For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him, as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
"Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in
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
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
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
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
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
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