We are talking about a number of “one another” verses in the New Testament that form the basis for community life as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Today, we want to consider the second of the main “one another” verses… “Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).
Every Christian should strive to make other believers “look and sound good.” Every Christian should rejoice when others achieve, when others are honored, when others are successful. When this happens, the body of Christ will function beautifully and mature and grow in Christ.
Christ’s Supreme Example
Jesus Christ, when He walked among men, set the supreme example in honoring others above Himself. On one occasion, a short time before His death, He taught the disciples a powerful truth. At an evening meal together, Jesus-knowing full well “that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God”- filled a basin with water and stooped to wash His disciples’ feet. After He had finished the task, He shared with them a lesson I’m sure they never forgot.
“Do you understand,” He asked, “what I have done for you?” Then He went on to answer His own question. “You call me `Teacher’ and `Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:12-15).
It’s my opinion that some Christians confuse principle and practice in this story, and to this very day they engage in “foot washing.” I certainly respect their desire to be obedient to Christ and admire them for their actions. There is certainly freedom in Christ for us to practice this ancient custom today.
But I believe Jesus Christ wanted us to learn the principle. Though cultures change, though modes of transportation have evolved, and though we usually walk on sidewalks with shoes on our feet-one thing has not changed! Paul confirmed this when he said that we as Christians are to “honor one another above ourselves.” This, it seems, is what Jesus was illustrating in the foot-washing episode.
On another occasion Jesus spelled this truth out even more clearly. He took the religious leaders to task for their pride and arrogance. “Everything they do is done for men to see,” He said. “They love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have men call them `Rabbi.'”
Then Jesus turned to His disciples and drove home the lesson they had to learn if they were to be mature men of God who could be used in His service: “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:5-12).
Paul’s Dynamic Application
The Apostle Paul, though he never sat at the feet of Christ while He taught on earth, nevertheless learned this lesson well. He also applied this truth in his ministry to the New Testament churches. Thus he wrote to the Philippians: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
What was that attitude? Paul carefully spelled it out! Christ demonstrated towards all mankind the greatest act of Unselfishness, humility, and self-sacrifice ever known in the universe: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in the appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8)
The result of Christ’s act of love and submission brought to Himself in essence the very same result He promised His disciples if they would “honor others above themselves”- exaltation! This is what God did for Jesus Christ: “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
Our personal exaltation, of course, is different. And it always will be different from that of Christ’s. Nevertheless, God will exalt Christians who truly honor others above themselves. It may not be immediate, but it will happen. If not on earth, throughout all eternity where it will really count.
Yes, Paul understood this principle and applied it without equivocation. To make sure the Philippians understood what he meant by imitating Christ’s attitudes and actions, he introduced the paragraph about Christ’s act of humility and unselfishness by saying: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
Practical Steps for Applying This Principle Today
To evaluate your attitudes toward other Christians, the following questions will help pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses:
How many situations can you recall where you purposely attempted to honor someone above yourself? In what ways did you reflect sincere appreciation for the other person?
Note: Some people use this technique as a selfish device, knowing that promoting someone else will bring self-promotion. Bill is that kind of person. Some call him a “back-slapper.” His unverbalized motto is: “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine.” He lives by a revised “golden rule”: “Do unto others so they will do for you.”
This kind of tactic usually is discernible. Furthermore, it usually backfires. It doesn’t ring true. It contains elements of insincerity. If results are not immediate, the person with wrong motives often becomes impatient and reverses his field.
Sometimes he will “put people down” whom he previously built up. This is flattery and sinful behavior. Beware if this is your temptation!
Observation: If you cannot easily recall several situations in which you have attempted to carry out Paul’s injunction, you are probably not “honoring others above yourself.”
If it is difficult for you to compliment others and enjoy their successes, take a close look at your personality. Why is this true? The following checkpoints will help:
1. Some people cannot compliment others and enjoy their success because they have always been the center of attention themselves. They want all the attention.
Jane was an only child and had always had everything she wanted. Over the years she has become a self-centered and selfish person. Now as an adult, she finds it very difficult to even compliment her husband. Rather, she tends to “compete” with him. Unfortunately, her problem is about to destroy her marriage.
This, of course, represents a serious spiritual and emotional problem and reflects immaturity and carnality. This was the problem with the Corinthians. If this is your problem, confess your sin and reprogram your life. Memorize Philippians 2:3-4, and meditate on it every day.
Every time you’re tempted to “hog the show,” quote these verses to yourself. Ask God to bring them to your memory when you find yourself being tempted.
2. There is another category of Christians who have difficulty complimenting and honoring others. The results are the same, but the emotional dynamics are different. These people, rather than being purely self-centered, are usually very insecure. They have difficulty “honoring others” because they feel in need of honor themselves. In fact, they are the kind of people who can never get enough honor and attention. They feed on it; they gorge themselves-and still cry out for more! Even after all this they often complain no one pays attention to them.
George is that kind of person. As a child he was always “put down.” His parents were so busy trying to get attention from each other they failed to give any to George. Consequently, he grew up an insecure person. Now he finds within himself an insatiable desire for recognition and attention. And he’ll do almost anything to get it.
This represents a psychological problem as well as a spiritual one. Somewhere in their past, people like George were never given enough love and attention. Consequently, they developed a sponge-like personality. They cannot give; they must always receive.
A person of this kind needs insight, understanding, and help from others. He needs to recognize the necessity of reprogramming his mind and emotions. In addition to memorizing Scripture (such as Philippians 2:3-4), he needs loving counsel blended with direct confrontation regarding his patterns of behavior.
If you identify with this problem, begin today to seek help from another mature member of Christ’s church. Don’t disobey God another day (no matter what the cause of your problem). If you continue, you’ll rob yourself of the blessing that will come if you truly “honor others above yourself.”
Remember, you can never lose by sincerely honoring others. God will not forget, and neither will those you honor.