Honored by God: The Role of Reciprocal Honor

I’ve been teaching through First Samuel recently, and two of the main themes running through the book are (1) that God is providentially providing righteous leadership to his covenant people, and (2) that, as God puts it in 1st Samuel 2:30, the Lord will honor those who honor Him. That second focus is what I’d like to talk about briefly in this post: the Lord will honor those who honor Him. That can be a rather jarring claim. So here are four important points that need to be understood about this principle—which comes up several times throughout Scripture.

1

First, this is different from the idea that “God helps those who help themselves.” That’s not biblical. God helps those who recognize that they cannot help themselves, and so turn to God for strength and aid. “God helps those who help themselves” is not in the Bible. “God honors those who honor Him” is all over Scripture, and that’s an entirely different claim. But that leads to the second point to keep in mind.

2

Second, we need to define the term honor. In our day, if the term honor is used at all, it’s often in jest or in mocking. But it also generally means nothing more than personal integrity. Honor is a synonym for integrity or character, right? But that’s not what the word meant until very recently. When you hear the word honor in the Bible, you should be thinking “respect, praise, accolades, status.” It’s in the context of a community, and it has to do with one’s recognition and reputation within a community. Now, there’s too much to say about the concept of honor—far more than we have time for just in a short introduction.

There are overlapping contexts of honor, different kinds of honor, different standards for honor, and on and on. But for our purposes, I just want to explain two kinds of honor, because it’s important for God’s statement in chapter two of 1st Samuel—that he honors those who honor Him.

First, there is what anthropologists sometimes call “horizontal honor.” Horizontal honor is defined as “the right to have respect among a society of equals.” Think about a gang: there’s a code of honor; and as long as you abide by it, you have the respect of the other members. To fail to live up to the honor code results in shame—your reputation in the community is soiled.

But there’s also what is called “vertical honor.” Vertical honor isn’t primarily about mutual respect within a community. Vertical honor has to with praise, esteem, admiration, and accolades. And there are three varieties of this. First, a society of equals can give a member of the group vertical honor. In other words, someone is not only living up to the code of conduct, they excel at it, and so they receive special recognition from the group.

Another variety of vertical honor would be from a subordinate to a superior. This would be the kind of honor paid to patrons by their clients in a patronage relationship. When someone agreed to be someone’s patron, the client owed their patron their loyalty and praise—they were to retell the stories of their patron’s courage, grace, wisdom, etc. to spread and better their patron’s reputation.

The third kind of vertical honor is that given by a superior to a subordinate. This can be done by association—as in the client-patron relationship. The client is honored by his association with an honorable patron. That’s also the case with slaves. So, for example, to be a slave in the household of Caesar was far more reputable than to be the slave in a small lower-class household. That’s why the apostles claim with pride the title “slave of Christ.” To be a slave in the house of the King of kings and Lord of lords is the highest honor. So we have honor by association. But honor can also be bestowed on a subordinate by a superior. A superior can give recognition and praise to someone, and that then raises their status of honor, esteem, and reputation.

Now, the only reason I go through all of this is because understanding something of the culture and concept of honor as a “reputation worthy of respect and admiration,” and how that’s gained, is important to understanding how Scripture uses certain words in relation to both God and man. For example, we know that God blesses us in many ways by His grace. But we are also told to bless God. How can that be? Well, it means something different based on whether the superior is giving or receiving the blessing. When we bless God, that means to give him praise, to recount his mighty works, to worship him together. When God blesses us, it refers to him giving us gifts out of his grace and love. We see something similar with the word “glory,” which is closely related to honor. We give God glory by praising him, speaking of him or representing Him in a way that causes other’s to raise their opinions of him. But God is also said to give us glory. And Paul speaks of pursuing immortality and glory. The same is true with the word “honor.” When God says in 1st Samuel that he will honor those who honor him, it’s not mutual respect between peers that we’re talking about. It means that God will give recognition, esteem, accolades, and a good name to those who give God praise, loyalty, reverence, and obedience.

