The Wise Worker is Modest (Proverbs)
The proverbs commend modesty, both in attitude (avoid excessive pride) and in the use of money (avoid lavish spending). These virtues do not appear in the description of the Valiant Woman. But they appear so strongly elsewhere in Proverbs and apply so directly to work, that we cannot do justice to the book without mentioning them.
A Modest Worker is Not Proud
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud” (Prov. 16:18-19). Verse 18 may be the most famous proverb of all. There are others.
When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but wisdom is with the humble. (Prov. 11:2)
Haughty eyes and a proud heart—the lamp of the wicked—are sin. (Prov. 21:4)
A person’s pride will bring humiliation, but one who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. (Prov. 29:23).
Are these proverbs commands against self-respect? No, they are calls to live in such awe of God (the “fear of the Lord”) that we see ourselves as we really are and we can be honest with ourselves about ourselves. If we fear the Lord, we no longer have to fear our own self-image, and we can let go of trying to puff ourselves up. It is to rest in the knowledge that God will ultimately triumph over this broken world of sin and destruction. The Lord knows the path of the righteous—even in the workplace. In the end, God lifts up those who put their trust in him.
A Modest Worker is Not Driven by the Lure of Wealth
The ancient sage, Agur—the source of the next-to-last collection of sayings in the book—left us a wise prayer. “Two things I ask of you; do not deny them to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full, and deny you, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God (Prov. 30:7-9). These are wise words for us in the workplace, “Give me neither poverty nor riches.”
We work to earn a living, to enjoy a measure of comfort and security, to provide for our families and to contribute something to the poor and the wider community. Is that enough or are we driven to strive for more? Agur links that desire for more to leaving God out of our lives, to ignoring our Creator and his purposes for us. Agur also prays that he will not live in poverty but that God would provide the food he needs. This is a legitimate prayer. Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).
But if we turn our work into a quest for ever-increasing wealth—greed, in other words—we have left the path of wisdom. We may seek wealth—consciously or not—because it seems to offer concrete evidence of our success and self-worth. But the comfort of wealth is imaginary. “The wealth of the rich is their strong city; in their imagination it is like a high wall” (Prov. 18:11). “The rich is wise in self-esteem, but an intelligent poor person sees through the pose” (Prov. 28:11). In reality, wealth does not bring an end to troubles. It merely substitutes the troubles of wealth for the troubles of poverty. “Wealth is a ransom for a person’s life, but the poor get no threats” (Prov. 13:8). Wealth cannot actually make us feel more secure. “Those who trust in their riches will wither” (Prov. 11:28). We should be on guard, especially against sacrificing the richness of life to obtain the riches of money. “The miser is in a hurry to get rich and does not know that loss is sure to come” (Prov. 28:22). “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; be wise enough to desist” (Prov. 23:4). In particular, the wise care more about their honest reputations than about their bank accounts. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (Prov. 22:1).
The proverbs are not opposed to wealth itself. In fact, wealth can be a blessing. “The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it” (Prov. 10:22). It is the obsession for wealth that causes harm.
If nothing else, the proverbs of modesty remind us that our exploration of the book through the lens of the Valiant Woman may be a helpful guide, but it does not exhaust the contributions of the book to the theory and practice of work. All the proverbs are well worth further study beyond the glimpses seen in this article! We encourage those who find this article helpful to continue reading the proverbs to discover further meanings and applications, and to reflect on their own experience in the light of God’s wisdom.