32 If thou hast done foolishly in lifting up thyself, or if thou hast thought evil, lay thine hand upon thy mouth.
Here is referring to blowing your own horn and thinking of yourself more than you are. It also refers to thinking evil, malicious thoughts. The Proverb says that the smartest move in these cases is to shut up. The specific literal reference here for the Hebrew goes back to the previous verses when in the presence of a king. You will do well in the presence of a king not to exalt yourself or speak evil thoughts. It is best to just keep your trap shut. Let the prince lift you up if you have any merit to him. Be humble, not arrogant, when standing in the presence of power.
Proverbs 25:6 ¶ Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king, and stand not in the place of great men: 7 For better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen.
But, what good is that to most of us who will never stand in the presence of so called “great men?” In any event, if you are humble in the presence of the worldly businessman, the head of your company or a manager, they may view you as weak. Still, not tooting your own horn or speaking in a hateful manner is what God calls the Christian to do.
In fact, to bring this verse to a level of application for the average Christian Joe or Josephine in our daily lives we need to put a slightly different view on it. Christians are told to bring every thought into obedience to Christ, as Paul told us.
2Corinthians 10:5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
Not to think too highly of themselves, again from Paul;
Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
We are not to put ourselves up higher than others. Here James and Peter repeat the same sentiments;
James 4:10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
1Peter 5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:
This is one of the problems with competitive sports. The winner is exalted and for a brief time shares in a counterfeit glory, a sort of self exaltation. Athletes past their prime might dwell on their medals and awards. Sports are about winners and losers, one side being lifted up, one side being cast down. They teach a false ideal to the Christian. This is often also exacerbated by the pressure put on coaches to produce winners on the field, the court, in the ring, or on the mat. Instead of being rewarded for excellent character the athlete is rewarded only for outstanding performance. His bad character is only acknowledged if he or she embarrasses the coach or school.
In the cult of self, the exaltation of the flesh is the greatest good. Yukio Mishima, the famed Japanese author and Samurai, said in his classic Sun and Steel that physical excellence is a sign of spiritual excellence and that bodily weakness proved a kind of spiritual sloth. That classic work is a prime case of the lifting up of Self as the greatest ideal. As the pop song made famous by Whitney Houston, The Greatest Love of All, makes abundantly clear, the world acknowledges love of self as the greatest love, not love of others or love of Christ.
Even in spiritual matters we tend to give ourselves honor for our supposed faithfulness, success at soulwinning, church attendance, dress, or manner of living, as we hold ourselves out as a model of Christian virtue and spirituality.
It is more important in sports to give your best, train hard, and to show humility in victory and noble graciousness in defeat. Temper tantrums, foul language, trash talk, and bragging are the signs of a truly weak person. It is more important in your spiritual life to quietly go about serving God and remember where you’d be and where you’d be going without Him.
The Christian should always be giving glory to God alone. But how often do you, when you receive or accomplish something good in the eyes of the world, publicly give Christ the glory? At the end of the day it is SELF whom you lift up and exalt as a little god. Look what I accomplished. I’m proud of what I did. These things are not from God. They are from your own flesh. At work, at play, in politics, in sports, keep in mind that after you die, within a generation or maybe two, as people who know you now also die, you will be forgotten. It will be as if you never existed on earth except as a name on some ignored records. Even now, your athletic and other achievements have been forgotten and are only a dim memory, even to you.
As the Romans said, “all glory is fleeting.” Only what you do for Christ and with Christ has eternal value, or to quote a movie character, “echoes in eternity.” The Christian who is puffed up at some vain, worldly accomplishment should remember Jesus words in a reference about spiritual things;
John 15:5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.