EveryOne:Reaching Farther Together
Whatever Became of Honor?
INTERSECT (Where the Bible Meets Life) is a regular column of ONE Magazine featuring Dr. Garnett Reid, a member of the Bible faculty at Free Will Baptist Bible College. Email Garnett firstname.lastname@example.org
In Malachi 1:6 the Lord inquires, "A son honors his father...if then I am a father, where is my honor?"
We might well ask today, where is honor at all? Even the term “honor” is rare in our pop culture vocabularies. We hear it when a defendant addresses the judge in court:
“How do you plead?”
“Not guilty, your honor.”
We hear that kind of thing a lot, it seems. The promise to “love, honor, and cherish” still finds its way into some marriage vows. Merchants “honor” coupons. Boy Scouts still take the Scout oath: “On my honor I will do my duty . . . .” We laud war heroes with the highest decoration: the Congressional Medal of Honor. Maximus greeted his men in Gladiator, “Strength and honor.”
But by and large, “honor” is one of those concepts that seemed to “fade away” with old soldiers, crew cuts, and the end of the All-American 1950s era.
In his book Honor: A History, James Bowman comments:
What is honor? The problem in the present Western world is that no one seems to know . . . . (We are witnessing) a virtual disappearance of the word from the vocabularies of English and other European languages. Ours is a post-honor society; we lack an honor-culture. Honor has largely been discredited. Over the last 30 years the old notion of honor has even become shameful. The influence of the “media and celebrity culture” has reversed the notion of honor to almost the complete opposite of what it once meant.
He’s right. Comedienne Kathy Griffin can accept an Emmy “honor” and brazenly curse Jesus Christ. We “honor” bad boys such as Kanye West and Kid Rock and pop princesses Brittney Spears and Lindsay Lohan.
Yet however far we have strayed from the notion of honor, we can’t escape it altogether. Like justice, virtue, and integrity, honor is one of those core principles of truth we can’t escape because they’re built into us. Our Designer who fashioned us in His own image gave us a sense of moral awareness. We are hardwired for honor! Pop culture is often about spin, hype, and image.
By contrast, honor implies a standard, a fixed measure against which our thinking, our conduct, and our achievement can be measured. When we deny that standard, anything goes; no one is right or wrong, and no basis exists for labeling something honorable or dishonorable. Honor becomes irrelevant except as popular opinion decrees it. It’s whatever is cool, whatever feels good, whatever sells.
The opposite of honor is shame, and there is no shame anymore—unless, of course, you believe that there is such a thing as an absolute standard of right and wrong. Then culture tells you that you ought to be ashamed because you’re intolerant and hateful! When we reject a transcendent standard outside of self, external to us and our human nature—God’s standard—then whatever society values is all that’s important.
Whatever the majority honors becomes honorable. No wonder the ancient Greeks lamented, “What is left when honor is lost?”
Honor to Whom Honor
What a contrast with the biblical view of honor. The word translated “honor” in the Old Testament refers to that which is weighty or significant, that which has importance and worth. The Greek word for “honor” denotes merited recognition; it is “giving credit where credit is due.”
Listen to Scripture when it identifies appropriate channels for honor:
Honor the Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:23).
Honor each other (Romans 12:10).
Honor the wisdom of those who have lived long (1 Timothy 5:17).
Honor those with authority over you (Exodus 20:12; 1 Peter 2:17).
Honor your body by controlling it (1 Thessalonians 4:4).
Honor your mind by pursuing wisdom (Proverbs 3:35; 4:7-8).
Honor marriage (Hebrews 13:4).
Honor righteous living (Proverbs 21:21).
These are not eight separate categories, but one—a single whole which flows out of the preeminent commitment to honor that supersedes all others: Honor God. “Those who honor me I will honor,” the Lord says in 1 Samuel 2:30.
Mrs. Crutchfield's Challenge
The American writer Walker Percy speaks of students he knew “who got all A’s but flunked life.” When I saw that statement recently, I recalled that I had heard it before. It came many years ago from my eighth grade English teacher, Mrs. H. Lenore Crutchfield.
She was an elegant, refined, African-American lady who took me on as a special project (and boy, did I need it!). She challenged me, motivated me, pushed and prodded me to be more than average. “You must do your best,” she insisted. “It’s a matter of honor.”
And so it is. It's a matter of His honor.