Honoring God, Honored By God
If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:26)
There is a logic behind God’s claim to preeminence. That place is His by every right in earth or heaven. While we take to ourselves the place that is His the whole course of our lives is out of joint. Nothing will or can restore order till our hearts make the great decision: God shall be exalted above.
“Them that honour me I will honour,” said God once to a priest of Israel(1Samuel 2:30), and that ancient law of the kingdom stands today unchanged by the passing of time or changes of dispensation. The whole Bible and every page of history proclaim the perpetuation of that law.
Sometimes the best way to see a thing is to look at its opposite. Eli and his sons are placed in the priesthood with the stipulation that they honor God in their lives and ministrations. This they fail to do, and God sends Samuel to announce the consequences. Unknown to Eli this law of reciprocal honor has been all the while secretly working, and now the time has come for judgement to fall. Hophni and Phineas, the degenerate priests, fall in battle, the wife of Hophni dies in childbirth, Israel flees before her enemies, the ark of God is captured by the Philistines and the old man Eli falls backward and dies of a broken neck. This stark tragedy followed upon Eli’s failure to honor God.
Set over against this almost any Bible character who honestly tried to glorify God in his earthly walk. See how God winked at weakness and overlooked failures as He poured upon His servants grace and blessing untold. Let it be Abraham, Jacob, David, Elijah, or whom you will; honor followed honor as harvest the seed. The man of God set his heart to exalt God above all; God accepted his intention as fact and acted accordingly. Not perfection, but holy intention made the difference.
It is very easy in our world to forget that we have been created to honor and exalt God. It is right that God’s masterpiece should bring Him the highest honor for we are made in the very image of God. To do anything less would be a travesty and yet humanity often forgets its Creator and elevates itself to a status that not only fails to honor God but actually dishonors Him.
Everything that we can accomplish is only the result of God-enablement for we are nothing more than His tools. This is especially true in spiritual things. Not one of us has the innate ability to do the work of God. We may study, prepare, practice to enhance our abilities but in truth it is God working in us and through us that accomplishes His purposes. Our temptation is to believe it to be true when we are given the credit and how easy it is to accept that it was us who preached well or taught well or played and instrument well or sang well or served well; for those around us are often quick to give us the accolades. The fact is that anything we do that blesses the life of another is only through and by the power of God and the grace we have been given to be used by Him. I can tell you that no sermon I’ve ever preached has changed a single person. O yes, I’ve prayed and studied and prepared and to the best of my ability delivered sermons and I have and do hope that they speak to people but it is God that moves a heart, it is God that convicts the sinner and it is God that takes my feeble effort and multiplies it to bring about His desired effect.
Some years ago, not long after I was saved, our band was asked to provide special music for a Sunday morning service. It was one of those days when the Holy Spirit was moving powerfully in the service. That morning as we sang, five individuals made their way to the altar and received Christ as their Savior. Now I confess that made me feel pretty good and I was ignorant enough to to think I had something to do with it. Is was true that I had sung the song and played the guitar and I foolishly thought I had really done something. I am ever grateful that God in His love taught me a lesson I’ve never forgot. The very next Sunday, the pastor asked us if we would sing again. In my childish thinking, I thought that if the music of last week was so moving and since I was asked to sing again, I would do the exact same thing. Again I thought it had something to do with me or my abilities. I didn’t know then but I know now that what I was doing was taking the credit and thereby the honor that was rightly God’s. So we sang and may I tell you it was a miserable flop. Nobody was moved, the place felt empty and I felt like a total failure. So God graciously said to me, “You thought you had something to do with those who came to Me last Sunday. While I used you, it was Me that convicted and Me that drew them and Me that saved them. I just let you participate with Me in My work.”
When we choose to honor God, God honors us for He can trust us to give Him the glory. I want to go on record stating that anything that builds up the kingdom of God is by God’s work alone and at best He lets us participate. We can take no more credit for that than a hammer can take credit for the house that is built. It’s always the Master Carpenter that builds. The hammer is just one of many tools.
