Justification by faith is central to the mission of God to bless all the peoples of the earth; part 1

I highly recommend, first of all, that you read the recent blog post at HonorShame.com: “The meaning of Romans 3:23”. The author‘s explanation of this often-quoted verse brings out the honor-shame dynamics in the context of Romans 1–3.

The author points to the fact that Romans 3:23 speaks to the sinfulness of peoples (Jews and Gentiles)—more than to the general sin of individual persons. The blog post provides helpful background information for my blog post below.

For the sake of convenience, a key paragraph from the HonorShame.com blog is provided below. (Remember, this is about the verse, Romans 3:23—“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”)

Simply put, all does not mean “every single, individual person.” Rather, all means “both Jews and Gentiles,” or “every ethnicity.” Or most succinctly, it means “all peoples,” instead of “all people.” The primary categories in Romans 1-3 are groups, not individuals. Romans addresses the relationship between two groups of people. Group A consists of ethnic Israelites, “the circumcised,” “the Jews,” “those under the nomos/Torah.” Group B is the Gentiles, “the uncircumcised, “the Greeks,” “those without nomos/Torah. So, when Paul says “all” he has in mind both of these groups—Jews and Gentiles. The use in Romans 3:23 means “all peoples” more than “every individual.”[1]


In Paul’s letter to the Romans, the doctrine of justification by faith is tethered to the global mission of God—the blessing of salvation for all peoples. We’ll look at two passages in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome—Romans 3:28–30 and Romans 4:16–18, plus Galatians 3:7–9. All of these passages deal with justification by faith and the all-peoples mission of God.

This blog post is part one. We examine Romans 3:28–30

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.

Explicit and positive

We start with the obvious. The verses contain a truth that is both explicit and positive concerning the all-peoples emphasis. God will justify persons from among both Jews (the circumcised) and Gentiles (the uncircumcised). Together, this represents all the peoples of the earth. God will bless all peoples. No people group is excluded from God’s blessing. It connects with God’s original promise to Abraham to bless all the peoples of the earth through his family (Gen 12:3, 15:5, 18:18, 22:18, 26:4, 28:14).

To emphasize the radical nature of God’s gift-of-salvation-offered-to-all-peoples, Apostle Paul asks: “Or is God the God of the Jews only?” (Paul is identifying the default Jewish attitude that God belongs to the Jews only—the basis for Jewish “boasting.)

Then Paul answers, “Yes, of Gentiles also”. Concerning this answer, Robert Jewett writes:

Paul contends that the relationship of the “Gentiles” and the “Jews” to God is now exactly the same … God is the God of both ethnic groups. The revolutionary equality of all nations before God that flows from the Christ event is emphatically stated by Paul’s response to the interlocutor’s question: ναὶ καὶ ἐθνῶν (“Yes, [God] also [belongs to] Gentiles).[2]

Note well the explicit-positive principle: All nations are equal before God. It is a revolutionary idea. Paul was articulating a Christ-centered gospel which was utterly fresh—a brilliant, positive hope in his world of the Roman Empire. It challenged the status quo of empire-adoring Romans … of ethnically proud Jews … and of culturally elitist Greeks. Can you hear this gospel speaking to our world as well?

Implicit and negative

And now, the not-as-obvious. There is an all-peoples emphasis in Romans 3:28–30 that is more implicit and negative. It is implicit in the phrase, “one is justified by faith apart from works of the law”. Jewett, commenting on Rom 3:28, writes:

God’s granting of righteousness through faith in the crucified Christ counters the seemingly universal tendency to claim honor on the basis of performance or social status. It eliminates claims of cultural or ethnic superiority.[3]

In the book Saving God’s Face, Jackson Wu also addresses the ethnic issues of Jew and Gentile in the doctrine of justification by faith as taught in Romans and Galatians. After a lengthy nuanced discussion covering various perspectives, Wu concludes:

“[T]his gospel message (Gal 3:8) inherently necessitates forsaking the primacy of ethnic identity. The gospel directly challenges ethnocentrism; it is no mere corollary or application.[4]

Wow. “The gospel directly challenges ethnocentrism; it is no mere corollary or application.” Do you hear the force of these words? Ethnic, tribal or national identity is to be secondary to the believer’s primary identity as citizen in God’s kingdom, family member in the household of God (Eph 2:19). I believe it is this, our most-honorable identity in Christ, that subverts ethnocentrism and is part of the core of the gospel.

What is the implicit and negative all-peoples emphasis? It is that faith in the crucified Christ “directly challenges ethnocentrism” and “eliminates claims of cultural or ethnic superiority”. Faith in the crucified Christ necessitates forsaking ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism, cultural elitism, racism—this is what we are to negate through the gospel.

It includes and excludes

Of course, the gift of salvation in Christ includes the personal gain of eternal life and the hope of heaven. But what if we embraced a fuller meaning of justification-by-faith in Rom 3:28–30 as described above? If we did, the gift of salvation might profoundly impact the believer’s relational world when it excludes from the believer—attitudes of cultural, national, tribal, or ethnic superiority.

An audacious thought: Could this all-nations, global gospel have prevented the 1994 genocide in Rwanda when a majority of the nation was considered Christian? Could this all-nations, global gospel have a profound impact today in America—in our deeply polarized social and political climate?

Every expression of elitism, racism, and nationalism will one day fall in submission to the Lordship of Christ. This is part of a gospel expressly designed by God to bless all the peoples of the earth.

Conclusion: Could it be that the Western, individualistic legal-framework gospel emphasizes personal conscience and individual conversion—while at the same time, it unduly marginalizes the relational, social significance of the all-peoples, all-ethnicities gospel? Is this because in Western theology, the common understanding of justification by faith is missing the ethnic, relational, or social dimension of what Apostle Paul intended?

Next post: Part two—Romans 4:16–18 and Galatians 3:7–9


FOOTNOTES

1. Robert Jewett confirms this exegesis: “To fall short is an honor issue and it resonates with the competition for honor within and between groups in the Greco-Roman world. . . . Despite the claims of Jews and Greeks to surpass each other in honor and despite their typical claims that the other groups are shameful because of their lack of wisdom or moral conformity, Paul’s claim is that all fall short of the transcendent standard of honor.” In Jewett: Romans: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 280.
2. Ibid., 299.
3. Ibid., 298.
4. Jackson Wu: Saving God’s Face: A Chinese Contextualization of Salvation through Honor and Shame (EMS Dissertation Series), (Pasadena: William Carey International University Press, 2013), 276–7.

