Be not wise in your own conceits, Romans 12:16.
In our late Modern English dialog we have restricted the word conceit to just a part of its wider meaning. We think of an overly vain person as being conceited. We think of them as having a puffed up opinion of themselves. That is indeed one usage of the word. The Oxford English Dictionary gives one definition of conceit as; Excessive pride in oneself; overestimation of one's own qualities; conceitedness.
In this post we will look at its wider meaning which is often neglected today. The Oxford English Dictionary also says; A person's capacity or faculty for imagining things; imagination; fanciful thinking. Both definitions dovetail into one another. What we would call a conceited person today is a person who has constructed a fanciful or imaginative over reckoning of themselves. It really is a shame that King James Bible believers don't weave the word back into their vocabularies in its wider King James meaning.
I have begun to use it in its bible meaning and it fills a niche place in conversation. It is a perfect little word to describe a philosophy or vain notion that someone has constructed out of thin air. We sometimes see the term non sequitur. A non sequitur is when a person has drawn a conclusion from a set of facts that cannot really be justified by that same set of facts. That is done because the person is predisposed to a set opinion and they have grasped at any straw to establish their own opinion as truth.
One of my dear memories from my children's early days was a time when I had two little boys by the hand and I was walking past Walmart's toy section. The four year old had just learned how to read price tags and as we walked by battery powered jeeps big enough for him to ride in, he told me that he knew why Walmart charged so much for those toys. I'm always interested in hearing a new economic theory so I asked him why. He earnestly explained to me that those toys were so good that the employees didn't want anyone to buy them. They wanted to play with them themselves.
We can all laugh at a child's reasoning as he took the few things that he did know and reasoned about them from within his deep lust for those toys. As a pastor I have seen the same type of reasoning from adults but on a much higher level. The lusts were more subtle, the reasoning is usually on a higher level, but the tendency to be wise in their own conceits is just as obvious.
The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason, Proverbs 26:16. A man or woman with nothing to do never stops thinking. The problem with that thinking is that it is rarely ever tested in reality. If you ask an engineer why he built a bridge a certain way, he can render a reason. He has been trained in bridge design and probably has much experience.
If you were to probe that engineer's reasoning as to why a specific material was used, he can explain the strengths of that material as opposed to a similar material often used. If you pressed him further, he could explain why the particular geographical or weather circumstances, or possibly the traffic expected for that bridge affected his thinking. If you were knowledgeable enough to engage the engineer's attention he could go to great lengths to explain his reasoning.
What that engineer could never do is to compete with a sluggard when that sluggard has had idle hours to search websites, sift through hundreds of theories and to ultimately construct a conceit that harmonizes perfectly with a preconceived notion. That sluggard can go far deeper into proving their pet theories than seven men that can render a reason.
The rich man's wealth is his strong city, and as an high wall in his own conceit, Proverbs 18:11. Western nations have been made wealthy by the wit and the labor of men and women who achieved wealth. By no means do I want anyone to think that I am poking at the achievement of wealth. It is to be admired, not scorned. The Apostle Paul said, I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need, Philippians 4:12.
It is in this passage that he tells us that he learned contentment in either; Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content, Philippians 4:11. You will observe that God does not test many people with wealth. Most Christians and especially servants of God testify of times of extreme want. Therein they have learned contentment. If my observations are correct, it is a much harder test to be tested with abundance. Solomon explained that in Proverbs 18:11.
When a man becomes insulated from the daily money needs for sustenance, it is the natural tendency for him to begin to construct fanciful notions as to his own real worth. The poor man is daily confronted with his own inadequacies. He can puff himself up (and believe me the poor are good at that), but reality is always there to kick him back to earth. The rich man has built himself an insulation from the daily wants of life.
I have seen rich men insulted. It is not that they like the insult, in fact they often chafe as much as anyone, but when they go home, the wall of conceit they have built around their own egos is sufficient for them. It has been said of self made men that they tend to worship their makers.
Be not wise in your own conceits. Whether you have become wise in a conceit because of being too lazy to search out the deep things of God, or because you have risen above daily need, it is easy to beguile yourself. I can assure you that no matter what you propose, if you spend enough time running it through your head, you can find all the proof you need to build a conceit into a mountain. You may build a following. You may become angry at those who don't see it, or you may withdraw into your self to nurse your pet theories and your overwrought self esteem.
If you are a servant of God and you have someone who has constructed just such an edifice, read 2nd Timothy 2:24-26:
2Tim 2:24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient,
2Ti 2:25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;
2Ti 2:26 And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.
That person needs you to do it right.