This week is Veteran’s Day and there are distinct Christian reasons for honoring our military Veterans. Christians are commanded to give “respect to whom respect is owed” and “honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom. 13:7). Notice, we “owe” it to them. The world has respectable people and honorable ones. How do we love these people (Rom. 13:8)? The way you love a respectable person is to respect them. The way you love an honorable person is to honor them. And we are commanded to “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10).
On Veterans Day, Americans honor those who have donned the uniform of our nation’s military. This is different from Memorial Day, where we honor those who gave their lives serving in the military. Why does American military personnel deserve honor? Because they willingly gave up certain cherished comforts to preserve the way of life we cherish. Some have served tour after tour and some have never seen combat. Both deserve honor because they served others—the nation—sacrificially. This doesn’t mean we honor every soldier for the simple reason that they wore our nation’s uniform. Lieutenant William Calley, who served in Vietnam, should get what he is owed for his role in the My Lai massacre, namely, the sword (Rom. 13:4). Those troops who served with dignity should get what they are owed, namely honor.
To honor someone is different than worshipping them. To honor a veteran is to hold them in high respect. It requires “recognition” (1 Cor. 16:18), which is the publicly promulgated good opinion of the local community. Even in heaven, the martyrs receive special honor when they are “each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer” (Rev. 6:11). It is altogether fitting that we pause and pay tribute to the honorable. We must practice this, for when we do, we train our hearts to love what God loves. The honorable soldier’s life is marked by sacrifice. It is the duty of those who receive the sacrifice to reflect on those who did the sacrifice. This helps us imitate them (1 Cor. 11:1) and lead our own lives of sacrifice. In this sense, honor expresses a part of our original desire for glory.
Over three hundred years ago Dr. Samuel Johnson was on to something when he said that “Every man thinks meanly of himself for never having been a soldier, or never having been at sea.” If being a soldier is a badge of honor, then all of us civilians have missed out on a certain measure of honor. Our only recourse is to give honor to whom honor is due. But it doesn’t stop there. The man who never honors is never honored, and this means more than just the downtown parade on November 11. “Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,’ but now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed’” (1 Sam. 2:30).
But not all forms of honor are equal. There is a way to celebrate Veteran’s Day rightly and a way to celebrate it wrongly. The way to muddle Veteran’s Day is to send our thanks out to nameless, faceless soldiers. In Scripture, honor is always of local quality. It must never become a generalized abstraction. When it does, honor takes the degraded form of virtue signaling. And since virtue signaling is about self-promotion, that means abstracted honor-giving becomes dishonor for the same reason that selfishness is shameful. We have to get honor right. C.S. Lewis warned that a culture that laughs at honor finds traitors in their midst. Maybe this helps explain what happened to the church in the last 24 months.
Honor communicates a standard by which we judge human behavior. This is why Christians must make it their business to honor those who are honorable, not according to the standard of Disney, but according to the standard of God. When we publicly honor the honorable, we participate in the great work of protesting the new standards of honor that glorify rappers and Kardashians. Honor is due to those who willingly subordinate their individual benefit for the greater good. It is not due to those who are famous for being famous. Christians should honor those who embody the traditions, stories, virtues, and habits of the Kingdom of God.
In practice, here is what that means. If you are a child, you need to train your heart to honor the honorable. So, that means you need to find a veteran in your family or church and tell them “Thank you for your service.” If you are an adult, you need to do the same. But you also need to see that if honoring the honorable is a virtue, it doesn’t stop with veterans. Children should honor their parents and grandparents. Citizens should honor their leaders. Christians should honor “such people” as “Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus” because of their devotion to serving the church (1 Cor. 16:15-18).
So, Christians have distinct reasons for honoring our military veterans. It’s a chance for us to pause, pay tribute, and learn about those honorable gents who preceded us. To those veterans who are part of Trinity Reformed Church—of which there are not a few—we thank you for your service and sacrifice, which reflects the more perfect sacrifice of the One who deserves all honor and glory and worship.
Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.