Justification by faith is God’s means of salvation—to “exclude boasting”

An important passage for the doctrine of justification by faith is Romans 3:21–27.

[21] But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—

[22] the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:

[23] for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

[24] and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

[25] whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

[26] It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

[27] Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.

[28] For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

There is a relationship here between 1) justification by faith, and 2) boasting. The necessity of the first makes for the exclusion of the second.

In order to better understand this relationship we must first grasp the meaning of the word “boasting” in the intensely competitive social context of the Roman Empire. Robert Jewett says that “it is ordinarily overlooked that Rome is the boasting champion of the ancient world, filled with honorific monuments and celebrations of imperial glory.”[1]

In the social context of the Roman world, honor competition and boasting were as common as breathing. Scholars have a name for this honor-shame dynamic: “challenge and riposte”.

U.K. theologian John M. G. Barclay, author of Paul and the Gift, explains the intense rivalry and  widespread practice of “boasting” in the social world of Apostle Paul:

Paul lived in a face-to-face society where self-advertisement [boasting], rivalry, and public competition were a perpetual cause of tension in every day life. …

As recent research has emphasized, almost all social relations and Paul’s cultural context were both ordered and threatened by the competition for honor. In the absence of “objective” measures of quality (such as educational qualifications), a person’s worth was heavily dependent on his public reputation, a “dignity” energetically claimed and fiercely defended. The pursuit or defense of honor was, many ancient commentators claimed, the chief motivating force for action: “by nature we yearn and hunger for honor, and once we have glimpsed, as it were, some part of its radiance, there is nothing we are not prepared to bear and suffer in order to secure it” (Cicero, Tusc. 2.24.58). …

And challenge was, indeed, the very essence of this culture. Honor was derived from comparison, from placing oneself (or being placed by others) higher on some hierarchical scale, in which one person’s superiority means that another is comparatively demeaned. This made honor ever the subject of contest: indeed, the ordeal or test was the very arena in which honor was proved. In this environment, every claim to honor [boast] was a real or potential provocation, and every challenge required an active riposte. Honor was a precious but unstable commodity, requiring active promotion [boasting] and persistent demonstration in a court of opinion that continually looked on with a critical eye.[2]

So what does Paul mean when he says, “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded” (Rom 3:27)? Two considerations:

  1. The commonplace social dynamic of boasting in the Roman world—normally considered honorable—is in reality, to be “excluded”. Curiously, this word “excluded” comes from the Greek word ἐκκλείω (ekkleiō), which means “to be shut out”. There is only one other place in the New Testament where this word is used—Gal 4:17. It is a shame term. Why? Because to be excluded is shameful. The irony is plain: The default social practice of making honor claims (boasting)—is actually shameful from God’s perspective!
  2. When Paul asks, “Then what becomes of our boasting?”, is he referring only to ‘we Jews’ who make honor claims (who are boasting) about the “works of the law” (Rom 3:28)? Or is Paul referring to the broader category of ‘we humans’? I believe the context demands that Paul cannot be only referring to Jews, because the preceding verses, Rom 3:21–26, clearly speak with universal intent. I like how Barclay puts it: “His point is to exclude from God’s reckoning not only one but any form of symbolic capital that might be taken to constitute a source of worth before God”.[3]

Ok, so justification by faith means no boasting. But what’s the point? Community!

Yes, justification by faith means that boasting is excluded—what not to do. But there is also an enormously positive intent in Paul’s overall message. Paul has in mind the social community of the church, the body of Christ. Keeping in mind Rome‘s default culture of honor competition, envy, and boasting, we turn again to Barclay, whose insights concerning Paul’s letter to the Romans harmonize with Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

The assembly of believers forms a new community of opinion, constituted by the gift to the unworthy. Within this community there arises, of course, an alternative system of worth, a new form of “symbolic capital”: here, some are to be honored as teachers of the word (6:6) and others given responsibility as “spiritual people” … insofar as they are attuned to the Spirit. But—and this is the second characteristic of Paul’s social strategy—the hallmark of this alternative system of value is that it is specifically directed against rivalry; the greatest honor is for those who work against the competitive spirit of honor itself. As we have seen nearly all of the characteristics catalogued as “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22–23) are directed toward the construction of community, from love downwards. … What counts among believers, according to Paul, is precisely the antithesis to arrogance and competition.[4]

The only kind of rivalry that is acceptable in the Christian community is to “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom 12:10). This “antithesis to arrogance”—this against-rivalry-ethic—is also plain in Romans 12:14–19.

Conclusion: By understanding the honor-shame dynamic of “challenge and riposte” and the prominence of “boasting” in the Roman Empire, we better grasp the doctrine of justification by faith. It is God’s means of salvation—to “exclude boasting”—which, in turn, leads to the creation of a loving community that abides in Christ, in unity, against rivalry.


1. Robert Jewett: Romans: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 295–6.
2. John M. G. Barclay: Paul and the Gift (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 433-4.
3. Ibid., 484.
4. Ibid., 435.

Does honor-shame help us understand justification by faith?

Justification by faith — an honor-shame dynamic

The doctrine of justification by faith comes primarily from Apostle Paul’s letters—to the “Romans” and to the “Galatians”.

Over the past several months, I have been reading Romans in my devotional time. I have come to believe that an awareness of honor-shame dynamics may give added clarity to the Bible’s meaning about justification.

So I am finally returning to my blog with a series of posts on justification by faith.

For the purpose of establishing a baseline of understanding about justification by faith, let‘s begin with two quotes from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.

A right understanding of justification is absolutely crucial to the whole Christian faith. Once Martin Luther realized the truth of justification by faith alone, he became a Christian and overflowed with the new-found joy of the gospel. The primary issue in the Protestant Reformation was a dispute with the Roman Catholic Church over justification. If we are to safeguard the truth of the gospel for future generations, we must understand the truth of justification. Even today, a true view of justification is the dividing line between the biblical gospel of salvation by faith alone and all false gospels of salvation based on good works. [1]

Just what is justification? We may define it as follows: Justification is an instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight.[2]

Here is another quote; it’s from Kevin Vanhoozer’s Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity(I am about midway through reading this book.)

