Honor and the Suffering Saint

I decided to do a word study on the use of honor in the Bible. But first, I had to use the Old English spelling, honour, as used in the King James Version. Otherwise, it is as if the word does not exist in the Bible, according to Strong’s Concordance. It was a fascinating experience. I found much more than I expected, and I learned on a deeper level just how intricately and divinely woven is Holy Scripture.

The same Hebrew word used for honour, as in “Honour thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” is the same word for “laid” in Exodus 5:9 and “hardened” in Exodus 8:15 and 10:1. I immediately wondered how in the world could these terms relate to the other.

Of course, performing acts that show merited respect and esteem is no doubt the usual way to honor one’s parents. But how does this play out in the other verses? In Exodus 5:9, the Israelites were ladened with more work. It states, “Let there more work be laid upon the men, that they may labour therein.” Clearly, this was meant to be an added burden. Where is the respect or honor in that? I thought.

Then, there is the matter of Pharaoh’s “hardened” heart. In Exodus 8:15, Pharaoh himself showed the very opposite of merited respect and esteem toward God and His ambassadors, Moses and Aaron. “But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.” In fact, this was outright disobedience and gross disrespect.

To complicate matters more, Exodus 10:1 approached this matter of the hardened heart from an extremely opposing position: not Pharaoh, but God Himself. “And the LORD said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show these my signs before him.”

I was baffled. But like the waters that parted so that Israel could cross through the Red Sea on dray land, the Word divinely unfolded to me. Let me explain.

I was gently reminded of a time when I looked around at all the faces packed together in one car of a commuter train in the Loop of downtown Chicago. I asked the LORD how He felt when He looked at all these people, knowing each one’s personal story. Over the course of at least the next few months, I felt the suffocation of a burden on my heart for strangers that seem to never stop coming.

It had gotten to the point of my talking to strangers on a daily basis about their personal relationship with God. One day, I cried literal tears when a Jewish woman responded to my one question: “Do you read the Bible?” She softly said that she read only the Old Testament, not the New Testament. I couldn’t believe it! I was so hurt! I pleaded with her to read the New Testament, because it is the story of God’s Son spoken of in the Old Testament by His Father.

Right then, the train pulled to our stop. I was embarrassed. I couldn’t believe I cried like that to a stranger. We both exited the train with the crowd and ended up at the crosswalk, waiting for the green light. I felt a hand on my right shoulder and looked back into the face of that woman. Now tears were in her eyes. She simply said, “No one has ever said it to me like that before.” She was grateful.

The burden I felt was laid upon me. It was my own response to the burden that made the difference. That day, although I was shocked by my own tears, I was honored that God was able to use me to open the way for someone to know Him better. I have never forgotten my stranger-friend. Eventually, however, I felt overburdened to the point of breathlessness when a stranger approached, even if on the other side of the street. I felt that I could not bear it any longer and asked God to remove the burden. Some time afterward, when I had returned to normalcy, I wondered whether my heart had turned to stone. Did I truly care anymore about the salvation of souls? Yes I did–and still do. But now, more often than not, I find myself asking for a greater burden for souls.

Now the golden chain that links the words honor, laid and hardened was easier to discern. As parents worthy of the honor are favored, they (we) are burdened with greater responsibility to continue being faithful to the charge. And those performing the acts of respect are charged with a greater responsibility to continue demonstrating the esteem. From both perspectives, it is both a burden and an honor. There is a balanced and healthy tension.

Then I saw something new in the exchange between Moses and Aaron’s meetings with the Pharaoh. Each time Pharaoh was visited, God was really granting him opportunity to show God the honor due the King of Kings and to receive in return the honor coveted of an earthly king. We will never know the grand honor that could have been his, had Pharaoh let God’s people go. Instead, Pharaoh saw God’s request only as a burden to be despised. His vehement rejections of God’s offers showed what was deep within his own heart. To him God’s repeated requests angered him all the more. In effect, with each round, his heart was more firmly cemented to stone.

The key is in how much one thinks of himself. For instance, when you wonder how you will look to others, the suffering seems a burden. The privilege is neither seen nor felt. Thus the plight of the suffering saint became clearer to me. The more responsibility placed upon the Christian to stand true in the face of opposition, derision, scoffing, imprisonment, and even imminent death, the greater is the opportunity to honor God and to be honored by Him in return.

On a deeper level, it is now possible to understand Acts 5:41 in the passage that began with verse 12. The apostles were imprisoned for healing a multitude of physical and mental illnesses. The angel of the Lord miraculously freed them and ordered them to “stand and speak in the temple.” For this they were beaten and then freed with a warning to stop. Nevertheless, they “departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.”

We must conclude that they were not considering themselves. They had died to self. Instead, they were “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). In turn, Jesus says, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21). For the suffering saint, that is the ultimate honor.

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