Culture of Honor
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
Earlier this week a local brother and I met for tea with Mahmut who had reached out through an Instagram gospel discussion. The 8th of 15 children, Mahmut’s family is from a minority community living among a larger minority group out East in ancient Mesopotamia. Three cultures (and in some respects three languages) removed, I wondered how I would connect with Mahmut so I followed Yuri’s lead as he navigated the conversation.
I noticed that just about every time Mahmut asked a question - Who is Jesus? Do Christians believe in one God? What does it mean to follow Christ? What is salvation? What is faith? Can a good Muslim be saved? Can God help me find a wife? – Yuri would patiently listen and then gently bring the conversation back to the simple truths of the gospel, always addressing Mahmut as “my honorable brother.”
I love how Yuri honored Mahmut. I live in a culture where honor is everything. I mean everything! The way you view the world, the process of making decisions, and how you relate to others are all determined by whether or not it will bring honor…or shame. It’s just that important!
So when Mahmut asked a question which seemed to get to the core of what was really on his heart, “If I follow Christ, won’t my family and relatives be ashamed of me?” it didn’t surprise me that Yuri anticipated it. Drawing from his own experience, Yuri explained that even though we may be tormented and shamed by family and neighbors when we choose to follow Christ, God honors our pursuit of him.
Then the conversation went in a direction I did not expect. Yuri began to immediately share from Job 19 as he related his personal testimony. Notice the rejection and shame Job expresses:
13 “He has put my brothers far from me, and those who knew me are wholly estranged from me. 14 My relatives have failed me, my close friends have forgotten me. 15 The guests in my house and my maidservants count me as a stranger; I have become a foreigner in their eyes. 16 I call to my servant, but he gives me no answer; I must plead with him with my mouth for mercy. 17 My breath is strange to my wife, and I am a stench to the children of my own mother. 18 Even young children despise me; when I rise they talk against me. 19 All my intimate friends abhor me, and those whom I loved have turned against me. 20 My bones stick to my skin and to my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth. 21 Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me! 22 Why do you, like God, pursue me? Why are you not satisfied with my flesh?"
As Yuri continued to read from scripture and share from his own life, I began to see honor and shame in a new light. I had always understood Job’s suffering from the perspective of personal loss: loss of family, loss of wealth, loss of health. But he lost way more than that. He lost reputation, honor, and even the trust of his closest friends. Instead of comforting him, they accused him. Instead of believing him, they told him God was punishing him. He lost the honor of everyone around him. Many of my believing neighbors experience this, too. And this was Mahmut’s greatest fear.
That’s what makes what Job says next so amazing. It’s his testimony, but it’s also Yuri’s, and that of so many of my persecuted brothers and sisters. Facing the very real and devasting pain of shame and accusation from those around them, their testimonies bear the same powerful convictions as Job’s:
23 “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! 24 Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! 25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!"
There’s perhaps nothing more inspiring to me in my daily life here than seeing my local brothers and sisters stand firm in their faith in the face of persecution, accusation, and shame. They risk losing everything - I mean everything - for the sake of Christ (Matthew 5:11-12). That is true honor. And they live out this culture of godly honor among each other and among their lost neighbors.
Mahmut heard the gospel that evening. But he also heard of a God, and of the people of God, who would honor his pursuit of truth even when others around him wouldn’t. I live in culture defined by honor and shame that I really want to understand. But, more than that, I want to be spiritually sensitive to how God is redeeming this “culture of honor” for his glory among his people as the gospel spreads.