The pressure to take credit and therefore take the honor that rightly belongs to God is nothing new but John the Baptist teaches us how to respond to that temptation. John is Jesus’ cousin born six months before. His ministry has grown since he came out of the wilderness and began preaching. It is John who baptizes Jesus in the Jordan and John who proclaims that He is the Lamb of God. John has a great following and the crowds are listening and responding to his message of repentance. In the midst of John’s popularity comes Jesus and as Jesus begins His ministry some of John’s disciples leave to follow Him.
“This is the testimony of John [the Baptist] when the Jews sent priests and Levites to him from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” And he confessed [truthfully] and did not deny [that he was only a man], but acknowledged, “I am not the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed)!” They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the [promised] Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Tell us, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘ Make straight the way of the Lord ,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize [only] in water, but among you there stands One whom you do not recognize and of whom you know nothing. It is He [the preeminent One] who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie [even as His slave].” The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I and has priority over me, for He existed before me.’ I did not recognize Him [as the Messiah]; but I came baptizing in water so that He would be [publicly] revealed to Israel.” John gave [further] evidence [testifying officially for the record, with validity and relevance], saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not recognize Him [as the Messiah], but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this One is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ I myself have [actually] seen [that happen], and my testimony is that this is the Son of God!” Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked along, and said, “Look! The Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Therefore there arose a controversy between John’s disciples and a Jew in regard to purification (ceremonial washing). So they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi (Teacher), the Man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan [at the Jordan River crossing]—and to whom you have testified—look, He is baptizing too, and everyone is going to Him!” John replied, “A man can receive nothing [he can claim nothing at all] unless it has been granted to him from heaven [for there is no other source than the sovereign will of God]. You yourselves are my witnesses that I stated, ‘I am not the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed),’ but, ‘I have [only] been sent ahead of Him [as His appointed forerunner and messenger to announce and proclaim His coming].’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands by and listens to him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this pleasure and joy of mine is now complete. He must increase [in prominence], but I must decrease. “He who comes from [heaven] above is above all others; he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks [about things] of the earth [his viewpoint and experience are earthly]. He who comes from heaven is above all. What He has [actually] seen and heard, of that He testifies; and yet no one accepts His testimony [as true]. Whoever receives His testimony has set his seal [of approval] to this: God is true [and he knows that God cannot lie]. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God [proclaiming the Father’s own message]; for God gives the [gift of the] Spirit without measure [generously and boundlessly]!
Take a moment and read these verses again paying particular attention to what’s in bold for they teach us how that we might honor God and give Him glory. Quickly let me point out a few things. First John says that Christ is so highly exalted that he is unworthy to untie His shoes even as a lowly servant for His rank and preeminence has priority over him. Second, as he proclaimed Christ, it’s obvious that he was glad that his disciple followed Christ even as they left him. He was not jealous that Christ was being honored. Third, John declares that “ a man can receive nothing unless it has been granted to him from heaven” telling us that it was nothing he had in himself. All he had was given by God and all he did was through the working of God in him. Fourth, John uses the position as a friend of the groom to express his role. He says that the friend of the groom rejoices with the groom and that gives great pleasure and joy. He concluded with this powerful statement that is a must for every believer. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” The more we decrease, the more Christ increases; the more we increase, the more Christ decreases. This is the law of reciprocity.
So how did it turn out for John as he exalted Christ and diminished in statue?
“But what did you [really] go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one far more [eminent and remarkable] than a prophet [who foretells the future]. 27 This is the one of whom it is written [by the prophet Malachi], ‘ Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ 28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater [in privilege] than he.” All the people and the tax collectors who heard Jesus, acknowledged [the validity of] God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John.”
What great honor Christ bestowed upon John. As John had honored Jesus, Jesus honored John. One day we will all stand before Christ and on that day there will be those who have honored God with their lives being honored by Christ in the presence of the angels. Let us so strive to honor God that we will be among that number.
Dr. John Thompson