This is the second post in our “Honor and Shame” series. In the previous post, we acknowledged that the church is feeling some of our honor being stripped away. In order to navigate this moment well, we need to acknowledge where honor comes from in the first place, why losing honor can actually be a good thing, and how to receive honor from God.

Glory, Honor, and Loyalty

The ideas of glory, honor, and loyalty are closely related. Glory refers to someone’s elevated social status, specifically a royal status. It is often spoken of as something that can be seen (a radiance or a weight). For instance, a crown or a scepter are symbols of glory. A ruler’s glory is something in which his loyal subjects can be said to bask, like a light that emanates from him.

When a king’s subjects prove their loyalty, the king gives them honor. Picture the way a king honors military leaders and warriors, who return successfully from battle, with various decorations. Soldiers give their loyalty to their leader or nation, and in exchange, they receive honor. This honor can even translate into glory of their own (elevated status within society).

However, as was said in the previous post, “Honor can be intoxicating and addicting.” Historically, there have been countless atrocities committed out of loyalty to a leader, a flag, an idea, or a cause. Honor and glory can blind people to their own sins and the sins of their group.

Glory from God, Not Man

Jesus taught and modeled paying taxes, both to the Roman occupiers (Matthew 22:15-22) and to the temple leadership (Matthew 17:24-27). He submitted and showed honor to those in positions of authority. However, he did not seek honor from them or give them his allegiance. Jesus did not need to share in the glory of earthy kingdoms. 

It wasn’t that Jesus did not want to be glorified. He deeply desired to be exalted to a position of great authority. But he did not want the inferior type of glory offered by earthly kingdoms. Jesus wanted to be glorified by his Father, not by men (John 17:1-5). And because of his uncompromised loyalty and faithfulness, he was exalted and glorified to the position of highest authority (Philippians 2:9-11). 

Jesus called others to follow his example of humility. And he rebuked those who:

  • “love the place of honor at feasts” (Matthew 23:6)
  • exalt themselves (Matthew 23:12)
  • “receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God” (John 5:44)

So, it’s not hard to see why early Christians did not seek honor and glory from earthly rulers, authorities, or kingdoms. They showed respect and submission (Romans 13:1-7), but did not try to prove their loyalty. Christians refused to join the world’s armies or burn incense to the Emperor. They made this hard choice because they were seeking the glory that comes from God, not from man. They had no use for the inferior glory offered by earthly kingdoms.

Honor from Constantine

Though it was probably more gradual than it seems in hindsight, the reign of Emperor Constantine (A.D. 306-337) marked a major turning point in Christian history. After Constantine confessed his faith in the Christian God, and gave credit to God for his military victory, he honored Christians. This was a new experience for Christians. Not only did state-sponsored persecution stop, but Christians began to receive wide-spread honor from Roman authorities for the first time in history. 

Constantine may not have meant to do so, but the honor he gave to Christians changed Christianity. For centuries, the church seemed to forget that the kingdoms of the world should not be their source of glory and honor. Not only did they gladly receive this honor, but they also became dependent on it. 

From that point forward, Christians sought honor and glory in a worldly fashion. They waged wars, conquered lands, and lived to prove their loyalty to their leaders. Once they received this honor and glory, they defended it like they were defending their life. 

If we find ourselves saying, today, “The world is no longer honoring Christians the way it used to,” then maybe we should be thankful. That was probably honor we never should have received in the first place.

Love, Suffer, and Be Glorified

I hear a lot of Christians starting to reach the mistaken conclusion that love and kindness don’t “work.” But it seems to be because they had the wrong idea about love and kindness in the first place. They were trying to use love and kindness as a strategy to win honor from people. They thought, “If we are loving and kind, people will respect and honor us.”

Jesus never intended love and kindness to be a strategy for working our way up the social ladder. Love and kindness are not a strategy for winning friends and influencing people. There may be plenty of times when our enemies scoff at our kindness and spit in our face when we love them. This is not love and kindness failing. This is actually love and kindness working.

When we love our enemies, but are reviled, insulted, and persecuted for it, we are proving our loyalty to Jesus and to our heavenly Father. We are proving that we are Spirit-filled people. A medieval knight may have proved his loyalty through the number of enemies he killed, but we prove our loyalty through the things we suffer.

Every moment of every day, we have opportunities to prove our loyalty by walking in the Spirit and allowing the Spirit’s fruit to be seen in us (Galatians 5:22-23). The world may scoff at our peace and patience, but our heavenly Father is beaming with joy. He is the one we are trying to please. He is the one from whom we desire honor and glory.

Listen closely to the words of Paul:

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

Romans 8:16-17

Did you catch that? “We suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Our heavenly Father will glorify us with Christ, provided “we suffer with him.” Seek honor from God, not from man.

I love you and God loves you,

Wes McAdams

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