As many know, the letter of Paul to the romans is a glorious book, chapter after chapter of gospel truth. When we read it, we see amazing, deep, lovely truths of how we are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We see the sovereign hand of God behind our salvation. We see God’s plan to bless the entire world through his Son who came through the nation of Israel.
For the first 11 chapters, Romans is nearly all gospel. Most of the beginning ¾ of the book is about how we are saved and the beauty and glory of the gospel. But, once we turn into chapter 12, we see that God also will then help us to apply the gospel. Because we are saved by his grace in Christ, there are ways that are proper to live. There are things to be and to do that will honor Christ. No, they will not buy us salvation—Christ bought our salvation. But the obedient Christian life is the only proper response to the good news.
So, in chapter 12, Paul begins to talk to us about life in the local church. We are to give ourselves completely to the Lord as living sacrifices. We are to recognize that we belong in the body of Christ and our lives are to be lived together as we serve the Lord as a unit. Each of us is to use the special spiritual gifting and shaping we have received from the Lord to benefit the body as a whole.
Thus, it is a surprise when we see a call to competition arising so early in all this talk of body life and humility. In fact, to me, competing is the last thing I would think Paul would tell us to do. But he does.
Romans 12:9-10 – 9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
Paul calls us, under the inspiration of God, to love one another. We are to hate evil, love good, and live with familial affection toward one another. Then it comes, the competition.
God commands us, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” Now, I can tell you that I have been in several churches all over the globe. I’ve been in big ones and little ones, in formal ones and contemporary ones, young ones and old ones, urban ones, suburban ones, and rural ones. But I have never been in a church where I saw this competition take hold. I cannot recall a time or a place where I thought to myself that the local body of Christ had its members striving to outdo one another in showing honor.
What would this look like? In this picture, the local church members would have a hunger, a desire, to show a deep and genuine love for each other. Because of the grace of God in Christ, these members would love to give love. They would not battle for position. They would not seek to be personally revered. They would not strive to have things shaped according to their liking.
Instead of the kinds of selfishness that so often marks groups, the church that took this competitive command seriously would be full of people who were actively looking for ways to show others their value. Can you imagine sitting down with another couple of believers and plotting out just how you might make your Sunday School Teacher feel loved? Can you imagine working for ways to make the pastor feel appreciated in a month not labeled as pastor-appreciation month? Can you imagine a church where people are just used to hearing thanks given for the service of the musicians, the nursery workers, and the prayerful senior adults?
Now, I’m not complaining. I love the church that I serve. And, in many ways, I believe we are growing better and better at showing each other honor and doing each other kindness. But I cannot say that we have risen to the level of trying to outdo one another in showing honor. So, though life here is great, we have work to do.
What about you? When is the last time you really put forward an effort to show somebody honor in your church? When did you last remind somebody that you all need to do some kindness to someone who is working hard and giving a lot of themselves to the body? Have you taken this challenge seriously? May we learn to outdo one another in showing honor for the sake of the body and the glory of Christ.