“If thou hast done foolishly in lifting up thyself… lay thine hand upon thy mouth.”
— Proverbs 30:32
Many years ago, Denise and I went on a cruise of the Caribbean Sea. We had never been on a cruise and didn’t know what to expect. When we arrived for dinner the first evening, we assumed we’d be seated alone, but the maître d’ seated us at a table with six young people in their early to mid-20s. Denise and I looked at each other and then at the six other people, and we realized we were the grandpa and grandma in the group. It wasn’t exactly the romantic setting we had in mind, but it was the seating given to us for the evening so we decided to enjoy an experience with this young group of people.
These were university students who had decided to take a cruise together. So rather than talk about ourselves, we decided to listen and see what we could learn from this younger generation. The young female seated next to Denise glowed as she chattered away. She told Denise that she was studying Classical Greek and that her dream was to become an expert, having already attained a measure of that expert status compared to other students back home at the university. She went on and on about the marvelous characteristics of Classical Greek — obviously trying to impress us with how smart she was.
*[If you started reading this from your email, begin reading here.]
Then the young man seated to my right side decided it was his turn to chime in, and he began to quite literally rave about how brilliant he was with the Russian language. Believe me, pride was not hidden at that table! These young people — according to themselves — were absolutely amazing in their respective abilities! The man next to me went on and on about how he had studied Russian at the university for two years and that he spoke Russian so flawlessly that even native Russians couldn’t even detect a foreign accent when he spoke! Denise and I looked at each other in amazement, but never uttered a word in response or gave a hint that we are both Russian-speakers.
Then a gorgeous young girl across the table spoke up: “Well, I guess it’s my turn to tell who I am and what I plan to do. I am a soprano, and I plan to sing professionally at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.” Oh my goodness, I thought I would fall off my chair any moment. Even if she was a good singer, she was sitting at the same table as my wife, who really had the opportunity to sing at the Metropolitan Opera but had given up the opportunity for the ministry. This gorgeous young girl had no idea what kind of real opera singer was sitting right in front of her as she exclaimed how many awards she had won and how gifted she was at singing.
After the young people had gone around the table and they had all finished “sharing” their areas of brilliance and expertise, they looked at Denise and me — almost as if to say, We know you are older and probably the least experienced, but… And they kindly asked us, “Now tell us — what has been your past area of expertise?”
Denise spoke up first and said, “Well, my husband is a Classical Greek expert and has written best-selling books on the subject.” The girl sitting next to Denise, who claimed such expertise at Classical Greek, nearly wilted. She said, “Well, I’m really not a real expert, like you are. Oh, how embarrassing.”
Then I turned to the overly confident Russian-student to my right and said, “My wife and I have lived in Russia for many years, and we speak Russian fluently. How about if you and I speak a little Russian together?” He leaned back from the table and said, “Oh, I really don’t speak that well. I feel a little put on the spot. I’d rather not speak in Russian right now.”
Then the gorgeous blonde soprano looked at Denise and said, “And what about you?” I interrupted and said, “May I answer that question, because my wife may be a little timid right now to tell you. But she is an opera singer who holds concerts all over the former USSR and who personally gave up a career at the Metropolitan Opera when we decided to get married.” The blonde’s mouth literally fell open, gaping in shock.
I didn’t want any of them to be embarrassed for grossly exaggerating the truth about themselves, but I felt a need to give a little advice about truthful presentations. Feeling they were all embarrassed, I said, “There’s no need to be embarrassed in front of us, but you need to be careful how highly you lift yourself up in front of others, because it could put you in very embarrassing situation. Speak well of yourself, but don’t stretch the truth.” Then I asked them to please pass the gravy, and we all moved on to other subjects. All in all, the evening turned out to be a wonderful time with a group of young, inexperienced university students.
When I read Proverbs 30:32, I remember that night. It says, “If thou hast done foolishly in lifting up thyself…lay thine hand upon thy mouth.” God’s solution in such a moment is simple: “…lay thine hand upon thy mouth” — or in other words, shut your mouth when you are tempted to gloat about yourself.
In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, the word “foolishly” is the word euphrosune, and it pictures the abandonment of one to self-aggrandizing. Thus, it is translated as someone who acts foolishly. It is the extreme picture of one who speaks too highly about himself, one who revels in his own accomplishments, or one who is ridiculously self-congratulatory, which is why sometimes it is translated as mirth. It is the most extreme version of thinking too highly of oneself. The word “hand” is cheira, the normal word for a hand, but here it pictures a person putting his “hand” on his mouth!
Especially when I was younger, I felt the need to impress others because I wanted people to think highly of me. I was probably guilty of the same thing that I saw these young people do who were seated at the table with us that night. However, as I’ve grown older and become more secure in the Lord and who I am in Christ, the need to impress others has become less important to me — and my relationship with Jesus and how He perceives me has taken the place of greatest importance in my life. As I become more sensitive to the Holy Spirit, I become increasingly aware of how grieved He is when we embellish the truth.
During a time of self-examination years ago when I took an extended time to look back on my life, there were many words I wished I could retract, but it was too late and too many years had passed. So I made the decision to be very careful from that point onward to say only those things that were true and honoring to Jesus. Sometimes the best policy is to say nothing at all.
So today I want to ask you — are you guilty of embellishing the facts? If you’re still guilty of this sin of the mouth, Proverbs 30:32 may be the best advice for you: “If thou hast done foolishly in lifting up thyself…lay thine hand upon thy mouth.” God’s solution is very simple. Whenever you are tempted to exaggerate the truth — or to exaggerate your own importance — put your hand over your mouth until it becomes a settled practice in your life to rest in who you are in Jesus. In time you will ensure that in all things and in every situation, Jesus alone gets all the glory and honor for whatever you accomplish in this life!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Heavenly Father, I repent for the times I have sought to impress people by inflating the facts rather than seeking to please You by simply telling the truth. To exaggerate my abilities or accomplishments is utterly foolish since people usually see right through it! I realize now that if I engage in self-aggrandizement, not only am I deceiving myself, but I am also attempting to manipulate others by controlling their perception of me through a lie. That is not the way I want to live! I now see that to blow things out of proportion in order to exalt myself before others is actually a symptom of fear, not confidence — and fear brings a snare. Holy Spirit, I ask You to forgive me for the times I’ve grieved You by exalting myself instead of exalting Jesus. I ask You to set a watch over my lips as I commit to place my hand on my mouth and to give all glory to the Lord Jesus Christ alone!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that I choose to resist the temptation to exaggerate the truth and embellish the facts in an attempt to make myself seem more important or accomplished than I am. To safeguard against foolish speaking, I will put my hand over my mouth. I am complete in Christ, and my sense of security in Him continually increases as my identity in Him becomes more and more established.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Can you remember a moment when you embellished the truth to make yourself look more important in the eyes of others? When was that, and did you ever repent for embellishing the truth?
- What is most important in your life right now? Is it the opinions of what others or what Jesus thinks about you? Be honest, because Jesus already knows the truth anyway!
- Have you ever been astonished at someone’s willingness to exaggerate the truth in order to impress other people? If you hear someone embellishing the truth, what do you think is your responsibility? Should you simply be quiet and let it go or privately ask the person about it?