Although they are basically God-fearing and wish to do what is right, many people have not succeeded in the struggle to overcome their temptations. In judging their shortcomings, however, it is important to evaluate their underlying attitude - do they truly respect the proper course of action and those who are more successful than they in having it?
Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev told of a general who lost an important battle. His king replaced him as commander. Now that the deposed general was vulnerable, his enemies accused him of treason, claiming that he had intentionally lost the battle. When the new commander, who subsequently was victorious, was honored for his triumph, the first general genuinely rejoiced at his successor's celebration. The king then dismissed the treason charges. "Had he been disloyal, he would not have celebrated his successor's victory. That he did so proves that his defeat was simply due to his lack of ability, and not to treason"
Similarly, said Rabbi Levi Yitzchok, even if one is lax in full observance of the mitzvos, the fact that one honors those who do observe the mitzvos indicates that one's intentions are good, but that one has just not been strong enough to resist temptation. The desire to do good, however, is likely to predominate ultimately.
By honoring talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars), one indicates the desire to do the will of God.