Walter on Dignity
October 2, 2011
Dear Paul and Friends at Grace Fellowship Church,
A year or two of medical problems and poor harvests has kept this old bloke from writing for too long. I hope you are well and walking in His grace.
I have been thinking lately a lot about the idea of Dignity. A trip to town last week, only to overhear a mouthful of dirt from some boys who didn’t seem to own a belt between them confirmed to me this was something worth pondering. Men talk about a dignified horse or a dignified woman and I think I know what they’re scratching at. What is dignity? My dictionary says, decorum, stateliness, modesty, or respectability. And I think that’s a good start. But to the Christian it is even more.
It has been on my mind that as sin swells in the world, a dignified life is seen less in less even among our Christian folk. I hope it does not surprise you to learn that the Bible has something to say about this, and I’m aiming like a full-uddered cow heading to the barn to speak my mind on the topic and leave it at that. In particular, I am eager to have you ask yourselves if you are what we might call, a dignified man or woman?
I’m not talking about how high you hold your chin, or how pompous you make your words. What I am addressing is best thought of under 6 descriptions.
1. A dignified person helps others… most often in secret.
When Henry Colton was a young man, he ran into some problems with his Daddy. The end result was that the bankers came and took it all and what was left was put up to auction. Colton stood tall and silent in his field and watched as one by one, his house, his barn, his tractor and all his implements were auctioned off to the neighbours. He had lost it all. But something happened. The auction ended. The farmers paid for their goods. And they all walked away empty-handed! They had bought it all back FOR Colton.
What’s more, there was never much said about this amongst the neighbours. There was just an understanding that if one of them had suffered a similar injustice or tragedy, the same would be done. Now these were just old farmers, but it seems to me they walked with a stateliness reserved for kings. I suppose it was the best kind of dignity – the conviction of maintaining a life of doing right with no need for applause.
Some of this still hangs in the air in our parts. When Judd and Judy Jacobs watched their farmhouse burn to the ground, it weren’t but five days later there was a collection made and our little town had outfitted them with about everything they needed. Folks didn’t run around updating tote boards or ringing bells, they just slipped their little envelopes in the Mason jar and whispered what they had to share to the Jacobs. I like that. But I see it less and less.
I read in the paper that Westerners are “overflowing with ubiquitous self-revelation.” I’m not totally sure what that means, but I think I’ve a hunch from looking at the magazines at the grocery store.
Whatever happened to that sense of dignity that took Jesus at His word when he said:
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:3-4)
It takes a certain dignity to do what is best for your neighbour. Especially if your neighbour, or your hired man or your son isn’t so fond of your actions at the moment. It takes a certain dignity to do all this and never parade what you’ve done. A man ought to learn from my dog, Hank. We left for church one Sunday unaware the gate hadn’t been shut behind us. Half the herd was ready to walk away and cost me a fortune! But Hank knew it wasn’t right and stood in that gap the better part of 3 hours barking and jumping until he was as hoarse as a recently de-tonsiled lounge singer. When we returned, he looked our way as if to say, “You can take over now” and strolled to his pen. Sure there was a little extra in his bowl that night, but Hank knew he was just doing what needed to get done. Oh, for more men with the dignity of that dog!
2. A dignified man keeps secrets.
Proverbs 11:13 Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets,
but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.
I swear that some folks have a hearing problem. They are told, “This is really confidential, don’t tell anyone” and what they hear is, “This is a juicy morsel, tell everyone discreetly.” Now, maybe they’ve a gift for rhyme?
This is really confidential
This is a juicy morsel
Those sentences sound enough alike; but that kind of mix up in meaning usually has more to do with ears plugged up by envy than earwax.
Nothing grows a man in my estimation than learning he kept a secret til death did it from him part. Oh, I don’t mean the bad kind, but the kind of secret that protects another man’s integrity or honour. A woman of dignity is one who has learned that some things are best never repeated.
