1 Peter 2:17 Honor all. Love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
Peter starts this verse with a basic introductory command: HONOR ALL. He follows with three examples of how to live out that basic command in everyday life: LOVE the brotherhood, FEAR God, HONOR the king.
Honor all may be easy to say, but it’s difficult to do. It’s especially difficult because Peter gets specific about whom we’re to honor and how: Love fellow believers – that’s understandable. Fear (e.g. respect) God – of course. But honor Nero? The king who kills Christians? Is Peter serious? Yes, he is. What does he mean?
The Biblical Meaning of Honor
When Peter says “honor,” he uses a Greek word [timao]) that wraps together several English ideas: honor, value, and weight. To get the full impact of Peter’s word we’d have to translate it “honor-value-weight.” The idea of “weight” is particularly helpful in understanding what Peter means – he’s talking about significance. Weighty people have significance. We take them seriously.
The Old Testament Hebrew word for honor, kabed, also means to give something (or someone) weight. When Moses says Honor your father and mother (Exodus 20:12), He’s telling us to listen to our parents, to value them, to give their opinions weight. In Hebrew, the opposite of kabed is the word qalal. Qalal means to take something (or someone) lightly. We all know how to take someone lightly. It only takes a few seconds to recall the last time we dismissed another person as not worth our time or attention.
Peter says we’re not to take people lightly. Instead, We’re to honor them. All of them. And all means all.
Peter Gets Specific
It’s easy to agree with Peter’s command (in an abstract, pious sort of way) and at the same time fail to follow through by actually complying with it (i.e. taking specific actions towards specific people). So Peter gets specific. He tells us clearly who falls into the category of “all” – the brotherhood, God, and the king.
- Love the brotherhood. – Brotherhood refers to other believers. Not just the ones we like or admire, but all of them. Even the ones with whom we have nothing in common. Even those we find offensive. Let’s make this personal: when you read this explanation, who pops into your mind?
- Fear God – Fear often carries the connotation of “respect.” That’s consistent with honoring God. We honor God by taking Him seriously, by respecting (i.e. fearing) Him. That makes sense.
- Honor the king -This is where honoring another gets almost unthinkable. Peter is referring to a specific king, Nero, the king who fed Peter’s readers’ relatives to the lions. The king who burned Rome and blamed it on Christians. That king. How Peter’s contemporaries must have struggled with his words. We also struggle with Peter’s words: Honor Nero … honor Bashar al-Assad – there’s not much difference. Peter repeats the word “honor” before he mentions the king, probably to make sure we don’t leave an enemy out of the loop. All really means all.
Honoring Is Not a Part-time Choice
Just how long is this honoring to go on? All the time. Peter lets us know that by the Greek verb forms he chooses.
For his introductory command (honor all) Peter uses an everyday, plain vanilla verb form: the Greek aorist tense. The aorist tense carries no special emphasis; here it serves as a summary of the three specific commands that come next.
We’re to keep each of these specific commands continuously and consistently. Peter literally tells us: “Keep on loving the brotherhood. Keep on fearing God. Keep on honoring the king.”
Honoring all is ongoing. We’re always to treat everyone with honor. Not just some people some of the time, but all people all of the time. Fellow believers, God, and our enemy the king. Jesus voices the same idea when He tells us to love our neighbor. (See Matthew 5:43-44.) We’re to honor everyone we encounter. That can be quite a stretch.
Why Honor Everybody?
Why? Because behind Peter’s command to honor all lies the reality that every person on earth bears God’s image. Everyone. Whether they portray God well or portray Him poorly. Whether their likeness to God is obvious or deeply buried, Our Creator has made each of us in some deep way like Himself. Even our enemies. And that deep likeness never disappears.
If we go by what we see on the surface, “honor all” seems either ridiculous or impossible. But if we know what God knows – that He has made us all in His image – “honor all” makes perfect sense.
But What about Behavior?
Doesn’t a person’s behavior matter? Of course it does. We rightly mourn when someone’s likeness to God is hidden (and rightly rejoice when it’s visible.) But read these next words carefully: No human behavior can wipe out the image of God. God’s image lies permanently at the core of each person. It never disappears, even though sometimes we have trouble seeing it or believing it’s there.
Honoring others doesn’t mean we must agree with everything they think or support their behavior. It means we respect them and see their inherent value as image bearers of God.
We aren’t to honor all behavior; we’re to honor all people. And what do we honor? We honor God’s image. In everybody. All the time. “Honor all” isn’t about behavior; it’s about our deep resemblance to God.
Jesus says that the way we treat other people is the way we’re treating Him. (See Matthew 25: 35-45.) When we dishonor someone we’re dishonoring God. When we disrespect someone we’re disrespecting God. And when we honor someone, we’re honoring God.
- What people do you have difficulty honoring ? (Ask God to bring examples to mind.)
- What qualities or behaviors do you use that lead you to respect or disrespect another person?
- Would you be willing to ask God to train you to see His image in each person you meet?
Honor All – What’s Involved and Why (1 Peter 2:17)
© Lynne Fox, 2017