In the past few months, several truths have struck me with both heavy conviction and gospel-centered hope. The first came from a podcast, while the latter was drawn from Robert Jones’ book, Pursuing Peace, which Pastor Brian and I taught through in our last quarter of discipleship classes. These truths are (1) we are to outdo one another in showing honor to others; and (2) our ultimate goal in peacemaking is to please God. Each of these truths could warrant a blog post, but the correlation between the two is significant.
Showing Honor to One Another
First, let’s consider the podcast. While listening to Ray Ortlund and Sam Allberry’s podcast, You’re Not Crazy: Gospel Sanity for Young Pastors, Ortlund referenced Romans 12:9-10, where Paul writes, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Ortlund observes that this is the only place in Scripture where God commands us to outdo one another in anything. Paul’s statement in these verses comes after eleven chapters of rich theology which describe our condition as sinners outside of Christ, as well as his coming to save all whom the Father has given him. Paul concludes this section with a worshipful crescendo, exclaiming, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom 11:36). Paul then turns to a command that will shape the rest of his letter: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (12:2). It is under this command that Paul calls us to “outdo one another in showing honor” (v. 10). What does it mean to show honor to one another, particularly towards other believers? According to Ortlund, it means seeing the good of Christ in each other. In other words, it is an exhortation to renew our minds.
Though Ortlund’s observation was a fleeting comment in the podcast, it left me wanting more. I began asking myself, How can I more clearly see Christ in my fellow brothers and sisters? How can I outdo others in seeing the good of Christ in them? How do I transform my mind to do what is contrary to the natural inclinations of my sinful flesh? In answering these questions, the Lord brought to my mind the words of Paul in Philippians 4:8: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” In the midst of addressing a conflict in the church at Philippi (4:2-3), Paul exhorts his readers to renew their minds. I believe this verse gives us a framework to honor our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we think about them, we must think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and commendable. In addition, we are to see that which is excellent and worthy of praise about them—that they are sinners saved by grace through faith by the atoning work of Jesus on the cross, just as we are!
Pleasing God Through Peacemaking
Now, let’s consider Jones’ book. In his book, Pursuing Peace, Jones frames the twin goals of resolving conflict and pursuing peace with others under the overarching objective of pleasing God. An implication for keeping the goal of pleasing God at the center of our peacemaking is that it “keeps our focus on God, not on the conflict issues or the other person.” In contrast to this, Jones expounds on what is often the reality when we are actually in a conflict with someone: “Our opponent consumes us. Our minds dwell on his actions. We rewind and replay mental videos of what he did. We reread mental transcripts of what he said. We review and rehearse in our mind the merits of our position and the weakness in the other person’s argument” (p. 49). In other words, we do the opposite of what Paul calls us to do in both Romans 12 and Philippians 4.
We live in a divisive culture. The lines in the sand between “us vs. them” are constantly being drawn and redrawn. The person that you saw as an ally last week can become an enemy with a single Tweet or Facebook post. We allow our thoughts and opinions of others to consume our minds. Whether they are wrong or not, our calling from the word of God is to renew our minds by outdoing them in showing honor by seeing the truth and the goodness of Christ in them.
Jones says that our ultimate goal in handling conflicts with others is not reconciliation (though that is a primary goal); rather, it is to please God. Our ultimate goal as followers of Christ is just that: to please God. Again, quoting Jones: “We have a goal that we can meet. It is always doable and achievable, no matter how the other person behaves. We can please God” (p. 50). This is true not only in our conflicts but also in every relationship we have with other Christians. If we aim to please God and seek to love others genuinely, outdoing one another in showing honor, we can achieve these goals, regardless of what the other person does.
Paul follows Philippians 4:8 by saying, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (v. 9). Take what we have learned from Paul, practice these truths, and you will have peace because he will be with you, for he himself is our peace. We can rest in this promise as we seek to outdo one another in showing honor to others as we seek to please him.
Jeremy Sumners (BA, Boyce College) serves as the Office Administrator at Oak Park Baptist Church. He lives in Jeffersonville with his wife, Beth, and their two children.