What does it mean that “as a man thinks, so is he” in Proverbs 23:7?Question: "What does it mean that ‘as a man thinks, so is he’ in Proverbs 23:7?"
Answer: In the KJV, Proverbs 23:7 contains these words: “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” The NASB is similar: “As he thinks within himself, so he is.” But other translations offer different wording: “He is the kind of person who is always thinking about the cost” (NIV), “It’s like someone calculating inwardly” (CSB), and “He is like someone calculating the cost in his mind” (NET). To get a grasp of what the proverb-writer means by “as he thinketh in his heart, so is he,” we must read the statement in context.
The whole of Proverbs 23 gives advice on how to react in certain situations. Perhaps the speaker is an older person or a father giving advice to his son. In fact, the NKJV heading (which has been added by the translators and is not part of the original text) is “Listen to Your Father.” Verses 1–3 tell how to behave if you have a meal with a ruler. Verses 4–5 advise against working too hard to be rich. Verses 6–8 tell how to behave in the presence of a begrudging host. Verse 9 tells how to properly respond to a fool.
Proverbs 23:6 says, “Do not eat the food of a begrudging host, do not crave his delicacies.” The culture at that time, and to some extent in our time, considered it a serious faux pas to fail to provide food to a guest. To withhold food from a guest would be a serious insult to that guest. This proverb teaches what to do if a person finds himself in a situation where food is being offered to him but knows that the offer is not genuine or generous. The advice of Proverbs 23:6 is that the guest should not eat the delicacies offered, or he should at least eat the minimum amount that cultural standards will allow.
The proverb-writer explains: “‘Eat and drink,’ he says to you, but his heart is not with you” (Proverbs 23:7). This is the context for the statement “as a man thinks, so is he.” The idea is that, even though the host may invite you to enjoy his hospitality, if he is begrudging in his heart, he is not really hospitable, and you would do well to be wary. If the host is putting on a show of hospitality, but his giving is not heartfelt, there must be some ulterior motive, and a guest at his table should find a way to excuse himself.
Here is the full thought expressed in the proverb:
“Do not eat the food of a begrudging host,
do not crave his delicacies;
for he is the kind of person
who is always thinking about the cost.
‘Eat and drink,’ he says to you,
but his heart is not with you.
You will vomit up the little you have eaten
and will have wasted your compliments” (Proverbs 23:6–8).
The CEV puts it this way:
“Don’t accept an invitation
to eat a selfish person’s food,
no matter how good it is.
People like that take note
of how much you eat.
They say, ‘Take all you want!’
But they don’t mean it.
Each bite will come back up,
and all your kind words
will be wasted.”
This passage advises against taking up an offer that is not genuinely from the heart. In the most benign case, the person may be offering to do something because he feels he must. In the worst case, his offer has some ulterior motive that may come back to haunt you. In either case, you are best to steer clear. The point of the statement “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he” is that outward actions can be deceiving, but a person’s heart determines what a person is really like. Begrudging hospitality is not really hospitable and may mask selfishness in the heart. If you suspect that someone’s generosity is not genuine, then you have cause for concern.
Sometimes the statement “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he” is taken out of context and used to support self-confidence or positive thinking. So, if you “think” of yourself as rich, you will be rich. And if you “think” of yourself as poor, you will be poor. As you think in your heart, so you are. Such a faulty interpretation has nothing to do with the context of Proverbs 23:7.
Recommended Resource: Proverbs NIV Application Commentary by Paul Koptak
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Questions about Proverbs
What does it mean that “as a man thinks, so is he” in Proverbs 23:7?