“Not only the will, but also the honor of the others is more important than my own…The desire for one’s own honor hinders faith. Those who seek their own honor are no longer seeking God and their neighbor.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 73.
In the above paragraph Bonhoeffer quotes John 5:44, “How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God?”
Do I desire the recognition of my brother? Do I think of my own recognition by others or do I think of others recognizing my brother? Do I want others to acknowledge my brother or do I want them to acknowledge me? Do I want my brother to receive compliments or do I want to make sure people compliment me? Am I seeking glory for myself? Am I in a community which dispenses glory to its members as they conform to its standards or is my community focused on the glory of God and His approbation? Is the least person in my community the focus of affirmation and honor, or do we reserve honor and affirmation for those who are useful and smart and talented and who are producers?
Jesus rejected the honor and glory of man; He would have none of it when crowds wanted to make Him a king, a leader – when they wanted to place Him at the head of the class, the movement, the tide of popular emotion and enthusiasm and thinking. Yes, there was Palm Sunday with its “hosannas!” but that was an acknowledgement of the Messiah as God’s Anointed, not as man’s anointed. And just as Caiaphas prophesied about Christ but didn’t know what he was saying (John 11:45 – 52), the Palm Sunday crowds hardly knew what they were saying as they fulfilled ancient prophecy – otherwise they would not have shouted before the week was out, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
When I prefer the will of my brother above my own, the preferences of my brother above my own…do I desire honor for having done so? Do I seek recognition for being a servant? Do I seek glory for being “humble”?
This focus of Bonhoeffer’s can be a hard saying for those of us in the West; we are taught to be individualists, taught to succeed, taught to achieve; the expectation is that if we are successful that we will receive honor. The church often models this way of life in the way it dispenses “honor” to achievers and producers and the bright and the handsome and the beautiful. How can we believe if we accept the glory of man and do not seek the honor that comes only from God?
I confess that I have been shallow in John 5:44; this is something that I must ponder. I have a thirst for recognition; I want others to acknowledge me – I should be seeking the glory of God alone; I should be desiring that others see the glory of God alone; and for myself? What else could there be than to simply hear, “Well done, you good and faithful servant”? That should be enough.
When Bonhoeffer says that seeking our own glory hinders faith, he knows what he is talking about. I have an idea that Bonhoeffer wrote what he had experienced, he could look in the mirror as he wrote, and because he looked in the mirror he wrote with credibility.
To experience life together is to be committed to honoring my brother and sister; it is also, I think, a covenantal commitment not to adopt the ways of this present age in the dispensing of glory and honor – God’s economy is not the world’s economy. God chooses the foolish, the weak, the broken – dispensing honor and glory and grace to those which the world passes by – confounding the wisdom of world, debilitating the strength of the world.
There are at least two great antidotes to the propensity to seek our own honor. Bonhoeffer introduces the first when he writes (page 73), “What does it matter if I suffer injustice? Would I not have deserved even more severe punishment from God if God had not treated me with mercy? Is not justice done to me a thousand times over even in injustice?” Bonhoeffer will expand on this in the following pages, but he introduces the thought in the context of honoring others to remind us that not only do we not deserve honor – but that instead of honor we deserve judgment, and yet in Christ we receive justice and mercy and grace – we are justified in Christ, not in ourselves – let us not forget where we have come from and who we are outside of Jesus Christ.
The second great antidote that I have found is corporate worship; whether it is in a home, a church building, a stadium, or in a park – whatever the setting, corporate worship frees me from the shackles of self-promotion and as I behold the glory of God I also behold the glory of my brethren and I find myself wanting the best for them, I find myself honoring them. When the Shekinah glory of God fills His Temple there is no room for anyone to receive glory but Him, as His glory envelops my brothers and sisters I cannot but desire great honor for each of them.
I have lived long enough to know that seeking honor for oneself is a dirty trick of the enemy; it is petty, it is stupid, it is insidious, and it will be destructive if allowed to fester and take root. But I do not want simply to not seek glory and honor for myself, I want to proactively desire honor for my brother.
Who is there that I should honor today?