Recently, the best athletes in the world competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics. These people have spent years in training, working hard to make their body an efficient machine capable of feats far superior to the rest of us. Certainly, they deserve our respect and admiration. Biblically, we are supposed to give honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13:7).
What about those Bible scholars who spend years in school, sacrificing the temporary pleasures of this world so that they may study the text of Scripture? And what of those scientists, and medical doctors who spend years in school training their mind to discern truth, and then give glory to God for what they learn? Is that worthy of some respect and honor?
A man once told me that it isn’t. Let’s call him “John.” John said that those people “deserve no more respect than the people who scrub toilets” by which he meant those people who had not worked to achieve such things. Is this biblical? Certainly all people deserve some level of respect by virtue of being made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27, 1 Peter 2:17). However, God does reward those who work extra hard to achieve goals in obedience to Him (e.g. Matthew 25:14-28). And the Bible specifically mentions certain positions that are worthy of honor (Leviticus 19:32, 1 Peter 2:17-18, Ephesians 6:2, 5:33, 1 Peter 3:7).
As one example, the Bible indicates that the leaders in the church are worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17). Notice that the text states, “especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” Obviously, the Bible contradicts John’s view. God honors those that spend time studying His Word so that they can teach others. I think of my hero of the faith, Dr. Greg Bahnsen. He knew the Bible very well and he lived what he taught. Doesn’t he deserve more honor than those of us who haven’t put in the same effort? In Romans 13:7, we read that we are to give honor and respect to whomever deserves it. Why was John so reluctant to obey the Bible?
We’ve all known people who try to make themselves feel better by putting others down. Perhaps John’s attitude is partially explained by this. He had virtually no formal education or any other qualifications to speak of. So it’s not too surprising that he would like to have the same honor as those who had worked far harder than he had, just as (some) people who are very poor may argue for a more socialistic economy where money is distributed equally regardless of labor. Paradoxically, John’s actions show that he believed that he deserved more respect than others. He made sure his company provided him with an office far nicer than others and he even had his own reserved parking spot. John was paid far more than the people who scrub the toilets. Obviously on some level John didn’t really believe his own words. His attitude was hypocritical, as well as arrogant and sinful. Although he professed a Christian outlook, his actions did not show it. He did not give honor to others, but he demanded it for himself. Why?
Let’s consider the opposite mistake. It is also possible to honor people more than we really should. We must remember that all people are sinners (Romans 3:23). We dare not elevate the opinions or beliefs of a respected individual above the Word of God. Yes, we should respect the scientists who were able to land the Curiosity rover on Mars. What a remarkable achievement! It is certainly worthy of our admiration! But this doesn’t mean that we respect the opinions of those same scientists when they begin speculating about what allegedly happened millions of years ago. They are no more qualified to talk about that than anyone else.
God deserves infinite honor. While we may esteem others better than ourselves, and rightly admire their accomplishments and respect their education, we dare not put their opinions on God’s level. Such a mistake has greatly contributed to the loss of biblical authority in our culture today. Many people have regarded the opinions of scientists and theologians above the clear teaching of the Bible. That too is sin.
Perhaps an overreaction to this trend is partly what drives people like John and others to be disrespectful to those people with high levels of education. I recall a prominent Christian leader saying something like, “Don’t trust the Christian leaders; trust the Bible!” Did he realize the self-refuting nature of his statement? If we are not to trust Christian leaders, then we should not trust his statement! I appreciate his effort, but perhaps he should have said, “Trust the Bible above any Christian leader. You should respect Christian leaders. But always test what they say in light of Scripture.” That would have been far more biblical (Acts 17:11).
There are entire Christian ministries that seem to specialize in disparaging academics. But this is unbiblical and not helpful to the Christian cause. “Don’t trust the scientists” says the Christian speaker using a microphone, and a computer with PowerPoint, and a laser pointer, and so on – all technologies made possible by scientists. It’s not surprising that the world sees the church as full of hypocrisy. It is disappointing and fundamentally inconsistent that some Christians disparage scientists all the while relying upon the discoveries, inventions, and hard work of those very scientists.
How can we avoid the sin of going to one extreme or the other? The key is discernment. We put God’s Word first as the absolute authority in our lives. It is our fundamental unquestionable standard by which we evaluate all truth claims. We then give respect and honor to those who have worked hard and achieved high levels of education, or other levels of success; we do this in obedience to God’s Word. We honor the church leader who has studied long in the Word, and the Olympic athlete who has won the gold medal. We honor the person and his or her accomplishments; but we always test what people say in light of the Scriptures. We should have some degree of trust in scientists, medical doctors, etc. – after all, science is biblical! But we should have far more trust in the Bible – the foundation that makes science possible. This kind of biblical discernment is what we teach and how we try to live here at the Institute for Creation Research.