Peculiar topic, no? Have you ever thought of someone’s opinions as second-rate and subtly (or so you thought) told them so? Have you been slighted or brushed off for some unfathomable reason, only later putting two and two together? Though we expect this treatment in the world, we shouldn’t expect it in the church. However, it’s there and He doesn’t like it. Through the Apostle Paul, He says:
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.
But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
1 Corinthians 12:21-26 English Standard Version (ESV)
There is a lot in this admonition. First, let us consider the key word: honor. We know honor more sharply by what it is not:
bring shame or disgrace on:
“the politician dishonors her good campaign by resorting to sniping.”
synonyms: disgrace, shame, discredit, bring into disrepute, humiliate, degrade, debase, lower, cheapen, drag down, drag through the mud, blacken the name of, give a bad name to, sully, stain, taint, besmirch, smear, mar, blot, stigmatize
antonym: honor, respect
The reformer, John Calvin, had some pointed things to say about these verses:
Hitherto [Paul exhorted] the less honorable members to…not envy the more distinguished members. Now, he [directs the] honorable members not to despise the inferior members, [with whom] they cannot dispense.
The dishonor of one member [results in] the common disgrace of the whole body, as appears from the care that we take to cover the parts that are less honorable…The body is not merely shattered, and the order of nature perverted, but the authority of God is openly [treated as of no importance] whenever anyone assumes more than belongs to him.
There is no room for envy or contempt. To be honored [means] to be in prosperity and happiness. Nothing, however, is better [suited] to promote harmony than…when everyone feels that he is proportionally enriched by the prosperity of others and impoverished by their penury.
Further, the Apostle Paul instructs us to listen to the Spirit’s guidance and refrain from looking down on our brothers and sisters:
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:25-26 (ESV)
To this, Calvin says:
Among Christians, whoever [desires their own] glory departs from true glory, and therefore is justly charged with idle and foolish ambition. It is not lawful for us to glory but in God alone. Every other kind of glorying is pure vanity.
Mutual provocations and envying are the daughters of ambition. He who aspires to the highest rank must of necessity envy all others, and disrespectful, biting, stinging language is the unavoidable consequence.
So we see the origin of this form of strife: vaunted ambition. He who wants to be first, will be last.
But Paul’s admonitions about honor are not all negative. In the Letter to the Romans, he says:
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. Romans 12:10, 17 (ESV)
In these verses, Calvin catches several subtleties we often miss:
Everyone is to give honor to his brethren and not to himself; for there is no poison more effectual in alienating the minds of men than the thought, that one is despised.
As there is nothing more opposed to brotherly concord than contempt, arising from haughtiness, when each one, neglecting others, advances himself; so the best fomenter of love is humility, when everyone honors others.
We render evil for evil sometimes…when we treat unkindly those who do us no good…When any one denies help to us when we need it, we…do not help him in time of need, any more than he assisted us.
We ought to diligently labor, that all may be edified by our honest dealings. For as purity of conscience is necessary for us before God, so uprightness of character before men is not to be neglected.
When we are [called] to prepare good things before men, …[it] is not that men may admire and praise us but that their minds being elevated to God, they may give praise to him, that by our example they may be stirred up to practice righteousness.
And so, we must “honor our feet,” that is, give sincere respect and due care to those who we consider less capable in word, thought, and deed, for the sake of the unity of His body, the church. Each of us contributes what we’ve been given, if we’re following the Spirit’s leading. To God, alone, be the glory.
U-MV021 – Sam Phillips – I Need Love, posted on YouTube by mypartofthething, lyrics