Holidays That Honor Men
“Honor all men . . . .” (1 Peter 2:17)
When I consider holidays that honor men, I naturally think about the birthdays of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. Come the third weekend in February we’re bombarded with pictures of Abe and George popping out of the television screen urging us to head down to the local used car dealership and buy one of those fixer uppers. These holidays have been commercialized to the point that they are no longer recognizable or meaningful except to those militant bargain shoppers.
Perhaps more meaningful holidays would include days that honor not just one man, but many, such as Memorial Day, or Veterans Day. On these occasions the nation pauses to reflect upon the sacrifices made by others so that we can have the liberties we enjoy in our nation.
In more recent years there has been a political push to add additional holidays that honor men such as Martin Luther King Jr., or César Chávez. The honoring of these men is associated with a specific ethnic group and their work to bring certain liberties and equalities to these groups. In that regard they are not unlike Memorial Day or Veterans Day in that the protection and expansion of liberty (albeit for a sub-culture) is being recognized.
The Bible doesn’t specifically address the formation and observance of any secular holidays designed to honor men. However, it does address the subject of civil obedience (Romans 13). The Bible also talks about living in harmony with the laws and culture of a particular society (1 Corinthians 9:19-22). So long as those laws or culture do not come into conflict with God’s revealed will, (Acts 5:29) all is well. It is for these reasons that secular holidays regarding men may be observed by Christians in a secular and non-religious way.
Some may ask, “Were not some of these men sinful? Don’t we honor their sin when we remember them?” Of course, only one man ever lived without sin: Jesus (Hebrews 4:15). If it were the case that we couldn’t honor any men who had sinned, then neither would we be able to honor George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. Moreover, we would not be able to have birthday parties or funerals as these also are events that honor men. Nor could we honor the men or women of Memorial or Veterans Day, for all have sinned.
So, just how can we honor these men? Let’s notice a few ways to do such. First, we can be thankful to God for the good that these men did. If anyone ever did any good thing, it was because God was good first. God is the ultimate source of good (James 1:17) and it is to God that we can be thankful for all good things that men do (1 Timothy 2:1).
Second, we can note the example of good things that these men did and follow that example inasmuch as they are examples of that which is morally worthy of imitation. This is precisely what the writer of the book of Hebrews urges us to do in looking at the examples of the great men and women of faith in Hebrews 11. These were men and they sinned! Obviously the writer isn’t encouraging us to follow their sinful example, but to follow their faithful one. If the inspired pen can be used to honor the faith of men, then we can honor the good in secular men and follow that example.
Third, we can note the failures of these men and resolve not to imitate those actions in our lives. Paul would do this very thing in pointing back to the children of Israel in 1 Corinthians 10:1-12. In verse 11 he writes, “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” When we realize that even “great” men in our own times had failures due to sin, this ought to reinforce in our minds the potential for our falling into sin as well.
The observance of secular holidays that honor men does not inherently involve a sinful situation. The Bible teaches that we are to respect the culture in which we live so long as there are no conflicts with God’s word. There is no inherent conflict in the word of God in honoring men. To the contrary, it is commanded (1 Peter 2:17). So long as our honoring of these men stays on a secular level and does not involve unholy and unrighteous religious devotions (cf. Revelation 19:10), we do well. Let us praise God for the good, follow that example, and eschew the evil that men have done.