Lutheran theologians came to view justification as “the article by which the church stands or falls.” Philip Schaff calls justification by faith the “material principle” of the Reformation and the sum of the gospel. It is essentially the retrieval of Paul’s doctrine that God declares us righteous on the merits of Christ alone through faith alone. … What we can say is that Paul is addressing not a Jewish legalism narrowly conceived but the more radical and widespread tendency of sinners to justify themselves, either morally or intellectually.[3]

Justification by faith is “absolutely crucial to the whole Christian faith” … “the article by which the church stands or falls” … the “material principle” of the Protestant Reformation … “the sum of the gospel”.

What I want to explore it this: Will an awareness of honor-shame dynamics in various Scripture passages concerning justification help us gain even more respect for this great doctrine—and deepen our motivation for love and obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ?

Below is a list of topics I plan write about in the coming weeks. By God’s grace I’ll write one post for each of the twelve topics concerning justification by faith. In each post I will highlight a passage of Scripture that features the word “justification”, “justify”, or “justified”—and then apply the hermeneutical key of honor-shame to hopefully shed some added light on its meaning.

  1. Justification by faith is God’s means of salvation—in part to “exclude boasting” before God on the part of all humanity (Rom 3:23–27).
  2. Justification by faith is central to the honorific mission of God to bless all the peoples of the earth (Rom 3:29–30; Rom 4:16–18).
  3. Justification by faith relativizes the privileged status of “the circumcised”—the Jews (Rom 3:30).
  4. Justification by faith makes possible the elevated honor status of Gentiles by being included in the people of God (Rom 3:30; cf: Eph 2:19).
  5. Justification by faith makes possible the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham—to bless all the peoples of the earth, thus preserving God’s honor and glorious reputation (Gen 12:1–3; John 12:27–28; Rom 4:16).
  6. Justification by faith entitles the sinner to the royal honorific blessing—like King David himself—of having sins and iniquities forgiven (Rom 4:1–8).
  7. Justification by faith places the believer into the honorific family lineage of ancient Abraham, our “father” in the faith—with whom we are co-heirs (Rom 4:9-25, Gal 3:1–29).
  8. Justification by faith glorifies God (Rom 4:20), while exposing all human honor claims as false glory.
  9. Justification by faith places us into the honorific status of peace with God, thus honorific access to God—through the reconciling work of the regal Lord, the Messiah-King, our Savior Jesus (Rom 5:1–2).
  10. Justification by faith gives believers a new source of honor in Christ, and therefore a new present and future glory—for the honorific practice of “boasting” in God (Rom 5:1–11, esp. v. 2, 3, 11).
  11. Justification by faith is the way that grace reigns in eternal life over sin and death (Rom 5:12–21).
  12. Justification by faith is God’s way for believers to have their longing for honor and glory satisfied in Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 8:12–30)—–“provided we suffer with him” (Rom 8:17).

Justification by faith—indeed, it is a glorious and honorific doctrine.

I look forward to writing about justification by faith in the light of the Bible’s honor-shame dynamics. I anticipate learning much. May healthy conversations arise from our exploration.


1. Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (p. 722). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

2. Ibid., p. 723.

3. Vanhoozer, Kevin J.. Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (Kindle Locations 2145–2153). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. For the phrase, “the article by which the church stands or falls”, Vanhoozer cites Johann Heinrich Alsted’s Theologia scholastica didacta (Hanover, 1618). Vanhoozer also cites Philip Schaaf’s Principle of Protestantism, 80.

Is the Honor-Shame Conference about evangelism and discipleship in America?

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Yesterday I received an interesting email from a missiologist/author/trainer. His question was about the Honor-Shame Conference, June 19–21, 2017 at Wheaton. He asked:

“… what percentage of the June conference will deal with the application of honor-shame thinking to evangelism and discipleship in America, and which presenters will be hitting it?”

As Coordinator of the Honor-Shame Conference, here (below) is how I responded to his question; the text has been edited for clarity in this blog post.


Overall, I think about 50% of the conference—and maybe more—is applicable to “evangelism and discipleship in America”. Of course this also depends on your context in America. There are so many different cultural contexts, so to generalize about “evangelism and discipleship in America” is fraught with the risk of over-generalizing and subjectivity. Having said that …

First of all, there is the hermeneutical grounding of honor-shame. The honor-shame paradigm is first of all about hermeneutics (Scripture interpretation)—and second of all about anthropology (better understanding of ourselves and other peoples).

We believe that through honor-shame, we are getting closer to the way the original authors and hearers of Scripture understood the Word of God. So this is first of all about good interpretation of Scripture; you might even say we are grounded in the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura. It is secondly about better contextualization.

The double-benefit of honor-shame

This points to a double benefit—better hermeneutics and better understanding of non-Western peoples. The double-benefit is inherent in the principle, “The gospel is already contextualized for honor-shame cultures”, quoting Jackson Wu. But even in saying this, I grimace a little, because it is not merely non-Western peoples who will better grasp the gospel through honor-shame; I so firmly believe that Western peoples also really benefit from a gospel that is infused by the Bible’s own honor-shame dynamics. We could discuss sometime the range of books that point to this reality.

So concerning the hermeneutical priority, let’s consider first the plenary sessions. In my opinion, about 80% of the content in the plenary sessions is about hermeneutics enhanced by honor-shame—how this is part of theology, how it relates to the gospel and to church life in America. (Click here to see the six plenary sessions in the Honor-Shame Conference.) If you look at these plenary sessions in totality—in my opinion—you are seeing an overall emphasis on the role of honor-shame in theology, Scripture interpretation, and the gospel. Also, in the list of workshops, one of the workshops seems to focus exclusively on hermeneutics—Dr. E. Randolph Richards: “Honor-Shame in the Gospel of John”.

