"Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor."
Our focus this time is on the two exhortations in verse 10. “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” These are addressed to the church. The “one another” is not everybody, but fellow believers in the church. This doesn’t mean you can’t have affection for an unbeliever. You surely can. And it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t honor unbelievers. You surely should (1 Peter 2:7). But the focus here is on the church. Wherever else you have affection, have it here. And whomever else you honor, show honor here.
Three Questions on Affection and Honor Toward One Another
I have three questions: What? Why? And How? What is affection toward fellow believers, and what does it mean to honor each other? Why is this commanded? Why is it important? And finally, how to you experience it? How do you have affection for a believer you may not even like? How do you honor believers who may do dishonorable things?
What is affection? And what is honor? Both of these words (in v. 10a), “love” and “brotherly affection,” are emotion-laden words. They ruin immediately the stoic, Christian notion that we don’t have to like people but we should love them. Of course, it’s true that you can love someone (in one sense) you don’t like. That is, you can do good things for them. You can help them and treat them respectfully, even if coolly. But that is not the kind of love Paul is talking about here.
There are two implications in these words for love. One (philostorgoi = love) is the comfortable at-homeness you feel with a favorite old sweater or a 13 year-old dog, or the chair you’ve sat in for decades, or a friend that you feel so easy with there’s not the slightest thought of self-consciousness about keeping the conversation going or worrying about times of silence.
The other word, “brotherly affection” (philadelphia), is just what it says. It’s the affection of a family that comes with long familiarity and deep bonds. Of course you can have squabbles and get mad, but let some bully pick on your brother, and the family affection shows a powerful side. Or let one of the family members get a life-threatening sickness or even die, and there will be a kind of tears that do not come for others.
This is what we are supposed to have for each other in the church. Don’t react by saying, “I can’t do that. There are too many weirdoes and goofballs and emotional misfits in the church.” Since when are the commands of God supposed to be doable in our own strength? “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
What about showing honor? Verse 10b says, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” What is that? Honor is different from affection. You can honor a person for whom you have no affection. Paul doesn’t want you to choose between these. Do both he says. But they are different. Honoring someone is treating them with your deeds and your words as worthy of your service. They may not be worthy of it. But you can do it anyway. Some honoring means treating people better than they deserve.
For example, Paul says to Christian slaves, “Let all who are under a yoke as slavesregard their own masters as worthy of all honor” (1 Timothy 6:1). They may be scoundrels, but you can “regard” them as worthy of honor. You can count them worthy, the way God counts you righteous. That doesn’t mean you don’t see their faults. But you act and you speak to honor them.
Another example is in 1 Corinthians 12:23. He gives a comparison between weak members of the church and certain parts of the human body: “On those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor.” So showing honor is not always a response to something or someone being honorable.
What does it mean to “outdo one another in showing honor”? I think it boils down to “prefer to honor rather than be honored.” If you try to out honor someone it means you love to honor more than you love to be honored. You enjoy elevating others to honor more than you enjoy being elevated to honor. So don’t be giving energy to how you can be honored, but how you can honor. Put to death the craving for honor. Cultivate the love of honoring others.
And beware of honoring only one kind of person—one race, or one socio-economic class, or one educational level, or one sex, or one age, or one way of dressing, or one bodyweight, or one personality. God gets really angry when he sees this kind of dishonoring in the church. For example, James 2:1-6 shows the kind of failure to honor that really displeases the Lord.
My brothers,show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention [=show honor] to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored [!] the poor man.
So, Bethlehem, let us prefer to honor more than we prefer to be honored. And beware of doing it with partiality.
Now, second, why is this so important? Why does it matter that we have affection for each other and that we prefer to honor each other?
I am assuming it matters because the Bible tells us to do it. So now I am seeking to get into the mind of God as it is revealed in Scripture and understand why he commands affection and honor.
2.1. First, God commands that we love with affection and that we honor each other because these two experiences (along with the others in Romans 12) show the reality of our new nature in Christ. In other words, there are behaviors that are natural and fitting for those who are born again and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and are justified by faith and are treasuring Christ and are hoping in the glory of God. These are behaviors that are fitting and natural and proper. They come like fruit. Don’t read into this by saying: if it’s natural and comes out like fruit then it wouldn’t need to be commanded.
Affection is natural because the new birth means that we are all born into the same family. We have one Father, and we are all brothers and sisters. 1 John 5:1 says, “Everyone who loves the Father loves whomever has been born of him.” In other words, love for the Father shows itself in love for the children. Affection for God brings affection for his children. We will spend eternity with each other in the sweetest possible relationships. There will be no suspicion or animosity or resentment or disapproval in heaven. God commands us to live in the light of that family reality now.
And the preference to honor others more than to be honored is also a natural fruit and demonstration that we have been so incredibly honored by God and that nature is in us. We are not honorable in relation to God. We are infinitely dishonorable to God in ourselves. We have brought great discredit on God for how little we love him and how much we prefer other things to him. Nevertheless God has given his Son on our behalf while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:6)—while we were yet dishonoring him—and honored us by rescuing us from sin and death and hell and Satan and by giving us a place at his table. And beyond all natural comprehension the sovereign Son of God not only honored us by washing our feet while he was here on earth (John 13:1ff), but in Luke 12:37 it pictures the second coming like this: “He will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.”
