“The wise will inherit honor, but fools display dishonor.” Proverbs 3:35
“The wise will inherit honor…”
How Honor Comes to You
Pretty much every person you ever meet desires to be honored, at least in some way, even if they don’t believe they deserve it. People will go to great lengths to gain honor from others; it’s a basic human need to be respected. Dignity, reverence, respect… these are the attitudes universally desirable to humankind.
But most people do not lead the kind of lives which would lead others to honor them. This is truly unfortunate. So many people are scrambling for respect all through their days, but will never achieve it by the mere fact of the way they live. What contradiction there is in human life!
Solomon, the author of the Proverbs of the Bible, truly understood honor; he had it to the enth degree. Not only did he have more wealth than anyone who had ever lived (or would live), he was known for his wisdom the entire world over, and was often visited by dignitaries from around the globe. Kings and queens travelled thousands of miles by boat or caravan just to sit under Solomon and hear his unmatched wisdom (1 Kings 10).
When Solomon speaks of “honor” in this short axiom, he speaks from experience, having received every imaginable honor ever bestowed on a mortal being. And what does he say of this great gift? “The wise will inherit honor.” Note he does not say the wise will find honor, gain honor, achieve honor, or somehow access it. No. The wise do nothing to grasp a hold of honor. Instead, the honor comes to them.
Just as when child receives an inheritance from a parent, the child is not the one making the transfer of wealth occur. The inheritance is bestowed on him. He is the recipient. He is a passive receiver. And why does the child receive the inheritance?
There are two basic reasons. First, he receives the inheritance because of who he is. His place in the family structure. His position. Second, he receives the inheritance because of how his parents feel about him. It’s entirely the parent’s choice to give or not give an inheritance to a child. They have the option of spending their wealth on themselves and leaving nothing, or choosing to give it to someone else (perhaps another child whom they like more).
Likewise, honor comes to a person because of who he or she is, and because of who the giver is. When the person is wise, honor follows. And who is the One who gives honor? This verse speaks of the honor from the Lord, for it is the only honor given any lasting merit in the Bible. Honor from other people is transient and often misplaced; honor from God is eternal and without error.
The other side of the proverb is equally poignant:
How Dishonor Comes to You
“… but fools display dishonor.”
The key word here is “display”. The original Hebrew word for display is polel, which means “to lift up, to raise, to exalt”. The fool acts on behalf of this trait. In contrast to honor, dishonor comes by a direct action of the person. It is a result of what the person does. He displays dishonor in his words, his deeds, his thoughts, his motivations. You know a fool by his actions, which align with his words, which are created by his thoughts, and which are driven by his motivations.
Of course no one wants dishonor. Disgrace and ignominy people avoid emphatically. But most people experience dishonor, at least to some degree. It is so difficult to control our behavior, day to day, and somehow others never seem to forget when you fail, so dishonor comes quite easily. And frequently.
What We Can Learn From This
There are a couple key things we can learn from these Solomonic truths and purposely acting on these lessons from the book of Proverbs will provide us the joys of honor and the freedom from dishonor.
First, let us realize honor is not something we pursue and achieve. So many people have this wrong. Whatever word you might fill in for honor, such as respect, dignity, deference…. these are not gained by direct effort on our part. In other words, there aren’t steps we can take to gain this title. Honor is gained when it is bestowed by someone who has the authority to bestow it. In a company, a CEO or high-level manager can grant honor to a lower-level employee. A coach can grant honor to his player. But far, far more impactful than honor granted by a mere human is when honor is bestowed from God Almighty to an individual.
THIS IS THE TRUE, MEANINGFUL HONOR, because God only bestows honor upon those to whom it is justly due.
As we can be branded with dishonor by our actions, we can also avoid dishonor by our actions. All the vices which afflict mankind and bring us dishonor (deceit, lust, anger, greed, contempt, dishonesty, selfishness, etc.) can be eradicated from our daily lives with intentional effort. Often, we do things without thinking of the consequences. How would our lives look different if we actually contemplated the results of our actions before we moved forward with them?
It’s been said the best way to live each day is as if this was your very last day. How would your choices be different if you knew your time was up? Would you do those things which result in dishonor? Or honor?
Both honor and dishonor come to the individual by action, but one God controls, and the other you control. Honor is bestowed. Dishonor is earned.