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. 11Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
I confess that I can't say I fully understood what these verses were all about until recently. Certainly, I could define the words and give a literal translation, but I had not experienced the true meaning in a way that made sense to me. I'm not sure if that is because I didn't have many people practicing this toward me (nor was I practicing it much toward others) or if it was just my lack of recognition of this kind of love in my life (which I'm perfectly willing to admit is entirely possible). Maybe it was a combination. I don't know. Either way, the "dry spell" I experienced for so long has made my current reality even that much sweeter than it would have been had I known it all along.
This is not to say that I haven't had wonderfully amazing friends and relationships in my past. I have. More than I deserve and better than I deserve. Many of them are still very much a part of my life and love me genuinely and unconditionally. I am forever grateful for these friends who are now scattered literally all over the earth. They are precious to me.
But the phrase that I really want to zero in on here is "Outdo one another in showing honor."
I KNOW, right? What is he talking about? Crazy Paul! Outdo one another? Are we really supposed to have a contest?
I suppose that would be ok if the contest led to people increasing the way they honor each other. But I don't think that's what this means. I think it has much more to do with the motivation and desire of the heart, which shouldn't have anything to do with winning a contest. This is about the opposite of legalism and selfishness. This is about choosing to honor the people that we love because it is the desire of our hearts to do so. And to do so repeatedly. Whether or not they ever "return the favor" or "pay us back" in any way. It's about loving because He first loved us. Not loving because we might get something in return. Not even loving because we know we're "supposed to" even though we don't really feel like it. And let's not miss the word "outdo". Not only are we not to *expect* those we are honoring to return the favor, but in fact, if we are truly in obedience to scripture, we better NOT let them catch up! We better "outdo." But how does that work if we have 2 parties who are both trying to obey these verses in relationship to each other? Well. . . I'm not a scholar, and I didn't do a Greek word study, but I think what God is telling me is that it really has nothing to do with keeping score. It's just about making sure the priorities of our hearts are right. In other words, if I'm truly honoring you and desiring to lift you up and hold you in esteem without ever considering what you might do for me in return and you're doing the same for me, I suggest that we're both in obedience to this scripture even though there is no scorepad to track who's "winning." Basically, this is the complete absence of "what's in it for me?" We honor and honor and honor over and over again and don't even consider whether it will be returned to us.
I'm overwhelmed (in the most amazing way) to report that the reason this has been so present on my mind recently is because my family is literally surrounded by people who practice these verses toward us on a regular basis. It's crazy in the most special and exuberant kind of way. We are in the midst of difficult ministry here in New England to say the least. There are challenges and obstacles that we never would have faced in other parts of the country. And yet God in his precious grace and sweetness to us has surrounded us with true love. What a divine and glorious blessing! I hope and pray that the people I'm talking about here know EXACTLY who they are because they feel the same way about the way I honor them. OH, I have so much work to do in that regard! But I'm grateful for the grace I receive from them and for the fact that they aren't expecting anything from me, only continuing to love and honor me lavishly and beautifully and unselfishly. I'm so unworthy of these people, but I'm so grateful that God gave them to me. And I sure hope to make them feel as loved and honored as I do. This is a life-changing thing to experience and short of the Gospel itself, it is possibly the most powerful and effective truth to exhibit to those around us. The love of Christ in action. OH how marvelous and radiant!