The exaltation of man – even of the Lord’s people – is a prevalent characteristic of our day. Since such a practice diminishes the exalted status accorded to the Lord Jesus Christ, an examination of the relevant principles will help to preserve believers from involvement in such dangers.
The Lord Robbed. The apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, warns us in 2 Timothy of dangerous (difficult) times to come in the last days, including “itching ears" that request soothing rather than searching ministry. The increasing tendency today to rob Christ of His exalted title of Lord by making excessive use of His names Jesus and Jesus Christ may well lead to the attendant danger of forgetting both the significance of the title “Lord” and the believer’s responsibility and allegiance to the One who bears that name. It is no coincidence and not without significance that this practice has been accompanied by another equally subtle practice, namely that of addressing the Lord in so-called modern English, thus introducing a greater familiarity with God and consequent deterioration in reverence.
Man Promoted. While the acknowledgement of the title Lord may appear unimportant to some, yet on the other hand nothing appears too high a title for men; for example, father, holy father, padre, leader, reverend, most reverend, doctor of divinity, and so on. Such titles were never conferred upon believers by the Holy Spirit. The unscripturalness of such things is made obvious by reference to Matthew 23. 1-12, where the Lord points out that the Pharisees love such things. Yet it is surprising that believers would object to the Catholic title “father’ whereas many would not object to the cor-responding protestant title “padre”. No true believer would deny that God has made that same Jesus both Lord and Christ, and none could be included amongst those to whom Jude refers as “denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ”, Jude 4. At the same time there is surely some connection between the anxiety to magnify man and the reluctance to give the Lord His full title. The one attitude is complementary to the other.
Man Compared with Man. A stepping stone to the “flattering titles” accorded by man to men, and denounced in Job 32. 21-22, is that which is described by Paul in 2 Cor-inthians 10. 12 as “comparing themselves among themselves” and denounced by him as “not wise”. In 1 Corinthians Paul had to denounce this very thing which had led to schism in the assembly. This same church, with its own selected leaders and its childish delight in the sign gifts, was described by Paul as carnal and incapable of digesting solid food. A wellknown poet once wrote, “Be thou familiar but by no means vulgar”. This was exemplified by the early Christians by their attitude one to another in preserving avoidance of class distinction; thus we read of “brother Apollos”, 1 Cor. 16. 12, “brother Timothy”, Heb. 13. 23, and Ananias when meeting Paul for the first time addresses him as “brother Saul”, Acts 9. 17.
Man Honoured for Natural Ability. The comparison of man with man has resulted in what has been called in some spheres, “the cult of personality”. Paul apparently did not measure up to the standard set by some in Corinth. Maybe in modern times he would have been described as a “good fellow" but lacking platform personality, for, said they, “his letters … are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible" 2 Cor. 10.10. If Paul projected an image it was that of 2 Corinthians 3. 18 “But we all, with open (unveiled) face beholding as in a glass (mirror) the glory of the Lord, are changed (transformed) into the same itnage from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord”. Paul’s life story could be described in the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease”, John 3. 30, and his self-description was “the least of the apostles; less than the least of all saints; sinners, of whom I am chief”, in that order, 1 Cor. 15. 9; Eph. 3. 8; 1 Tim. 1.15.
Man Honoured for Possessions. James in his Epistle refers to a particularly nauseating form of human differentia-tion, honour rendered on account of earthly wealth. In 2. 9 he calls this “sin”, and adds the shattering reminder in verse 10 that to offend in one point of law is to be guilty of all. The root of such offence might well be pride, the cause of Satan’s down-fall. Herein lies a strange inconsistency, that while deploring some forms of pride, we can hug and excuse ourselves for other forms of the same disease, being proud of things for which it would be more in keeping with our profession to be grateful.
Scriptural Rendering of Honour. Are there, then, no circumstances which justify rendering honour one to another? Scripture envisages such occasions, in which occasion is given to the exercise of what may be described as a by-product of love without dissimulation (hypocrisy). We are to prefer one another in honour, Rom. 12. 10, with no reference to status symbols. The elders that rule well are to be accounted worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in “the word and doctrine”, 1 Tim. 5. 17, the context suggesting that the honour is not confined to material things. We must honour the king, but not exclusively, 1 Peter 2. 13-17 pointing out that we must honour all men and submit to the powers that be with all meekness. We must render honour to whom honour, Romans 13. 1-8 also dealing with our attitude to the powers that be, embracing a number of practical matters such as “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another”. Scriptural honouring of one another is exemplified by the One who, having stooped to wash His disciples’ feet, asked, “Know ye what I have done to you? … If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them’, John 13. 12-17.