Some sins are best forgotten. Some failures are best not talked about. Especially when the one who sinned or failed has done their business with God and man to make it right.
Proverbs 20:19 Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets;
Informing others of your Uncle Tom’s past mistakes is more than likely slander, not biography. And if you are the voice of those secrets, Solomon says, “therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.”
You may feel like a pent up tea kettle with your bit of news, but venting your information will not help your tension. Oh, you’ll feel better in the immediate, but every time you babble, you wear a groove in your tongue that makes it that much harder to keep a lid on it the next time.
Don’t break the seal! That pressure you feel to gossip will only die down as you turn down the heat. Fact is, your desire to gossip is just a gauge of your heart idolatry. You love something lots more than God when you feel the need to blab. The fire of your heart is burning for you, not your neighbour. And a man or woman would do well to work at figgerin’ out what’s cranking up the heat!
3. A dignified man does not listen to gossip.
17:4 An evildoer listens to wicked lips,
and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.
If you like to hear gossip, you’re either a liar or an evildoer. Take your pick! Which one are you?
18:8 The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
they go down into the inner parts of the body.
Apparently that was so important that Solomon wrote it twice! (See 26:2) It’s hard to turn down steak when you’re hungry and it can be hard to plug your ears when they’re itchy. Some women care more for news than pews, and would fill in the one a hundred times more often than the other. When a morsel-talker makes his way to your listening ear, you’ve every right to turn him away. If we’re fearful of offending the bearer of tales, we ought to remember the bearer of nails. He died to set us free from the lust to know about others.
If you’ve never told a man, “I’m sorry, I would rather not listen to this” then you have likely been listening more than you should. Sometimes we should ask each other, “Do I need to know this?”
It does no good to rest all the blame on the talker. That’s like the chimney saying, “It’s not my fault the fire keeps filling me with smoke.” But every chimney has a flue. Sometimes you’ve got to shut the flue and let the fire choke out in its own smoke. And if you’re not sure what that all means then ask your Grandpa and plug your ears.
4. A dignified man ignores an insult.
12: 16 The vexation of a fool is known at once,
but the prudent ignores an insult.
The more highly a man thinks of himself, the faster he’ll be to lower his horns at the slightest slight. Some folk walk about with a loaded tongue, ready to pull the trigger on anyone they think has not esteemed them as highly as they esteem themselves. They’re more vexed by insult than injury, and will waste no time making you feel it. This kind of thing belongs on a Christian like a silver tea service on the back of a mule.
Again, Solomon wrote:
29:11 A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
but a wise man quietly holds it back.
The wise and prudent, the dignified on this terra nova, have learned to corral their thoughts and bridle their tongue when treated unjustly. They have pondered the Savior who was “reviled, but did not revile in return” and learned to think less of themselves than their enemy does. Something of this has struck a chord with them:
Ecclesiastes 7:21 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.
Oh I hope nobody sets to writing down all that’s ever come out of my mouth! I’ve had more than one occasion of stopping a sentence half way when the subject of my complaint walked into the room. I have cursed others to my shame. And the truth is I didn’t really mean it. I was just venting. I hadn’t yet figured out that:
“Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is a man’s glory to overlook an offense.” (19:11)
If you’re regularly asking salesclerks, “Don’t you know who I am?” then let me just share with you the answer. No. They don’t. And why should they. Fact is, you’re just a saved sinner like the rest of us. If you think you’re more than that, your like the favorite cow that thought she should move into the farmhouse: her moo at the door was met by a whack on the behind! Oh the indignity! But that’s what happens when you think too highly of yourself. It reminds me of that parable of our Lord in Luke 14:
Luke 14:7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The humble man can sit low and even take an insult or seven.
5. A dignified man restrains his lips.
Many words lead to many problems. Some women talk faster than a derailing train and to the same effect. A man whose lips are more exercised than his arms has his own shame to bear. Even a volcano knows well-enough to stop for breath, but some women would sooner pass out for lack of oxygen than stop listening to their own voice. I think 99% of overtalk is the overflow of pride – somehow a man thinks the world actually needs to know what he thinks about everything, even the lint in his pocket.