Now let’s get beyond hermeneutics to whether the presentations address an “American” or Western audience:

Here are the workshops which I think which will relate specifically to an “American” or Western audience:

  • DJ Chuang: “Towards Erasing the Shame of Mental Illness”
  • Steve Hong: “Unlocking Evangelism in our Cities with an Honor-Shame Framework”
  • Jeff Jackson: “Honor-Shame as a Crucial Component of a Local Church’s Ministry to Current or Former US military Members and Their Families”
  • Mako A. Nagasawa: “How to Bring About Personal Healing and Social Justice Using Medical Substitutionary Atonement”
  • Robert Walter: “Grace in the Face of God: ‘Seeking God’s Face’ in Prayer as Cleansing for Toxic Shame”

The next list of workshops, in my opinion, are mostly rooted in cross-cultural ministry in overseas, non-Western communities. But I believe the relevance of these workshops is significant for many Americans and Westerners. There is cross-over impact here:

  • Sam Heldenbrand: “Honor, Shame, and the Gospel: Reframing the Messenger”
  • Dr. Katie J. Rawson: “A Gospel that Reconciles: Teaching About Honor-Shame to Advance Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation”
  • Randall Spacht, Lacides Hernandez, Juan Guillermo Cardona: “The 3D Gospel in Latin America”
  • Joyce Jow: “From Pollution to Purity: The Restoration of the Hemorrhaging Woman”
  • Dr. Steve Tracy: “Abuse and Shame: How the Cross Transforms Shame”

Because of the fact that there are so many non-Western peoples in the USA, there is a need for preaching, evangelism, and discipleship that is conducted without a Western theological bias (see this post about theological bias and contextualization). This makes all of the workshops relevant, because we have so many Asians, so many Latin Americans, so many peoples from Africa and the Middle East living among us.

I also suggest you read the 14-page Workshop Descriptions document to get a fuller understanding of the 28 workshops offered at the Honor-Shame Conference.


Conclusion

How do I summarize the points in my email to my friend the missiologist?

  1. America is increasingly a land of diverse peoples and cultures—and this represents a major Great Commission opportunity for the church. Understanding the double benefit of honor-shame—1) better Scripture interpretation, and 2) better contextualization of the gospel for people in honor-shame cultures—may represent a strategic advance for the Church. This is valuable for all Americans—whether their background is Christian, nonreligious, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or other.
  2. Come to the Honor-Shame Conference, June 19–21, 2017 at Wheaton!

The Father’s Love Gospel Booklet in Japanese—FREE copies available

Good news—200 copies of the Japanese version of The Father’s Love Gospel Booklet are available for free.

This is the booklet based on the Prodigal Son story (Luke 15:11–32) which allows you to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Bible’s own “language of honor and shame”.

Click here to visit The Father’s Love Gospel Booklet website page, to learn more about this resource. Note: you won’t see anything here about the Japanese version. But you will see all the pages, the drawings, the questions designed for interaction—and how we make a bridge to the atonement of Christ.

  • 20 pages, 4.125 x 3.5 inches, fits into a shirt pocket
  • Designed for interaction and easy conversation
  • Lovingly designed for people whose pivotal cultural value is honor and shame—to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ

My friends at First Baptist Church, Hendersonville have been involved in blessing many Japanese in Middle Tennessee. They took the English version of The Father’s Love Gospel Booklet … had the translation work done … had the new page-layout work completed in Adobe InDesign … and got it printed. From their print run, an extra 200 copies were left over—and these were recently given to Mission ONE. Many thanks to Mike McClanahan and the missions department at FBC Hendersonville!

So for the cost of shipping, you can get these 200 gospel booklets for no additional cost. Interested? Write to me at werner@mission1.org.

Available now—200 copies of The Father’s Love Gospel Booklet in Japanese.

Book review: Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures

Jayson Georges and Mark Baker have co-authored an outstanding book: Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials (IVP, 2016). The book is equally valuable theologically and missiologically.

Following a helpful introduction on how the volume is structured, the book has three sections. Part one is Cultural Anthropology (34 pages). Part two is Biblical Theology (50 pages). Part three is Practical Ministry (100 pages).

Scholarly and practical

The authors are both scholars and seasoned practitioners. Theological insights are blended beautifully with numerous personal stories from the authors’ service in honor-shame cultures. Mark Baker (PhD, Duke) is Professor of Mission and Theology at Fresno Pacific University. Jayson Georges (MDiv, Talbot) is the founding editor and primary blogger of HonorShame.com. The cross-cultural ministry stories from Georges come primarily from living with his family in Central Asia as missionaries; for Baker, his cross-cultural ministry context is Central America. I found the balance of the theological and the practical to be beautiful, powerful, even arresting at times.

For pastors and teachers

The numerous theological insights of Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures means that it is not just for people ministering in honor-shame cultures. Rather, this is a book that gives so many insights into Scripture, every pastor and teacher of the Word of God would benefit.

The section Biblical Theology is broken into two chapters—“Old Testament” and “Jesus”. The section opens with this compelling paragraph (p. 67):

People long for honor, and God acts to honor all peoples. As much as humans obsess about honor, God cares even more about human honor. A key feature of God’s mission is to restore status to the human family. From Genesis to Revelation, God honors his people. To only view the concept of honor-shame as an exegetical tool for reading biblical texts misses the forest for the trees. Honor and shame are foundational realities in God’s mission and salvation that flow through the entire Bible. By honoring his people, God himself reaps glory as the source of true honor. Ultimately, the story of the Bible is about God’s honor and God’s face, not just ours.

The chapter on Old Testament examines a variety of passages to highlight their honor-shame dynamics. The first part is on The Fall—the degree to which shame is integral to sin, both as a cause and an effect. This is foundational. The remedy for sin must be understood as more than a remedy for guilt. Baker and Georges show how the writers of Scripture reveal that salvation is both a return to innocence from guilt through forgiveness—and also a progressive reality of status reversal from shame to honor before God. Using numerous Scripture references and helpful diagrams, the presentation is both clear and conclusive.

The chapter on Jesus deals with several key features of his life and ministry through the lens of honor-shame. The chapter covers Jesus’ honorable life and teachings:

  • Jesus redefines honor in the Sermon on the Mount.
  • Jesus touches the shameful and unclean, saving and healing them, lifting them out of their isolation and shame.
  • Through the Prodigal Son story—Jesus reveals God as a father who longs to cover the shame and restore the honor of his shameful sons.
  • Jesus conquers sin and shame through the ignominious Cross followed by his resurrection.