3

But that leads to the third point to remember, which is that, in the church age, we don’t have any warrant to expect God to bless us materially or to give us a status of honor in the world in this life as compensation for our devotion to Him. We do still have, in the New Testament, passages like John 12:26, where Jesus says, “if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him,” so the principle still stands, but the context of our honor and reward is the bema seat and the kingdom, not the here and now. Now, there are times when God will give honor to believers in this life, whether just amongst believers, or, at times, in the world. But, generally, the honor and blessings we look forward to, as the New Testament authors make clear, will not be received until the judgment seat of Christ, as we enter the kingdom—where God will dispense rewards and honor based on how we as believers live out the Christian life, and how we’ve stewarded the resources he’s given us for our walk.

4

And that leads to the final clarification to remember. We need to remember that the context of this reciprocal vertical honor is covenantal, not salvific. In other words, in salvation, God gives us honor and status by our association with Christ through no merit of our own, but only by His grace, on the basis of Christ’s righteousness. But, within the context of the Christian life, how we live has great bearing on the rewards and honor we receive at Christ’s return. This is different than saying God saves those who live lives of faithful obedience. It’s a separate conversation from how you are justified—how you receive forgiveness for sins. Our works, our personal merits, how we live… none of that earns salvation. The only thing that determines whether you will enjoy the forgiveness of sin, and eternal life in the presence and fellowship of Jesus Christ, is faith in the sufficiency of His death on the cross in our place. The only relevant question for your salvation is what are you trusting for that salvation. The only way to receive eternal life is by placing your trust for salvation in Jesus Christ alone. But, now that we have been justified, now that we have received eternal life and been reconciled to God, given a new nature, and called to walk after Christ—we need to start walking! And we can do that well, or not so well. And as we seek to live out the Christian life, growing in our knowledge of, love for, and obedience to Christ, we look forward to the day when we stand before him and are given rewards, of which honor is one of the most important aspects; and we ought to live our lives now in light of the fact that we can receive rewards and honor, or lose that honor for failing to live as Christ has called us to live. And sometimes that’s not fun to think about because we all know that we fail every day. But Scripture teaches that we ought to live lives of faithfulness to God, trusting that one day he will bestow rewards and honor on us in measure. And again, this doesn’t speak to our security—to our salvation—the issue is one of reward and honor, not eternal destiny.

And as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3, some will be saved, and yet will suffer the loss of rewards and honor—they will be saved, but as through fire. They will suffer loss. So Paul encourages us to keep in mind the fact that we will receive rewards and honor as we seek to live lives of service to Christ worthy of our calling. Paul says in 2Corinthians 5:9–10, “whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or bad.”

So although it plays out differently in our time (the mechanics are different under the New Covenant than under the Old, and we have to wait longer), the principle is still the same that God will honor those who honor Him. In the larger canonical context of the Former Prophets (which is where Samuel falls in the Hebrew Bible), this account of the rise of Samuel, and later of David, challenges the readers to honor the Lord so that they too may experience a renewed relationship with their king, culminating in the restoration of the nation under the authority of an ideal king—and we know that that promised king is Jesus Christ.

I hope this was helpful, but to explore further the themes of honor, shame, patronage, and how they affect the biblical world, I would recommend reading Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity, by David deSilva.

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A Father’s Responsibilities

I ’ve recently been reading Marriage and Family in the Biblical World—a fascinating work explaining the structure, role, and centrality of the ancient household. The book examines the views and practices of marriage, family, and household in ancient Israel, Greece, Rome, and the early church. Below is an interesting list of the father’s responsibilities in the ancient Hebrew and early Christian household, adapted from lists in the book itself. A truly captivating study, I look forward to finishing the book, and commend it to you as well.

A Father’s Responsibilities

·     Personally modeling strict fidelity to Yahweh

·     Leading his family in national festivals, and nurturing the memory of Israel’s salvation

·     Instructing the family in the traditions and Scriptures

·     Managing the land

·     Providing for the family’s basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, and rest (1 Tim. 5:8)

·     Defending the household against outside threats

·     Protecting his wife and daughters from unwise vows (Num. 30)

·     Serving as an elder and representing the household in the official assembly of citizens

·     Maintaining the household’s well-being and the harmonious operation of the family unit

·     Implementing decisions made at the clan or tribal level

·     Leading and discipling his wife (Eph. 5:26)

·     Discipling and disciplining his children (Eph. 6:4)