I once let old Ed Springer let his lips flaps to the wind. I had my own little experiment going on, simply tossing out the occasional “hmm,” or, “really,” along the way to give the impression I was listening. Once he got going, my sporadic grunts were like fuel to the fire… or a spin to the flywheel.
Pretty soon sheer momentum took over and he was caught in an eleven thousand-word sentence that rambled from what he thought a turnip might think about, to a laundry list of complaints about everyone and their third cousin in church. He was like a spinning top that only gathered speed. It’s a wonder his lips didn’t tie themselves into a knot! And that would’ve helped him, since he will give an account to God for every word.
18:2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion.
In talking about being doers of the word, James boldly said: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.” (James 1:26). That’s a strong word for a brawny problem. Before Elsbeth Woods passed away it was rumoured she could talk for 14 hours straight without interjection. Well, it was a little more than a rumour as it was her husband Bob who used to say it. And he had the stopwatch to prove it.
You wouldn’t go to the barn in just your underwear, but when you talk too much you eventually show your ignorant side.
“When words are many, transgression is not lacking (10:19a)
Which is why Solomon said,
17:28 “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”
Wanna impress that young lady, young man? Stop talking!
“Whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” A man or woman of dignity will do the same.
Here’s something related to this:
6. A dignified man waits to be asked.
23 A prudent man conceals knowledge,
but the heart of fools proclaims folly.
When young Jared Benson bought the old Kemp place on the 9th line, I took it upon myself to drop by here and there to see if he needed any help. Being a farming man himself, he knew a lot. But Jared’s dad had passed away when he was only 13 – and there were some bricks missing in his silo of knowledge.
Like most young men, Jared was more intent on impressing than being instructed – so I held my tongue until a few things started to come undone at his place. Pretty soon he was asking my opinion on this or that and I was able to tell him 2 or 3 things that got the whole place straightened out in a season. Now, I could have told him those nuggets a year or two earlier, but I didn’t feel it was my business.
Sometimes a man can’t hear until he knows he needs the answer.
I always thought my daddy was the most dignified man I knew. And he could drive you batty with his long silences and long stares. But he said what he meant and meant what he said. And in that quiet man was a wealth of knowledge. It took me some time, but I soon learned to ask and listen.
Jesus taught the crowds, that’s for sure. But if you read your Bible careful, you’ll notice there were lots of people coming to him and asking questions. That meant He wasn’t talking all the time!
You’ll also notice that he didn’t always answer them everything – but gave what could be borne and what was useful for the moment. Oh, parents! I hope you learn that quick. I’ve seen so many moms drive away their daughters by always telling them everything they know… all the time. Let your girls to come to you once in a while. You made your mistakes, and they’ll need to make theirs. It sure would be a lot better for both of you if you were good friends when they did.
The Matter of the End
Now I’m still wondering if I’ve painted this portrait right, or not? Truth is, its come out a little different from what I thought it would. What does it mean to be dignified?
I guess what I’m trying to get at is something like this. If the world is full of people who show too much flesh and too much personality, who seem to glory in hearing all about themselves and parading their accomplishments, we might do well to pull back a little and ask if we aren’t getting caught up in the tide.
- Maybe we should quit telling each other what we do good and what we’re good for – and even do a few kind things on the sly.
- Maybe we should act a little less smart than we think we are, and talk a little less than we think we should.
- Maybe we should be a might more interested in others and a lot less interested in us. Maybe we should aim at being dignified, more than being cool.
Well, there you have it. You are a dignified bunch down there, but I hope you become even more so. Don’t let the devil gain ground where he doesn’t deserve it.
P.S. There’s a rumour afoot of a rapper looking to join your church. All I’ve to say to that is, “Yo dog, may the Word be spoken.”