He that is despised, and hath a servant, is better than he that honoureth himself, and lacketh bread.
These strange words teach wisdom – your image is worth little. In a world crazy about image over substance, perception over reality, pretense over character, and words over performance, this proverb is very relevant. Concern about what others think is the pride of life. Living godly and comfortably is wisdom and success (Eccl 9:8-10; I Tim 6:6).
Here are two men. The first man is despised by the world, for he does not make the splashy show the world values. He is a simple, hardworking man, who prefers peace and quiet at home to any worldly party or popularity. By hard work he has achieved a modest measure of comfort and success – he has a servant for companionship and labor.
The second man is popular and flashy, always seeking the approval and limelight of the world. He moves in the popular circles in town and presents himself as charming and successful wherever he can. But his image is all show, for he is basically broke, especially if his debts were paid! Thinking work beneath him, he lives mainly for image.
The simple, honest man is better than the pretentious fool. Solomon saw men living for public image rather than working for the rewards of pleasure and security at home. He saw successful men humbled by God unable to quit their former lifestyle and get a job. He warned against image and encouraged contentment with life’s modest successes.
More people live for image today than ever before. The media constantly exalts image; peer pressure is powerful; easy credit makes it possible to live above your means; and corrupt bankruptcy laws allow these pretenders to start over when creditors claim their assets. It is a powerful temptation parents and pastors must teach and warn against.
True success is working hard, enjoying simple domestic pleasures, and living a contented and godly life (Eccl 9:8-10; I Thess 4:11-12; I Tim 6:6-10). Modest possessions with love, peace, and righteousness are better than even wealth with trouble (Pr 15:16-17; 17:1). Wise men ignore what the world thinks; they will not use foolish debt to buy nice things beyond their means. They choose the lower seat in public life (Pr 25:6-7).
Frequent divorces, substance dependency, and dysfunctional lives show the vanity of the “lifestyles of the rich and famous.” The lie of image does not pay; it destroys men (I John 2:15-17). The love of money has a powerful corrupting influence, especially when it is only for image. Many persons, especially the young, waste and wound their lives worrying about what others think, though it means nothing in terms of real value.
What God thinks of you is far more important than what the world thinks. The luxurious rich man ended up in hell, but the beggar Lazarus at his gate is in heaven. Jesus, despised and rejected of men, sits at God’s right hand in eternal joy and pleasure (Ps 16:11).