Thirty years ago, as a father of three young children, I looked for anything I could find that would help me become a better parent. I came across a book written by Gary Smalley and John Trent, The Gift of Honor. It made the following assertion:
Whether we realize it or not, the value we attach to God, our children, and ourselves greatly determines the success or failure of our relationships.1
The concept of honoring others has stuck with me, and with time, I’ve come to appreciate just how vital it is for healthy relationships.
What does it mean to honor someone?
We usually think of honoring someone through ceremonies and awards for acts of heroism, outstanding accomplishments, or works of service.
Honoring someone in a relationship has a different meaning. I like the authors’ definition:
Honor is a decision we make to place high value, worth, and importance on another person by viewing him or her as a priceless gift and granting him or her a position in our lives worthy of great respect; and love involves putting that decision into action.2
While this sounds grand, doesn’t it go too far? It’s all well and good to be friendly and nice, but if someone crosses the line, aren’t we justified in turning them a cold shoulder or striking out at them?
Honoring others acknowledges God as our Creator who made each of us in His image (Gen. 1:27). We are wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14)! Even the weakest among us—the ones who are seen as nobodies—are to be honored (Matt. 18:1-5).
What does this mean in practical terms? We honor people by listening to them and showing them courtesy. Moreover, we act virtuously toward the person—with kindness, gentleness, self-control, generosity, faithfulness, and honesty. We even forgive them when they hurt us.
This doesn’t mean we blind ourselves to other’s faults. To honor does not require us to always trust the person. Our intellect and experience should help form our trust in others. Honor also does not need us to say nice things we don’t believe. And it certainly doesn’t lead us to enable someone to do evil. In fact, to honor another would mean the opposite: that we stand ready to help that person regain their God-given dignity and turn from sin.
But what if they don’t deserve it?
What if the person has hurt you or someone you love? What if, instead of protecting and providing for one’s family, a parent or spouse commits horrific acts of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse? Should we honor those behaviors?
No, of course not. But then, I am reminded of God’s love.
Imagine that someone could play back our lives as if watching a video documentary. I suspect that most of us would find ourselves squirming during particular scenes. An acquaintance viewing the drama might observe: “Wow! I didn’t realize you did that or thought that way! And, here, I thought so highly of you. Now I know better.”
We are all in need of mercy and love. God made us, and He knows our potential. He still loves us, even when we trade our glory in for trash. He is ready to forgive, and we should be prepared, too. Recall the story of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:11-32). Instead of disowning his son, the father welcomed him back, dressed him in a fine robe, put a ring on his finger, and threw a party. Honor is a decision and an expression of love. True, in a godless universe, it might not seem right to honor others. It makes perfect sense, however, when we look to the Father of Jesus and our eternal destination.
If honor comes through a decision to value others, then dishonor follows disregarding or diminishing another’s value. Our actions and words are aimed at injuring the person or reducing their worth as compared to ourselves and others.
Dishonoring comes in two forms. The first is aggressive. Our tone of voice conveys anger, disdain, or sarcasm. We call people names, make unfounded accusations, use demeaning language that belittles, choose words that sting and tear, or take a less direct approach by inserting double meanings.
The second variant could be called passive, but only because we are less conscious of what we’re doing. We dishonor by not listening, ignoring the other, failing to show deference or courtesy, withholding love and affection, failing to acknowledge the other’s positive qualities or contributions, and not cooperating (i.e., passive-aggressive behavior). When I consider these, it seems to me that there is no such thing as a neutral position when it comes to showing honor. Either we honor someone, or by withholding it, we dishonor them.
We use a multitude of excuses to justify dishonoring someone, and all of them blame the other person. But if the gift of honor means to (a) recognize the value of God’s creation and (b) to act virtuously toward someone, then to dishonor another says much more about us than the object of our actions.
We pay a great price for the temporary and twisted satisfaction we receive when we degrade someone, for every evil act separates us from God’s grace, wounds our soul, and reinforces our tendency to do more evil in the future. To dishonor another is self-destructive.
When someone dishonors you
Have you been the object of sarcasm, insults, or prejudice? Have you been ignored, stepped-on, passed-over, ridiculed, used, or betrayed? I think we all have.
The experience of dishonor is universal. Here’s what I suggest the next time it happens to you.
- Forgive, and do not harbor bitterness. (Matt. 18:21-22)
- Resist the urge to strike back. (Rom. 12:17-21)
- Pray for the person. (Matt. 5:44)
- Care for your injuries and seek healing.
- Watch your self-talk. Do you begin to think of yourself in derogatory terms?
- Talk it over with someone you trust and also is compassionate; a person who will speak the truth with gentleness. Words aimed at injuring us frequently contain some portion of fact coupled with a lie. Your friend can help you see things more clearly.
- Pour out your heart to Jesus. He understands rejection and suffering.
- Try to understand why someone would treat you that way. Understanding may help you gain perspective and change the way you react.
- If possible, try to restore your relationship. This will be the subject of a future blog.
1Gary Smalley and John Trent, Ph.D., The Gift of Honor, Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, TN, 1987, Front Cover.
2Ibid, p. 16.
The Gift of Honor is part of an ongoing series on forming healthy relationships and the Christian faith.