In applying the Bible to our own lives, we have a great deal of difficulty in doing so because of our incorrect understanding of words because of incorrect teachings, because it is hard to know what is meant by someone who speaks our own language, much less something we understand only in translation, and because as human beings we often look into scripture for what will confirm what we already believe and practice rather than what is there in the first place, assuming we look at it at all or look at it positively at all. Among the more thorny aspects of our beliefs and practices is the matter of showing love and respect for others. We read chapters like 1 Corinthians 13 and Matthew 5 and we are told that love is more important than faith and hope, and that we are commanded to love our enemies and do good to those who do badly to us, and we struggle against that high demand . On the other hand, we often act under the understanding that respect must be earned and that we are under no obligation to honor and respect those who do not honor us, as a consequence leading to the fact that there is little honor or respect to be found for anyone because few people believe they have been treated with enough honor or respect to return the favor to those whom they view as dishonorable.
In the Bible, there are several passages where love and respect are closely connected, enough of them that the connection ought to draw our attention. Proverbs 21:21 tells us: “Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.” Isaiah 43:4 entones: “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life.” Romans 12:10 enjoins Christians to “be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” 1 Peter 2:17 reminds us that believers should “show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” 2 Peter 1:17 reminds us that love and honor were connected in the life of Jesus Christ when “He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”” 3 John 1:6 connects the two by telling us about Gaius that “They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God.” Most famously, the two are connected in Ephesians 5:22-28 when the duties of husbands and wives are contrasted: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”
The foregoing examples are enough to prove that love and honor are related in the Bible, and that there is a correlation between them. If pursuing love finds one honor, or that showing love to brethren honors God, or that we receive honor when we are loved, as these verses discuss, then clearly the two concepts are connected in some fashion. As those who are mathematically inclined are inclined to point out, though, correlation does not demonstrate causation. Just because love and honor are related, and we can be confident there is a connection between the two, does not mean we understand the nature of that connection. What is wanted, properly, is a discussion of the semantic domain of both love and respect to see how the two concepts overlap. This is a considerably more difficult and imprecise step than to show that love and respect are connected, and let us spend the rest of our time exploring this difficult question to see how we may relate the two together.
The Greek words for love are perhaps most immediately familiar to us. Agape, referring to a self-sacrificial sort of love, is the word most commonly used, but other aspects of love in the Greek are well known to us as well, like eros for physical love, phileo for brotherly love, and storge for friendship. The words for love in Hebrew are a bit less familiar. Chesed is a loyal love that seems most similar to agape, while dod has strong sexual desire and is used frequently in the Song of Solomon, to give but two examples. For the purposes of this discussion, the connection between love and respect appears most obvious when we look at agape in the Greek and chesed in the Hebrew. The words for honor and respect are less familiar. In Greek, doxa refers to a divine honor and splendor, while time (tee-may) refers to what we value and esteem. This is what we use when we refer to the good kind of respect for others, not the respecting of persons that the Bible views as ungodly partiality. The word for respect or honor in Hebrew, at least the main positive one, is related to heaviness and weight, that which we honor is that which we give weight to, and is often transliterated as chbd.
And this gives us the hint of just how close love and respect are in scripture. Remember that loyal covenantal love is chesed (chsd) and honor or weight is chbd. The similarity in the root consonants signifies a strong similarity in terms of word meaning, because of the way that Hebrew is designed so that its letters are of great symbolic meaning. The strong similarity between the two words ought to indicate to us that their semantic domains overlap considerably, which is what makes them somewhat synonymous in the biblical verses viewed earlier. It should be noted as well that the commands to love and honor are not limited by any factors, although the way that we express such love and honor might be constrained by our relationship with them. Nevertheless, given the close biblical connection between love and honor/respect, if we claim we love someone but do not honor them, that is not likely to be believed by either God or by other people.
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