Again, Baker and Georges are clear and convincing in exegeting the text to reveal a myriad of honor-shame realties and theological implications.

For cross-cultural workers and educators

The largest section of the book (100 pages) is Practical Ministry. The six chapters are: Spirituality, Relationships, Evangelism, Conversion, Ethics, and Community. Although this section has the most stories from the authors’ cross-cultural ministry experiences, Scripture is woven all throughout these chapters. In a sense, the theology-teaching value of this section is simply amplified by the practical stories.

One of my favorite chapters in this section is Ethics. I so appreciate this sentence: “A leader with Honor is not seduced by honor” (p. 208). Many Christian leaders are leery of learning about honor-shame in Scripture and ministry because they believe it will lead to ethical compromise. Baker and Georges show that the opposite is true. When Christians embrace Jesus’ new honor code, they are able to live ethically superior lives. As loyal followers of Jesus, filled with God’s honor in Christ, they become servant leaders who are able to absorb shame, suffer persecution, and live out of an honor surplus which comes from knowing our Lord Jesus Christ.

Every cross-cultural worker—every cross-cultural ministry educator or trainer—will be well served by using and applying this outstanding book.

Around the world—and across the street

Missionaries, cross-cultural workers, and intercultural studies educators-trainers will find this book helpful. It’s a book plainly addressed for Christians doing ministry “over there”.

But with our cities and neighborhoods becoming more and more multicultural, isn’t the audience for this book far, far broader? There are vast cross-cultural ministry opportunities locally—among international students, immigrants working alongside us in business, refugees, and unreached peoples—most of whom are from honor-shame cultures. In this challenging, even perplexing, local context—how can Christians more wisely engage in the Great Commission? In Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures, Baker and Georges have provided outstanding theological and practical guidance; I give it my highest recommendation.


NOTE: Learn about the Honor-Shame Conference, June 19–21, 2017 at Wheaton College. Our theme is “Honor, Shame, & the Gospel: Reframing Our Message for 21st-Century Ministry”.

Christmas is good news about a King and His Kingdom

christmas-king-and-gospel-of-the-kingdom

“And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’”
–Luke 1:30–33 ESV

We are joining Christians all over the world in celebrating the miracle of the birth of King Jesus.

Christmas is a time to wonder. It was a divine miracle that Mary, the Jewish teenage virgin, conceived a baby boy who the angel said “will be called the Son of the Most High”. The little baby Jesus is none other than the King and Savior of the world. How can it be?!

Christmas is a time to celebrate. It is the fulfillment of Israel’s ancient story and the prophesy given to Israel’s King David (2 Sam. 7:16–17). This “Son” will reign forever, “and of his kingdom there will be no end”. All other kingdoms and earthly powers are under the ultimate rule of God. Therefore, no matter the social, political, or economic circumstances, by faith we as believers celebrate that our eternal honor and salvation is secure in King Jesus and his kingdom. Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Christmas is a time to worship. Jesus embodies beautiful humility—and regal eternal power. He is exactly the kind of Savior we need. He is the One we can relate to because of his humanity and vulnerability. He is also the One we worship—He is our Creator King and Savior—absolutely worthy of our loyalty. O come, let us adore him!

Christmas is a time for mission. As followers of Jesus, we serve in many ways with our various gifts and talents to extend the “gospel of the kingdom” to all the peoples of the earth. In fact, preaching “the gospel of the kingdom” is essential to fulfilling God’s global purpose (Matt 24:14). We want to be part of this unfolding drama—this great mission—of sharing the good news that Jesus is the King who fulfills the Bible’s ancient regal story! He is our Savior! He is the Lord!


NOTE: If you want to look up verses about the “gospel of the kingdom”, you can start here: Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Mark 1:15; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 16:16; Acts 8:12; 28:31.

Will you join us for the inaugural Honor-Shame Conference?

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Registration is open!

You can now register for “Honor, Shame, & the Gospel“—the Honor-Shame Network Conference at Wheaton College, June 2017! The price of $309 is all-inclusive—the conference, lodging, meals and snacks. Register soon because the price increases every 50 registrants!

Workshops

We recently finalized the conference workshops. Along with 6 plenary sessions (David deSilva, Jayson Georges, Bobby Gupta, Jackson Wu, Steven Hawthorne, and Brent Sandy) there will be over 20 outstanding workshops from professors and practitioners from around the world! (Note: workshop list below is subject to change.)

  1. DJ Chuang: “Towards Erasing the Shame of Mental Illness”
  2. Rico Cortez: “The Function of the Day of Atonement in the Letter to the Hebrews”
  3. Sam Heldenbrand: “Honor, Shame, and the Gospel: Reframing the Messenger”
  4. Steve Hong: “Unlocking Evangelism in our Cities with an Honor-Shame Framework”
  5. Jeff Jackson: “Honor-Shame as a Crucial Component of a Local Church’s Ministry to Current or Former US military Members and their Families”
  6. Joyce Jow: “From Purity to Pollution: The Restoration of the Hemorrhaging Woman”
  7. Dr. Mark Kreitzer: “The Underlying Nakedness-Shame Motif in Scripture: Implications for Cross-Cultural Proclamation of the Gospel”
  8. Arley Loewen: ““Must Honor Clash With Humility?”
  9. Werner Mischke: “The Gospel of the Kingdom for a World of Violence”
  10. Martin Munyao, David Tarus: “Tribalism and Identity: Tracing ‘From Shame to Honor’ Theme in Africa’s Identity Theology to Reframe the Gospel for Kenya”
  11. Dr. Larry Persons: “Clothing the Gospel in the Language of ‘Face’”
  12. Dr. Wilson Phang: “The Other 2/3rds of the Gospel: Good News for All People”
  13. Dr. Katie Rawson: “A Gospel that Reconciles: Teaching About Honor-Shame to Advance Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation”
  14. Dr. E. Randolph Richards: “Honor-Shame in the Gospel of John”
  15. Nolan Sharp: “Samuel as a Narrative Resource for National Reconciliation in Honor-Shame Cultures”
  16. Dr. Sheryl Takagi Silzer: “How the Honor-Shame Dynamic Works in East Asian Cultures”
  17. Randall Spacht, Lacides Hernandez; Juan Guillermo Cardona: “The 3D Gospel in Latin America”
  18. Randall Spacht, Lacides Hernandez; Juan Guillermo Cardona: “Honoring Students of Honor-Shame Workshops through Empowerment”
  19. Dr. Tom Steffen: “A Clothesline Theology for the World: How A Value Driven Metanarrative of Scripture Can Frame the Gospel”
  20. Lynn Thigpen: “Redeeming the Poverty-Shame Limited Education Cycle through Gracing”
  21. Russell Thorp: “Filling Gaps in Ministry in Melanesia through Understanding Honor and Shame”
  22. Dr. Patty Toland: “Redeeming and Strengthening Honor and Shame Practices in Church Relationships”
  23. Dr. Steve Tracy: “Abuse and Shame: How the Cross Transforms Shame”
  24. Robert Walter: “Grace in the Face of God”
  25. Robert Walter: “Four Dynamics for a Harvest in Honor-Shame Societies”
  26. Jerry Wiles: “Honor, Shame and the Gospel in the Orality Movement”
  27. Dr. Dan Wu: “Wrestling with Honour: Clarifying What Honour Is through the Concept of the Public Court of Reputation”
  28. Richard Yaqoub: “The Good Shepherd and Arab Patronage: Using the Biblical Motif of God as Shepherd to Help Form a Christology in the Language of 21st Century Arab Patron-Client Relationships”

