Two people are portrayed for us in this proverb. We are told it is better to be one than the other. The areas where they are being compared for our benefit could be described as pride and provision.
The first of our examples is a person who is lightly esteemed. The word used here means a person who is of little account to the world around him. He is socially unimportant, and in some instances even somewhat despised by public opinion. Basically, this person is relatively unimportant and unknown on the social ladder. But, we do learn that even though he is a social nobody, he does have enough in life to have a servant who attends to him and helps him in the daily burdens of life.
Our second person is one to whom honor and esteem mean everything. We do not know much about him in this regard except for the fact that he does find it necessary to honor himself (so that others know he is worthy of honor too). This man’s financial situation is far worse than the first man though. He is not financially secure – he even struggles with daily food. And here is the real kicker – honestly, he is not actually all that important. He is a legend in his own mind – but outside of his own mind – he’s little more than a passing, unheard comment. The honor that he thinks he has is honor he gives himself. What we have here is someone who thinks very highly of himself – but no one else joins him in this estimation. His true value is so low that he cannot even provide daily bread for himself.
We’ve all met someone like this before. In their own mind they are awesome. They are front page news in their own press – but in reality, they are never in the paper. They are so full of themselves that they are unwilling to take “jobs below themselves.” As a result – they don’t even have a job – or food. But give them a few moments to talk of themselves and you would think you are standing in the presence of fame or royalty. God reminds us – even a despised man – a social nobody who has a servant is better than this other guy. So what are we to learn from this proverb? What is the point for each of us?
Pride goes before a fall – and a haughty spirit before stumbling. That is the lesson for us. Don’t waste your life running after fame, importance in the eyes of others, or some kind of social status. That kind of prideful pursuit will result in you being a fool. Work hard and give yourself to the task of providing for yourself and your family. You may never make the social register. You may not receive honors and awards. Others may despise you for your overwhelming life of ordinary-ness. But if we understand the Bible – the ultimate day of honor is not when a group of our peers gather to honor us. It is the day when God will offer the only esteem worthy of receiving. That is the day when men and women will receive the “good and faithful servant” award. On that day we will learn that all the awards and prizes men have given and won, amount to little more than self-imposed esteem that has no value in eternity. They have plenty of prideful esteem they’ve given to themselves – but no bread. But the one who sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness – the one who took up the cross the world despises, and followed Him – the one who loved God rather than the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life – that one will be blessed. That one will know the only social register that will mean anything in that day - the Lamb’s book of life. Humble yourself and live for this esteem - His esteem. Living for your own esteem or the esteem of others is a dead end – literally.