“Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here’, than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.” (Prov 25:6-7)
I imagine that Solomon was in this situation more than a few times during his 40-year reign. A king’s average day brings him into contact with people for whom that same day will be a highlight in their life. I once shook hands with a former president, but I am certain he does not remember the day he shook my hand. The awe of celebrity and power causes people to jostle just to be near it. Solomon had been through many a state dinner where attendees vied for the most honorable seat. He had observed the humiliation of one who jostled for the place of honor, only to be told to move down the kiddy table. Much better, Solomon said, to be invited to the place of honor than to jostle for it.
Jesus made a similar observation. He had been invited to dinner and noticed how those attending competed for the places of honor. He told a parable that imagined two people at a wedding feast. The first person jostled for the most honorable seat possible, only to be humiliated when the host said, “we need you to move down and make room for someone more important than you,” “and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place” (Lk 14:9). The second person voluntarily seated himself at the lowest place possible at the feast, only for the host to insist that he was worthy of much more honor. “Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you” (Lk 14:10).
The lesson of Solomon’s proverb and Jesus’ parable is summed up nicely in Luke 14:11—“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Imagine these two people in a church. The first is busy exalting himself. He wants his voice to be heard, he wants to be noticed and respected by others, and he relishes the spotlight. The second is keeping busy with humble service. He is not worried about credit or recognition—only the meeting of needs. I have known both of these kinds of brethren, and without exception, the ones I hold in highest regard fit the second category. Those in the first routinely cause problems and division.
The sad irony is that those who jostle for honor will never get it. In fact, they set themselves up for ultimate humiliation from God who humbles the exalted and exalts the humble. Honor cannot be taken, only given.