·     Leading his family in prayer (1 Pet. 3:7)

A Father’s Responsibilities for His Daughters

·    A father has the responsibility to protect his daughter from male predators so that she would marry as a virgin and thus bring honor to the Lord and purity to her husband (Deut. 22; Ex. 22:16–17)

·     Arranging for his daughter’s marriage by finding a suitable husband and making proper arrangements (Deut. 7:3–5; Ezra 9:12; Neh.13:25; Jer. 29:6; Luke 20:24–25)

·     Ensuring a measure of security for his daughter by providing a dowry

·     Protecting his daughter from rash vows (Num. 30)

·     Providing security for his daughter in case the marriage fails

·     Instructing his daughters in the Scriptures

A Father’s Responsibilities for His Sons

·     Modeling biblical manhood in the home (Prov. 23:26)

·     Preparing his sons for marriage and headship in their future households

·     Walking alongside their sons and teach them a trade and to care for the land

·     Telling their sons the story of salvation with a view toward generational remembrance (Deut. 6:20–21)

·     Correcting their sons and restrain their iniquity (Deut. 21:18–21; 1 Samuel 3:13)

·     Teaching their sons wisdom from God’s Word (Prov. 2:1–5; 3:1–2)

·     Making arrangements to help their sons to secure wives (Gen. 24)

·     Leaving their sons an inheritance (Deut. 21:15–17)

I highly recommend this work for any who are interested in studying the theology of the household, or in understanding the cultural context of the biblical world more generally. One of the most fascinating books I’ve read recently—get it here.


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Logic of the Trinity

Why do Christians believe in the doctrine of the Trinity?

Christians believe that the one true God exists eternally as three distinguishable but inseparable persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—equal in every divine perfection and executing distinct but harmonious offices in the great work of redemption. These three are identical and unchanging in nature and attributes, equal in power and glory, and one in essence and being.

This is what orthodox Christianity holds to, but how do we get there? How do we argue from Scripture for the doctrine of the Trinity? This post from the Cripplegate does an outstanding job of summarizing the argument.

Although the term Trinity does not occur in Scripture, the concept is inherently biblical. The Trinitarian nature of God is revealed implicitly in the Old Testament and explicitly in the New Testament. The doctrine of the Trinity is founded on two fundamental theological realities…

Read the rest of the post and learn how to defend the doctrine of the Trinity here!

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The Thing About Thankfulness

Most of us look forward to this holiday—a day on which we eat good food, enjoy time with family and friends, and perhaps watch some football. And some of us will probably try to set aside at least a little time—perhaps a few seconds of thought dispersed throughout the day—to thank the Lord.

As we celebrate this beloved holiday, it may be helpful to be reminded of a couple of things about thankfulness.

First, that thankfulness—that is, not just the giving of thanks, but the affection of thankfulness itself: gratitude—is always a response of humble appreciation for grace. Gratitude is a response to grace. Not only is it a response, but it is the response; it’s the only appropriate response; it’s the proper response to grace. As such, gratitude is self-effacing. It requires humility to be grateful because it requires acknowledging the fact that I’ve received something that I didn’t deserve, and that the giver didn’t have to give—it was unmerited favor. It was grace.

There are three potential responses to grace: guilt, greed, or gratitude. And the proper response to grace is always gratitude.

The second thing to remember about gratitude is that it’s a humble appreciation of the gracious gift of a giver. You can’t actually be thankful with no gracious giver to whom to be thankful. You can’t have ambiguous feelings of gratitude toward no one in particular. Of course, we can be happy or satisfied with something we have; but without a recognition of the one who gave it, there is no true gratitude. Gratitude requires a personal object.

So gratitude then, in relation to God, is an affection of joy and appreciation directed toward God for who He is and what He’s done for us.

God says in Psalm 50:23, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me.” In fact, the affection most associated in Scripture with worship is actually something less flashy, less viscerally intense, and less directly connected to particular feelings, than we tend to think; the affection most associated in the Bible with worship is thanksgiving.

As the author of Hebrews says,

“Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”


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Ages Are Important for Timelines [or: How Old Was Terah When Abram Was Born?]

Constructing a chronology of biblical events is fairly simple—but not always easy. One of the most important aspects of developing a timeline is discovering the anchor dates, but this can be easily thwarted by failing to read the text carefully.

