Sid is great at honoring his superiors. He is deferential to a fault. He knows what’s expected of him and he does a great job of living up to those expectations. Unfortunately, his relationship to his peers is different. He ignores those who disagree with him and sometimes is subtly sarcastic about them behind their backs. He lacks grace. And his conduct begs the question: Can we practice honor without grace? And if so, which value should have priority?
The Bible tells us to honor our parents. We’re told to honor our leaders.* We’re to pray for those in authority over us.** Certain positions regardless of the quality of the person filling them should evoke a respectful response from us.
Unfortunately, because our culture has become egalitarian and mistrustful of authority, this idea of honor according to position has fallen on hard times. Young people especially seem to struggle to understand the idea of positional authority. It follows that many would similarly not understand honor. The book A Culture of Honor
was written to address this issue. A lot of our staff have found it helpful.
How we honor others
To properly honor someone, you need to know their position and their level of authority. When I met the Queen Mother in Swaziland, we honored her by removing our shoes and crawling into the room. When the King passed by, we had to make sure were lower than him as a sign of honor.
We honor the President by addressing him according to his title. Judges are referred to as “Your Honor.” You may honor your mother by holding the door open for her or seating her at the table.
Military people understand honor in large part because they understand position and authority. People in a hierarchical culture understand honor. Fail to extend honor and you may lose your place in the organizational chart.
We need to rediscover the principle of honor. As parents, when our children see our weakness, they stay in relationship with us because of the principle of honor. Honor helps ensure that society functions in ways that bless us all.
We’re recipients of grace
But for all that, as followers of Jesus, we are recipients not of honor, but of grace. There is a higher principle than honor – it’s the principle of grace. If God gave us what we deserve, all of us would fall short. Honor may be important for civil society, but grace is the Kingdom code we live by.
Honor is a selective posture. Honor is a response. Honor can be measured by how low you go relative to another person. Grace does not require a measuring stick. Grace assumes all have fallen short. Jesus lambasted those whose position in the church required honor. And at the same time, he lavished grace on the meek. He began by centering his whole ministry on the meek and declaring that they would inherit the earth. He knew that all of us need grace, so he gave it liberally.
Grace before honor
Yes, we need to learn to honor those in positions of authority. Our culture is broken that way. But we must first lay hold of our kingdom birthright that was given to us not because we deserved anything, but because we deserved nothing.
Honor is an Old Testament concept, while grace is a New Testament one. The problem with honor is that it requires judgment and we often judge wrong. James 2 shows where honor alone is inadequate. A poor man and a rich man come to a meeting. If we use the principle of honor to guide our behavior, James tells us that we’ll make a wrong judgment. His conclusion: “Mercy triumphs over judgment!”
Honor may be rare in our day and age, but grace has been and always will be, amazing. You can find honor in every other kingdom or religion in this world, but you’ll only find grace in Jesus’ Kingdom. Begin by showing grace to people and honor will naturally follow.