Please join us for the inaugural Honor-Shame Conference––a community to learn and work together for the sake of the gospel.

Honor and shame in the book of Genesis––#3: The honor of woman

This is the third in a series about honor and shame in the book of Genesis. You’ll benefit from reading this in your browser. 

honor and shame in the book of genesis3


“One of the greatest causes of poverty in the world is based on a lie—the lie that men are superior to women.” [1] –Darrow Miller

Other than the serpent’s original deception (Gen 3:1–5) that led to the Fall of humanity, what lie has caused more oppression and trauma in the world?

What lie has caused more tears?

What lie has led to more pain than this? …

“Men are superior to women.”

This was not God’s intent when he created humanity. Observe Genesis 1:26–28:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

From this text we will examine three truths: 1) Humanity is made in God’s regal image. 2) The regal image of God is both male and female. 3) The Cultural Mandate (Gen 1:28) is a regal function fulfilled by man and woman together.

1) Humanity is made in God’s regal image

First, humanity was made in God’s image—the Latin phrase is imago Dei. This speaks of the inherent regal dignity—the supreme value and honor—of all humanity. Like animals, humans are created by God. But unlike animals, humans bear God’s “image” in ways that mere animals do not—possessing a combination of qualities such as as morality, glory, spirituality, personality, and creativity—in conjunction with an eternal soul.

Keep in mind, God is not merely an impersonal Creator—an abstract “force”. God is the Almighty King of Creation (Ps 93:1; Ps 95:3, 6; Ps 96:10–13; Ps 97:1).

Therefore, to be made in God’s image implies that all humanity is imbued with regal honor. According to the Bible, we all possess royal blood—regardless of our wealth or poverty, family name, social status, racial heritage, ethnic or national origin, level of education, or position in society. But due to the Fall and the effects of sin, we have lost and defiled our original regal identity.

This regal dimension of the image of God—imago Dei—is made even more clear when we consider the context of the Ancient Near East. John Walton writes:

The image of God as an Old Testament concept can be be understood in four categories. It pertains to the role and function that God has given humanity (found for example in “subdue” and “rule,” (Gen 1:28), to the identity that he has bequeathed on us (i.e., it is by definition, who we are as human beings), and to the way that we serve as his substitute. When Assyrian kings made images of themselves to be placed in conquered cities or at important borders, they were communicating that they were, in effect, continually present in that place. Finally, it is indicative of the relationship that God intends to have with us.[2] (bold emphasis mine)

The meaning of humans made in “the image of God”, in its social context, is powerful: Humans are vice-regents with God; we are God’s regal stewards and representatives. “As God’s stewards, we are tasked to do his work in the world; we are to be his assistants in the order-bringing process that has begun.”[3]

2) God’s regal image is male and female

Darrow Miller’s Figure 14 in Nurturing the Nations
Darrow Miller’s Figure 14 in Nurturing the Nations, page 130.

Second, humanity made in God’s image comprises both male and female. We find here the essential equality-in-being of male and female—man and woman. This means that humanity’s image of God is incomplete if it is only male or only female. The Godhead comprises both masculine and feminine qualities. Miller writes: “The masculine and feminine polarities are complementary in marriage and reflect something of the mystery of the eternal unity and diversity in the Trinity.”[4] This is borne out in the Scriptures:

  • Masculine attributes are conveyed in the common use “Father” and “Son” to describe God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son. Moreover, God is “husband” to his people Israel in the Old Testament (Ez 16:32; Hosea 9:1), and Christ is the bridegroom of the church in the New Testament (Eph 5:31–32; Rev 19:7).
  • God’s feminine attributes are conveyed in the Bible’s use of feminine terminology describing God. Whereas the Bible says God is Father, we observe that the Bible says God is like a mother. Miller points out, “The Bible uses simile to state that God is like a mother, but never that God is a mother. God is like … a woman giving birth (Is 42: 14; 46:3) … a nursing mother (Is 49: 13– 15; 66:10–13) … a mother hen (Mat 23: 37; Luke 13:34) … a mother eagle (Ex 19: 4; Deut 32:10–12)”[5]

This takes us back to Genesis 1:27—the image of God is both male and female, masculine and feminine. The origin story of the Bible clearly reveals the essential equality of being—the same regal honor!—of man and woman, husband and wife.

3) The Cultural Mandate is a regal responsibility fulfilled by man and woman together

The message of Genesis 1:28 is often referred to as the Cultural Mandate. It is also known as the Creation Mandate or the Dominion Mandate.

Notice the first two phrases of verse 28: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply …’”. The blessing is given to them. And the command is given to them—male and female, man and woman. The implication is that God’s purpose and plan cannot be carried out by just men alone or by just women alone.