For example, most people assume (and teach) that Abram’s father, Terah, was 70 years old when he fathered Abram (based on a careless reading of Genesis 11:26). However, it’s best to understand Terah as at least 130 years old at the birth of Abram! That interpretation will offset all of the other dates, from the birth of Abram back to creation, by about 60 years.

We arrive at this conclusion for several reasons…

Read the rest at my Patreon account (it’s a free post), and become a patron to get access to the series on First John, and other future articles as well!


(Learn more about Patreon here.)

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How to Start Building Your Book Collection

So you want to start building your library, but you’re not sure where to start. I’ve often spoken with folks who wish to dig deeper into the Christian faith, but then find that there are just too many books to choose from—and it’s hard to tell what’s reliable anyway. The proverbial flooded market can certainly be overwhelming—especially when you want solid, trustworthy resources, not just whatever happens to be on TGC’s top 20 list.

So, here’s another list of recommended books!

I’ve started compiling a list of books that would serve well as a starting point for a basic Christian library. And as always, recommending a book does not mean that I necessarily agree with all of its content. Rather, I think these are books which are accessible, solid, and particularly beneficial in their various categories. If you’re interested in learning more and getting serious about the Christian faith and way of life, I recommend starting here. I’ll explain why I give these specific recommendations in another post.

I’d also love to hear about any other books you’ve found to be an essential introduction in a particular area.


Study Bibles

HCSB Study Bible

Ryrie Study Bible

How to Study the Bible

Grasping God’s Word, by Duvall and Hays

Basic Bible Interpretation, by Roy Zuck

An Introduction to Theology

Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God, by Bruce Ware

Systematic Theology, by Norman Geisler

He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom, by Michael Vlach

Understanding End Times Prophecy, by Paul Benware

On Living the Christian Life

Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World, by Michael Horton

Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness, by Ed Welch

When People Are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man, by Ed Welch

Respectable Sins, by Jerry Bridges

The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges

Anger, Anxiety and Fear: A Biblical Perspective, by Stuart Scott

Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace, by Heath Lambert

On Marriage and Family

Her Hand in Marriage: Biblical Courtship in the Modern World, by Douglas Wilson

Reforming Marriage, by Douglas Wilson

Building a Godly Home, by William Gouge

Why Children Matter, by Douglas and Nancy Wilson

Future Men: Raising Boys to Fight Giants, by Douglas Wilson

For Men:

Federal Husband, by Douglas Wilson

Man of the House, by C.R. Wiley

The Exemplary Husband, by Stuart Scott

For Women:

Why Isn’t a Pretty Girl Like You Married? And Other Useful Comments, by Nancy Wilson

The Fruit of Her Hands: Respect and the Christian Woman, by Nancy Wilson

The Excellent Wife, by Martha Peace

Praise Her in the Gates: The Calling of Christian Motherhood, by Nancy Wilson

The Silver Lining: A Practical Guide for Grandmothers, by Nancy Wilson

On Salvation

Free Grace Theology on Trial, by Anthony Badger

Freely by His Grace, by Hixson, Whitmire, and Zuck

Grace, Salvation, and Discipleship: How to Understand Some Difficult Bible Passages, by Charles Bing

On the Life of Christ

The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, by J. Dwight Pentecost

On the Holy Spirit

The New Covenant Ministry of the Holy Spirit, by Larry Pettegrew

Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship, by John MacArthur

On the Church

Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, by Mark Dever

Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus, by Jonathan Leeman

Going Public, by Bobby Jamieson

On Ethics

An Introduction to Biblical Ethics, by Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan

Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning, by Wayne Grudem

Devotionals

Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers from Banner of Truth

Morning and Evening, a devotional by Charles Spurgeon

The Puritans: Daily Readings edited by Randall Pederson

Psalms for Trials: Meditations on Praying the Psalms, by Lindsey Tollefson

Always in God’s Hands: Day by Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards, by Owen Strachan

New Morning Mercies, by Paul David Tripp

Virtuous: A Study for Ladies of Every Age, by Nancy Wilson

Learning Contentment: A Study for Ladies of Every Age, by Nancy Wilson

Hymns to the Living God

Hymns of Grace


 

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