As a fairly new Christian, I was honored for my individual performance as a soccer player. I was very unsure how to respond. I could feel how this honor was feeding my pride, and I knew that pride is sinful.
Today, in my vocation as a pastor, the challenge remains. Every Sunday, as I stand at the door after the service, I hear from congregants who walk up to me to praise my sermon. At one point, I decided to think of ways to respond to this in an attempt not to be (or just appear?) prideful. I simply responded by saying, “Yes, it’s a great Bible text,” thus ignoring the honor given in regard to the sermon itself.
While it is good to be mindful of our prideful hearts, I was convicted that dismissing honor is sinful, too. After all, as Christians, we have been chosen by God in order to live for His glory and praise (Eph. 1:5–6, 12, 14). Whatever we do, it should all be done to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). And it is only through God’s grace that we are able to do anything good and worthy of honor.
We have no right to pretend that God hasn’t worked in and through us good things that are worthy of honor and praise.
Thus, if we are being honored for something God has enabled us to do and we dismiss the honor, we are ultimately dismissing God’s good work in and through us. It is God who gives us life and strength. It is God who enables our soccer performance as well as anything else we can do. And it is God who through His Spirit gives a preacher insight to understand His Word and who empowers preachers. We have no right to pretend that God hasn’t worked in and through us good things that are worthy of honor and praise. We must simply make sure to be mindful of the ultimate source of everything that is good and praiseworthy (1 Cor. 4:7).
One other reason why it is wrong when we dismiss being honored is that the Bible commands us to honor others. If our children honor us in obedience to the fifth commandment, we should not dismiss this. If we are being honored due to our old age, we ought to remember that God has called His people to “stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man” (Lev. 19:32).
For these reasons, we should thankfully receive honor and make sure we pass on the honor to the One who is deserving of all honor. We must beware of the pride in our hearts, and make sure that we never put ourselves in the place of God by allowing others to honor us without making them aware of the One who is working in and through us for the ultimate praise of His own glory.
But sometimes we will be honored for things for which we are not worthy of honor. As a new Christian, some of my old friends honored me for joining them in wrongful behavior. Such honor is a dangerous poison. In our sinful desire to be honored, we can easily become so addicted to being honored that we are tempted to act in ways that do not honor God, who should be honored above all else in all that we do.
On the other hand, behavior that honors God might not find honor in this world. Quite the opposite—we might receive dishonor for actions that are pleasing to God. Undeserved dishonor is something we can joyfully accept as we are being treated as our Lord was. But we must be careful. We must not be quick to praise ourselves as faithful sufferers. We might actually have deserved at least some of the dishonor. For example, there have been times in which I have stood for the right thing but have done so in an inappropriate manner. On those occasions, I was deserving of correction.
Clearly, not all dishonor Christians receive from this world is undeserved. After all, we are all still sinners, and sometimes even the world rightly rebukes those who belong to God, just as Pharaoh rebuked Abraham when he lied about his wife to ensure his personal safety (Gen. 12:18–19). So, if we receive dishonor, we should listen and think. Rash responses are often the responses of a prideful heart that has been offended. We must accept appropriate, deserved dishonor and amend our behavior as necessary while praising God for Christ, who took the blame so that we would not be dishonored before God.
Finally, we should live for the ultimate honor of God, and we should rejoice in the free grace of God that ensures that we will escape the ultimate dishonor of hell that we would have deservedly received had Christ not taken God’s wrath upon Himself. In honor and dishonor, let us rejoice in Christ and live for Him. To Him be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever (Rev. 5:13).
Rev. Matthias Lohmann is pastor of the Free Evangelical Church in Munich, Germany, and chairman and founder of the German gospel partnership Evangelium21.