Again, Darrow Miller:

… it is worth reiterating that the Genesis 1: 26–28 creation mandate to procreate and exercise dominion … is given to the imago Dei: male and female. Note that a single human being, or a group of males, or a group of females cannot fulfill either part. It takes a team effort of male and female. The woman is not an object. She is not the property of man. She is equally the imago Dei. In God’s design, the responsibilities of pro-creation and dominion are shared. The mandate is for all.[6]

Equality of being for women across the entire biblical narrative

Much more can be said, of course, about the essential equality of being for women as revealed in the Bible. Scripture gives us the foundational belief in the God-created, regal honor of woman shared with the man. Here are some highlights:

  • God created woman as an egalitarian companion for man—“flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones” (Gen 2:18, 20–23)—someone equal in being and complimentarian in function or role.
  • Wisdom is portrayed as a queen—a woman of regal stature in Proverbs (Pr 3:13–18; cf. Pr 8:1; 9:1–4)
  • Proverbs 31:10–31 describes a godly wife fully engaged in family life (Pr 31:10–12, 15, 27–28), fitness (Pr 31:17), marketing and commerce (Pr 31:13–14, 24), helping the poor (Pr 31:20), teaching kindness and wisdom to others (Pr 31:26)—all rooted in healthy fear of God (Pr 31:30). This portrayal describes a woman who is neither hidden at home, nor cowering in weakness, nor stifled to be quiet. She is strong, dignified, confident (Pr 31:25–26).
  • The Song of Solomon speaks of the pleasures of the sexual relationship in the loving union between a husband and wife. It takes place in the social setting of Solomon’s Israel around 950 B.C. One of the primary meanings of this tantalizing book is stunning—in light of the traditional honor-shame standards and patriarchal values of the Ancient Near East. The stunning principle (Song 2:16) is this: The woman is equally entitled as the man to sexual pleasure and fulfillment.[7] 
  • In the Gospels, Jesus is famously egalitarian in his treatment of women. In all of his interactions with women, the woman is dignified and honored in the process. Perhaps the most famous is the account of his counter-cultural interactions with the Samaritan woman (John 4:4–42). Jesus treats women in such a radically honorific manner—while never minimizing their sin—that Miller says, “Jesus was the first feminist”.[8]
  • Apostle Paul writes to the Galatians that in Christ there is no distinction—that is, no inequality of being—between male and female. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).
  • The fact that the narrative of Scripture begins and ends with “the nuptial”[9]—that is, ceremonial wedding language (Gen 2:23–24; Rev 19:7–9)—speaks of the incredibly high view of marriage, of woman, of male and female, husband and wife.

Men are not superior to women

The Bible teaches that in God’s design, men are not superior to women! The woman is straightforwardly equal—equal in being—to the man. The regal honor of man—and likewise, the regal honor of woman—is plain in numerous Scripture passages from Genesis to Revelation. How vital this is to counter the horrible lie: “Men are superior to women.”

Satan’s lies and humanity’s sin have corrupted God’s glorious design and intentions. Sin is universal. So the Bible’s high, honorific—indeed, regal—view of woman is in glaring contrast to the oppression and shame suffered by women and girls in varying degrees all around the world. This has mammoth implications for family life, for church life, for politics, for education, for believers everywhere.

What are some implications for mission? We will consider this in our next post.


FOOTNOTES

1. Darrow L. Miller: Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women in Building Healthy Cultures (p. 2). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

2. John H. Walton: The Lost World of Adam and Eve, (InterVarsity Press, 2015), p. 42.  

3. Ibid., p. 43.  

4. Miller., p. 130.

5. Ibid., p. 142.

6. Ibid., p. 174.

7. See Diane Bergant: “My Beloved is Mine and I am His” (Song 2:16): The Song of Songs and Honor and Shame” in Semeia 68: Honor and Shame in the World of the Bible (The Society of Biblical Literature, 1996), p. 23–35.

8. Miller., p. 3. Comparing the role of the man to that of the woman in family and society, Miller argues throughout his book for equality in being and hierarchy in roles. He bases this on trinitarian theology. The Bible speaks of the Godhead—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—having equality in being and hierarchy in roles. Just as there is loving leadership and submission in the Trinity, there ought also to be loving leadership and submission in the family.

9. Miller., p. 235.

Honor and shame in the book of Genesis––#2: The honor of work

honor and shame in the book of genesis2

This is the second in a series about honor and shame in the book of Genesis. You’ll benefit from reading this in your browser. I encourage you to read all the way to the bottom—where you will be rewarded with a video and movie trailer.


In our first post in this series, we examined Gen. 1:1—“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. We considered the honor of God as Creator, summarized below. This summary serves as an essential foundation for this second post concerning the honor of work.

God is Creator-King, and creation is his temple. We see this plainly in Psalms 96–100:

  • God is King—enthroned, majestic, glorious, infinitely honorable (Ps. 95:3–6; Ps. 96:6–10; Ps. 97:1–2; Ps. 98:6; Ps. 99:1–5; Ps. 100:4).
  • God is Creator of the earth—and thus deserving of worship from all the earth: (Ps. 95:4–5; Ps. 96:1, 9, 11–13; Ps. 97:1, 4–5, 9; Ps. 98:3–4, 7–9; Ps. 99:1; Ps. 100:1).
  • The heavens and the earth are a templesacred space in which all peoples, nations—even all nature—rejoice together in worship of the Creator-King (Ps. 95:1–7; Ps. 96:1–13; Ps. 97:1–9; Ps. 98:1–9; Ps. 99:1–5; Ps. 100:1–5)

It is unmistakable—the heavens and the earth do not comprise a “machine” devoid of sacred honor; no, the heavens and the earth comprise sacred space—an honorific temple of the Most High God, the Creator-King!

The author of Genesis and the Psalmist agree on ‘the nature of nature’—the essence of creation: There is no separation between natural and supernatural, or between secular and spiritual. There is a unity between matter and spirit. Why? Because it was all created by a glorious God for a glorious purpose (Rom. 11:36).