We have been so immeasurably honored in mercy that not to prefer to honor as we have been honored is to betray that we have not tasted the treasure of our salvation.
Loving with affection and preferring to honor are important because they show our new nature in Christ. That is the way children of God treat each other. It’s in their spiritual DNA.
2.2. Second, God demands that we love with affection and prefer to honor each other because this strengthens and confirms the faith of those we love affectionately and honor. When you are on the receiving end of affection and merciful honor in the body of Christ you experience the confirmation that you are indeed in the family. God means for all things to be done for the upbuilding of that confidence and joy (1 Corinthians 14:26). Loving with affection and preferring to honor are two ways of confirming and strengthening the faith of others.
2.3. Third, God demands that we love with affection and prefer to honor over being honored because this displays the glory of Christ, because he is the one who enables us to live this way and this is a portrait of his own character. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” The tenderness of our relations is rooted in the tenderness of God in Christ. And when we elevate someone by becoming their servant, we are painting a picture of the way Christ was among us. So loving affectionately and preferring to honor displays the glory of Christ.
2.4. Fourth, God demands that we love with affection and honor each other because this lures the world to love him and all that he is for them in Christ. When you magnify Christ by loving Christians affectionately and outdoing each other in showing honor, the world will see and be more inclined to glorify God (Matthew 5:16). When you read the History of Christian Missions by Stephen Neill (Penguin Books, 1966), what you see is that the remarkable growth of the early Church in the Roman Empire was owing, under God, especially to the kind of community they created, not in communes, but in networks of loyal, loving, humble, affectionate, respectful, sacrificial relationships. The fearful and fragmented pagans saw it and were drawn (pp. 41-43).
In other words, there are reasons for why Paul commands us to love each other with affection and outdo one another in showing honor. These things are not like Christmas ornaments on the tree of faith. They are like branches, or fruit, on the tree of faith. They belong to the very nature of who we are in Christ.
Finally the question: How? How do you have affection for a believer you may not even like? How do you honor a believers who may do dishonorable things?
Everything in the Bible is written to answer this question. Everything I preach is aimed to answer this question. Because everything God does he does to make his children what we ought to be. So receive everything from God as a means of grace to make you love with affection and honor others.
But let me draw out a few practical things. The most basic I will just sum up together in a sentence. To become the kind of person who loves believers with affection and prefers to show honor rather than get honor you need to know that God commanded this; you need to know that these things belong to the very nature of your newness in Christ (they are fruit not ornaments); you need to admit that you can’t be this kind of person without divine enablement (you can’t create real affection and authentic honor); and you need therefore to pray earnestly and regularly that God would do whatever he has to do to make you more and more into this kind of affectionate and honoring person. Those are the biblical basics. Practically, I would add . . .
3.1. Preach to yourself that other believers, no matter how imperfect, are the children of God, your Father. Tell yourself the truth that they are your brothers and sisters, forever. Remind yourself that Christ shed his blood for them. They are forgiven for all the things about them that make you upset. They are justified by faith alone. Don’t claim that doctrine in word and deny it in your action. If God has clothed them with the righteousness of Christ, you clothe them with the righteousness of Christ. Yes they do bad things. Yes, they have bad attitudes. Yes, they are immature and annoying. But don’t dishonor the blood of Christ that covers all that. Glorify Christ’s finished work by the way you apply it to them. And then let affection grow.
3.2. Look for evidences of grace in their flawed lives. Every believer has evidences of grace. God is at work in every saint. Don’t dishonor the work of God by only complaining about the works of the flesh. Look for the evidences of grace. This is what God is going to do for you at the last judgment. He is going to gather up all the Ds and Fs in your life and burn them. Then he will spread out your Cs and Bs and rejoice over the evidences of grace in your life. (I don’t think there will be many As and certainly no A+s). Do for others now what God will do for you then. Rejoice over every evidence of grace. We do this with our children. Let us do it for each other. Let wideness of grace waken more and more affection.
3.3. Remember you were once utterly alienated from God and cut off without hope (Ephesians 2:12). You were undeserving of all divine affection and all divine honor. But God has given you both in Jesus Christ. In Philippians 2:3 Paul says humility or lowliness (tapeinophrosune) is the key to “counting others better than our selves”—that is, counting them worthy of our service. “In humility count others more significant than yourselves.” So never forget your undeserving position. It’s the seed of true affection for others.
Perhaps the most important answer to the question How can I become this kind of person? is: Wake up and realize and feel the preciousness of God’s mercy to you personally.
Remember how this chapter begins: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God” (Romans 12:1). Yes, by the mercies of God, we will love each other with brotherly affection. By the mercies of God we will outdo one another in showing honor. When a person has been plucked from a burning building, or from a sinking ship, or from a dread disease, everything looks precious, especially people. Oh, how affectionate we are to the people on the shore where we have just been saved. Well, that is our true condition. Wake up to it. Revel in it. Revel in mercy. And affections for God’s people will grow and you will love to honor them.