9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.[e] 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Consciously or subconsciously, we are all guilty of dividing parts of the Bible into two categories: bits we like and bits we don't. We know that the whole Bible is important but we can’t help ourselves. Sometimes we silently decide that some parts should be remembered and that there are others that we would like to forget. Sometimes we divide the Bible into passages that are ‘relevant' and others that aren't. We all do it, whether we intend to or not.
The Bible is a magnificent and messy book of books that leads us through the full spectrum of the human experience and, while it’s all worth study, I have created two categories for myself: Passages that deserve tomes and passages that deserve tattoos.
Many (perhaps most) passages require a deep journey into context, original languages and geographical observations.
What originally seems confusing, contradictory or even barbaric becomes clear and even beautiful through wrestling and studying.
Others are so simple and so beautiful that I don’t need a tome to understand them. I need a tattoo to remind me of them.
Here in Romans 12, there is one line that has been a mantra for me over the last year:
"Outdo one another in showing honour."
While Google defines ‘honour’ as ‘high respect’ or 'great esteem’, I like to think of honouring as doing two things:
1. Recognising the divine spark in another.
2. Living in a way that reminds them of God’s love and presence.
This is what we do when we show honour to someone else. We acknowledge their God-given worth and we live consistently with what he has said about them. It leads us to live kindly, to give generously, to serve humbly, to love unconditionally and to be gracious.
Thinking of it in this way is helpful for me because it reminds me that I do not serve or love or give in order to please God but rather to agree with him. It is not me bringing my actions to God to impress him, cheer him up or satisfy his demands. It is me standing alongside him and seeing people and the world like he does instead of how I tend to.
What captivates me about this line is not just the instruction to honour but also 'to outdo.'
We all know what it’s like to be caught in cycles of ‘outdoing’. We have all tried to outdo someone else; to be funnier, prettier, stronger, holier than the person we’re competing with. When we seek to outdo in honour, however, we are seeking to see more of God and to see more like God. This isn’t a competition because we’re not keeping score. When you outdo me in honouring me and others, you are speaking truth about who I am, how the Kingdom works and who I am called to be.
We also all know what it’s like to be part of a cycle of pain. When someone hurts us, we hurt them back or hurt someone else and pass the pain along.
When we seek to outdo in honour, however, we break the cycle. If, as Gandhi may (or may not have said), ‘an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’ then honour upon honour helps the whole world see.
The destructive cycle of pain is a descent into a mutual hell.
The creative cycle of honour is an ascent towards God’s Kingdom crescendo.
When you treat me with honour, you remind me who God is and who I am as a result.
When you outdo my attempts to honour, you remind who I could be and who I am called to be.