stark contrast between “most men” and “a faithful man”. In the first half of the verse, Solomon paints a sad but accurate picture of human depravity. Born in sin, we all have proud and deceitful hearts. One aspect of our fallen nature is our tendency to think and speak well of ourselves: “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness.”
o Subtle self-praise
We are quick to condemn the Pharisees for sounding a trumpet when performing their almsdeeds - “to be seen of” men (Matt 6: 1-2). But do we not also laud ourselves, albeit in more subtle ways? Though we may not openly boast of our “goodness”, we want others to know when we have helped someone or when we have accomplished some great thing or when we have fulfilled our duties to God.
Rev Ralph Wardlaw, a Scottish minister, made an interesting observation on these self-promoting people: “They turn the conversation dexterously that way; or they find fault with others for the want of the good they are desirous to get praise for; or they lament over their own deficiencies and failures in the very points in which they conceive their excellence to lie – to give others the opportunity of contradicting them; or, if they have done anything they deem particularly generous and praiseworthy, they introduce some similar case, and bring in, as apparently incidental, the situation of the person or the family that has been the object of their bounty. Somehow, they contrive to get in themselves and their goodness.”
o The need to see our true selves
Sadly, there are many who think highly of themselves and their own righteousness. One such example was that of the Pharisee who went to the temple to pray. His self-righteous spirit was reflected in his prayer: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (Lk 18: 11-12).
The Book of Ecclesiastes highlights a humbling truth: “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not” (Eccl 7: 20). This is reiterated by the prophet Isaiah – “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isa 64: 6). May these clear testimonies from Scripture help us to see our true selves so that we will not have a false view of our own goodness. Let us take heed to the exhortation by the apostle Paul “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom 12: 3).
o Faithfulness – a rare virtue
In contrast, the second half of the proverb speaks of faithfulness as a rare virtue – “but a faithful man who can find?” A faithful man is one who walks in his integrity. He stays true to his convictions and faithfully lives out what he claims to be. Thus, it is not what a man perceives of his own character that really matters, for it is often coloured by his own pride and self-delusion. Rather, it is how a man conducts himself in his daily life that truly counts. His faithfulness is reflected in a right relationship with God and his fellowmen.
Because of our depraved nature, our tendency is to be like “most men” who “will proclaim everyone his own goodness”. But as God’s people, let us put off the proud and self-exalting spirit. Seek to be faithful in our walk with the Lord and in our daily witness before the world. Amen.