Darrow Miller LifeWorkIn his book LifeWork, Darrow Miller says it this way:

Scripture does not divide existence into separate natural and supernatural, or material and spiritual, realms. The separation that the modern world tends to make is utterly foreign to the biblical worldview. It is doubtful that the people of the Bible could even have wrapped their heads around the way we tend to see our lives and the world now. The Bible reveals that God is Creator of both the heavens and the earth.[1]

Work as sacred honor

Inside of this sacred, most honorable framework for all creation, let’s examine what Genesis 1–2 says about work. Below are five observations.

  1. When God created, God worked. Notice the description in Genesis 2:1–2. “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” God’s work in creation was to create highly ordered, “very good” (Gen 1:31), sacred space. We affirm that it’s not just the result of God’s work that is sacred (that is, creation); no, the work itself was sacred. God is holy; therefore, all of God’s work is holy—including the work of creation. Moreover, we see God pictured both as a craftsman (Gen. 2:7; 22) and gardener (Gen. 2:8). God himself is at work!
  2. God gave man work to do. Genesis 2:15 makes this plain: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” In the sacred garden of Eden, God gave man work to do. Since God made humankind in his own image (Gen. 1:27), it is a reflection of the honor of God that he gives man work to do in the garden—“to work it and keep it”. Man’s work is not the result of the Fall. Work is not a curse. No! For man to work is to live in the image of the Most High God! Of course, the Fall made work harder, more painful (Gen. 3:17–19), but in God’s original design, work is good, honorable, sacred.
  3. God gave regal responsibility to humanity through work. Notice the word dominion in Genesis 1:26; 28. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’” The word dominion implies regal oversight and supremacy (Ps. 8:5–6, 145:13). Darrow Miller also says that dominion is tethered to stewardship:

    Because God is a working God, when he makes man in his image, part of what that means is that man is to work as well. We find in Genesis the first job description. The nature of man’s work is to have dominion (stewardship) over creation. This is not only the first job description but also the job description out of which all other legitimate job descriptions come.[2]

    Later in his book, Miller speaks of the link between a high view of humanity, a high view of work, and the unusual prosperity of nations influenced by a Christian worldview. Miller points to the scholarship of Jeremy Landes in The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor.

    So, the difference, according to Landes, was religious worldview: the dignity of labor, humankind having dominion over creation, history that is going somewhere, and a free market. Landes got the first three right but, in my opinion, got the fourth point backward. The high view of man was not a result of enterprise; it was the biblical concept of a high view of man—the image of God—which led to enterprise. Man is the secondary creator, innovator, inventor, and artist. It is these worldview elements and others that raised nations out of poverty.[3]

    Humanity is made by God in the image of God. And since God works, God also gives humanity work to do. It is not meaningless, dishonorable work. No, it is the grand work of having dominion with and under God’s kingly rule over all the earth (Gen. 1:26; 28).

  4. God gave humanity the honor of providing for oneself through work. In Genesis 1:29, God speaks to humanity, “…‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” God does not say, “I will feed you.” Rather, God says in effect, I am providing plants, fruit and seeds by which you can make gardens and develop agriculture—and out of your work you will have the food to sustain you. God provides the resources for humanity to provide for themselves. This is nothing less than the honor of providing for oneself through work under the kingship of Creator God.
  5. God gave creative work to humanity. In Genesis 2:19–20 God gave man the distinction of language—distinguishing man from the rest of the animals. And with that language came the responsibility of creative work: “… And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. …” Darrow Miller calls this “making man a word maker” and a culture-maker.

God established man’s dominion over nature by making man a word maker. Part of the image of God in us is our ability to reason, make words, and understand created distinctions. As man follows God in using language, he is separated from the rest of creation as the maker of culture.[4]

I asked my wife Daphne, how does honor overlap with the truth of God as creator? Daphne is a piano teacher and a great cook. She said something like this: Whenever you create something you just feel good. Whether it’s a work of art or a piece of music or a meal—creating is inherently honorable. And the honor one feels is even greater when people you love also enjoy what you have created.

The point is simple: God gave work to humanity—work that was regal, honorable, expansive, enjoyable—inside of God’s sacred creation. This is an incredibly high view of work. Work is about more than surviving. Work is about more than productivity. Work is about fulfilling God’s good purposes on the earth.

What does this mean for the mission of the church?

Here are a few principles that can be applied to the work of international missions—locally and globally. These principles have been stated by many others. I want to specifically connect these principles to the honor of work.

  • All work done to the glory and honor of God is spiritual work and sacred work.
  • Full-time ministers and missionaries are not more honorable—spiritually speaking—than any worker or professional who also does their work with all their might to the glory of God (Eccl. 9:10; Col. 3:23). We all stand equal at the cross, and we all have honor in our respective vocational callings.
  • Believers of virtually every vocation—and in their vocation!—are needed in God’s honor-sharing story of blessing the nations (Gen. 12:3, Acts 1:8) through Jesus Christ.
  • Providing good jobs to the poor and facilitating the honor of work can be integral to—and highly strategic for—making “disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19).

Five suggestions for resources concerning work, honor, mission

1) At Mission ONE, we’re engaging in a Missional Business vision with our international indigenous ministry partners. Learn more here, and watch a one-minute video.

2) Read a book on the theology of work. Darrow Millers’s LifeWorkmentioned above—is a comprehensive treatment on the subject. Two other books, much shorter, but compelling in how they tie together business and missions, are:

3) Attend a conference on Business As Mission. The BAM Conference is in Los Angeles, September 16–18.

4) Watch a video. The 5-minute video below by Skye Jethani is excellent—“Recapturing a Theology of Vocation”. Click here to see it in your browser.

5) Watch a movie: Poverty Inc. is on Netflix and Vimeo. It’s an amazing documentary—so worth watching! On the one hand, this film shows why traditional forms of charity often do more harm than good—while dishonoring the very people and communities who are being “served”. On the other hand, the film amplifies the honor of building businesses and providing good jobs through small to medium sized businesses. This is vital in fighting poverty and transforming communities around the world. Watch the trailer below (or in your browser):

Poverty, Inc. from Brainstorm Media on Vimeo.


1. Miller, Darrow; Newton, Marit. LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day (Kindle Locations 665-668). YWAM Publishing. Kindle Edition.

2. Ibid., Kindle Locations 3591-3593.

3. Ibid., Kindle Locations 5049-5053.

4. Ibid., Kindle Locations 2207-2209.