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The concept of honor has long been one of the chief virtues in Western civilization, and more importantly, in the church. In our day, however, the concept has fallen into near oblivion with no-fault divorce, broken promises, and public, bald-faced lies. Honor, however, is a significant virtue in the Bible. Paul teaches in Philippians 4:8 that we are to ponder whatever is honorable. In this article, we will consider two things: the virtue of honor and the granting of honor.
the virtue of honor
The term that Paul uses in Philippians 4:8 identifies a person or thing that is worthy of respect. The person who is honorable is one who behaves with dignity. The word signifies one whose character and actions inspire reverence or one who is venerable. When used of a person’s character, the word is translated “dignified” (1 Tim. 2:2; 1 Tim. 3:8, 1 Tim. 3:11; Titus 2:2), and when of a person’s action, “dignity” (1 Tim. 3:4; Titus 2:7). The King James Version uses the words “grave” and “gravity.”
The primary word translated as “honor” in the Old Testament means “to be heavy, weighty, or honored.” It is the word for giving glory to God, who is glorious and honorable. With respect to people, the main idea is “venerable.” The historian describes Samuel as one who is worthy of honor (1 Sam. 9:6).
The Bible teaches that there are several characteristics possessed by one who is honorable. An honorable person is gracious (Prov. 11:16), kind, and thoughtful. He is humble. Solomon states in Proverbs that honor begins with humility: “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor” (Prov. 11:29:23; see also Prov. 15:33; 18:12). The New Testament also relates honor to humility (Rom. 12:10; 1 Peter 2:17).
An important aspect of humility is the ability to take correction: “He who takes correction will be honored” (Prov. 13:18). One other characteristic is faithfulness: “Whoever tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who guards his master will be honored” (Prov. 27:18). The honorable person keeps his word and faithfully does his duty.
By examining these terms, we may define being honorable as having a character marked with dignity. An honorable person is one who is venerable, worthy of respect. The honorable person acts humbly and graciously. He keeps his word and does his duty.
the granting of honor
The honorable person is one who renders honor to others. We are to honor people because they are made in the image of God. The standard of the honor owed to others is the fifth commandment. It teaches us that we are to honor not only our parents but also those who exceed us in age and gifts or are over us in places of authority (Westminster Larger Catechism 124).
Westminster Larger Catechism 127 teaches what it means to render honor:
What is the honor that inferiors owe to their superiors? The honor which inferiors owe to their superiors is, all due reverence in heart, word, and behavior; prayer and thanksgiving for them; imitation of their virtues and graces; willing obedience to their lawful commands and counsel; due submission to their corrections.
Based on the fifth commandment, Paul commands the believer to give “honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom. 13:7). We are to honor those in authority over us because of their office (Rom. 13:7; 1 Thess. 5:12–13; Heb. 13:7, 17).
Moreover, the fifth commandment teaches us to honor our neighbor. According to WLC 131, we should honor our peers: “The duties of equals are, to regard the dignity and worth of each other, in giving honor to go one before another; and to rejoice in each other’s gifts and advancement, as their own.” Peter instructs us to render honor to our fellow believers in the church: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood” (1 Peter 2:17). And Paul commands us to “love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10). But particularly we are to honor those who conduct themselves in such a manner as to garner respect—namely, those who act with dignity, are eminent in piety, and deserve respect (Titus 2:2, 7).
May God give us grace to cultivate the virtue of honor. May the people of God manifest honor. The family, church, and state will profit greatly when Christians manifest the virtue of honor, properly honoring others and rendering obedience to whom it is due.