Five women stood near a television tuned to a news station at the gym, but only one was doing the talking. She was on a roll. She was sharing her commentary on the events and stories flickering across the screen behind them, pausing only to glance and gesture up at the news to know which topic to comment on next.
Sarcasm, generalizations, and exaggerations punctuated her words. She didn’t seem to notice the strained expressions on the faces of two of the women or the deep sighs of another. Instead she focused on the woman nodding her head in agreement with every statement she made.
Have you ever witnessed a situation like this? Have you been in one either as the talker, a listener, or maybe even both at different times? In conversations like these, honor is often a distant thought when it could be a necessary guide.
Is honor something you seek to give or get? Is it commanded or conditional? Our understanding of honor will shape our words and actions in all kinds of circumstances and relationships. With just a cursory glance at our culture, we see honor often talked about and frequently demanded but rarely clearly defined. Instead, it is most often conditionally or personally defined.
But no matter your definition, we can most likely agree that honor is often lacking—both in honorable words and actions and in giving honor to others. In attitudes, conversations and comments we hear, posts and reposts we see, and (getting real personal) in some of my own gut-reactions and thoughts, we all need the chance to look to God's Word to understand what He has to say about honor. To give honor and to live honorably, we need God’s wisdom and Truth.
A Lesson in Honor from Romans 12
We can learn a lot about honor in Romans 12. This chapter opens with two well-known verses about presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice to God and being transformed by the renewing of our minds. Then in the verses that follow, we see some practical working out of that sacrificial, transformed way of life.
- We shouldn’t think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think (Rom. 12:3).
This is the starting place for understanding and rightly orienting our thoughts and expectations about honor. If I am thinking highly of myself, then I am going to expect to be honored. I also may not consider if I am thinking, acting, and speaking in an honorable way if I am self-centered in my thinking. Likewise, I may only give honor if I feel people deserve it.
- Remember we all have different gifts and strengths (Rom. 12:4–8).
These verses are addressing the Body of Christ and the way each believer’s gifts and strengths work together for the building up of the kingdom. All have been given grace (v. 6), but how that grace is displayed in each individual’s life is different.
There is no better or worse, greater than or less than here. We’re not talking about worth, because every person’s worth—whether a believer or unbeliever—is established in being created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27; Matt. 6:26). Rather we see a picture of parts working together as a whole for the glory of God.
- Let love be genuine (Rom. 12:9).
Love is to mark us. It is to be real. It does not begin with us, but rather is fueled by love from God to us. His love is real, so ours can be too even when it is only a choice and not also a feeling.
- Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good (Rom. 12:9).
Clearly, we are instructed to hate evil and cling to good. But it is vital to remember this comes directly after we are instructed to love genuinely. This means that as we detest evil, we must do it in a way that shows a motivation of true love for the individual. It does not mean that because someone has acted or spoken sinfully that it’s okay for us to call that out in a dishonorable or tactless way.
This could apply to both personal or public settings. Our aim should not be to shame or repay evil for evil. Our aim instead should be to honorably, appropriately, and clearly address sin and evil in a way that helps people to come to an understanding of their sin so that they may find the forgiveness and redemption of Christ.
- Love one another with brotherly affection (Rom. 12:10).
Just in case you didn’t grasp Paul’s emphasis on love back in verse 9, he repeats it here. Love is to be both active and evident.
- Outdo one another in showing honor (Rom. 12:10).
Here it is plainly: Show honor. Not just once in a while or on accident but intentionally and often.
- How to show honor (Rom. 12:11–15).
These verses give some practical ways that we can show honor. Fervent service, hope, patience, prayer, giving, hospitality, blessing, and empathy are all described. These are action steps motivated by honor and love for others.
- Humility brings harmony (Rom. 12:16).
A haughty, self-promoting spirit simply will not produce harmony between you and others. Instead, in humility, look to notice and honor others. Show and apply your wisdom with others; don’t proclaim it to them.
- Do what is honorable in the sight of all (Rom. 12:17).
This is directly related to a humble, others-focused mindset. Our honorable actions are to be in the sight of all. Please notice that it does not say “do what is honorable in the sight of people you think deserve honor.” Notice, too, that it doesn’t say “do what everyone wants, likes, or agrees with.”
Honor is to characterize what we do whether it is understood, valued, deserved, or agreed with by those around us. There will certainly be times when we offer a warning, correction, or exhortation to someone, but those things must be characterized by honor, too. Whatever we do should be for God’s glory, not to intentionally offend or seek our own advantage, so that the gospel is displayed (1 Cor. 10:31–33).
- As far as it goes with you, live peaceably with all (Rom. 12:18–21).
Honor can be lived out with all as far as it goes with you. You cannot control someone else’s understanding or reaction, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, you can be obedient to seek His control of your own words and actions. Paul gives some practical do’s and don’ts in these verses to explain this peaceable living. I challenge you to think of some of your own, too.
With those ten highlights from Romans 12, the answers to our initial questions should be obvious.
Is honor something you seek to give or get? Honor should be something you seek to give.
Is honor commanded or conditional? As clear, difficult, or anything in-between as it may be, honor is commanded. It is to be motivated by love as a way to display the gospel and allow God’s Truth and the Holy Spirit to move in the hearts and minds of those you honor.
Showing honor to others isn’t always easy. But it can be the way you can proclaim God’s love and Truth in any conversation and relationship (even the heated and complicated ones).