I hope you read this. I would like it to be read in every Parliament building, in every school, in every workplace and in every church. I know that won't happen, but I hope that by you reading it there will be a small change that maybe, just maybe, makes the world a better place.
I'm talking about a small word which some would say is old fashioned, out-dated and consigned to history. It feels like a word that has been buried in the darkest corner of our collective society and left to gather dust or grow mouldy with age. It's a word associated with deference on one hand, or sycophancy on the other. Just let me clarify those two terms: deference is yielding to the wishes or desires of another (often based on class or authority); a sycophant is someone who flatters another, often for their own selfish gain. Deference often indicates our own lack of self-worth. Sycophancy, our desire to be noticed through the praise of others. Neither of these two words describes 'honour'.
Of course, honour can be used (or misused) to refer to those in authority who think they 'deserve' esteem or respect. We think, maybe they think, that they deserve it because of their status, wealth, rank or their leadership. All this does is set people apart and we begin to create a hierarchy where we place differing values on people. We honour our choice of politician yet we pour scorn on someone who holds a different view. We believe our choice of Prime Minister or President is the one God would choose, whereas our neighbour might hold a completely different view based on their own very good reasons. Political views are just one example for there are many. Our view, naturally, is right and everyone else's obviously wrong! We believe our expression of worship to be the right one, the only pleasing sacrifice to God, all others are second best and therefore rejected by us and God. We are impatient when another driver cuts across us on the motorway. We resent the mother and her young children, pushing past us as they try to squeeze their way into a supermarket when perhaps the kinder action would have been to step back and hold the door for them.
We don't have to look very far to see the corrosive consequences of such an ungodly mindset.
There is, however, a more basic definition of honour I wish to look at, as I believe, it is something we can all have as a foundation in our lives. It is something the milkman, the postman, the bus driver or the shop attendant deserve as much as those who hold some revered position in society; be it our workplaces, our churches or our political systems.
Respect. Value. Recognition. Treating others as we ourselves would like to be treated. In short, honour.
I thank God that all my children are different. How boring it would be if they were identical in every way. Even twins are different. We recognise and value that difference in our families but somehow we have lost sight of it in our communities and wider society. Why? I think, too often, we are promoting ourself or our beliefs and in doing so, we are pushing ourselves up at the expense of others. Perhaps not even intentionally, we push others down in order to give some credence to our own opinions or judgements. As we do, we dishonour those around us: we do not show them the respect, value or recognition that we ourselves would want to receive.
Deference or sycophancy are not true expressions of honour. They neither value nor respect others. They are more about us and the attention we (perhaps inadvertently) seek to surround ourselves with in order to look good (or better than we really are). Honouring another will make that person look good, even if there is a cost to us for doing so.
Why am I writing about this? Because I believe it to be important, I believe it is part of the Father's nature and character, I believe it is increasingly lacking in our churches and more importantly in our personal relationships. It is not an archaic quality that can be consigned to the rubbish bin of history. It is a fundamental part of the Trinity and, as we walk as Jesus walked, it will be (or dare I say it, should be) part of the fruit of the Spirit which naturally grows within us.
After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." (John 17:1-5)
That's the Father honouring the Son and the Son honouring the Father.
Jesus honoured his mother at the wedding in Cana.
Everything Jesus did was to honour his Father: he wanted to make the Father look good, he promoted the Father above himself, he cared more about the Father's reputation than his own.
The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him. (John 8:29)
Jesus honoured his disciples, he honoured Mary and Martha, he even sought to honour those in civil authority (he was clear that taxes were due and should be paid). He honoured the marginalised in society, the poor, those the world rejected.
The first command with a blessing is about honour: "honour your father and mother".
Let me say again, honour is not deference or sycophancy; it is respect, value and recognition. It is treating others as at least being equal to you, if not better. It is finding the gold in the midst of broken humanity and then praising that gold rather than highlighting the rubbish in which it is buried. Honour is more than common courtesy, it is a heart attitude that reflects the way we think of and treat others.
Social media is one of the most dishonouring creations of modern man. Actually, all it does is broadcast the nature of the human heart which has been more hidden for centuries. Look at any public figure and one of their posts on social media, then look at the comments (before the editor gets to them) - a significant number are negative, dishonouring and very often largely false. Perhaps the only thing worse than dishonouring comments is a dishonouring post.
This is not the message of scripture: "Love your enemies", "Love one another", "Go the second mile." Not popular expressions these days but ones which will begin to build a better society.
Let us finally look, once again, at the example of Jesus. He was, after all, the Son of God, the Creator of all things, the One in whom all things hold together. He did not choose to promote himself or make himself look good. In fact, he chose the opposite and as he did, God the Father promoted (or exalted) him. The Father made the Son look good.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11)
We will reap what we sow. If we sow dishonour, that's what we'll reap. If we sow honour, we will reap an abundant harvest. I know what I'd prefer.
I have written this to provoke a question. That question is not "how do others treat me"? Rather it is "how do I treat others"? I finish by asking you to ask the Father for a change of heart, in order that you can see others as he sees them.
Walking As Jesus Walked
Jesus promises that, when we come to him and allow him to lead us to the Father, we will begin to live freely and lightly.