While a large majority of people would agree that respect is a crucial factor in society, the lack of respect – disrespect – continues to increase in the world around us. Two areas of society where disrespect is most witnessed are education and politics. But disrespect permeates all areas of society, not only in the U.S., but around the globe. Personal relationships are severed by divisive arguments instead of healed through respectful discussions.
Interestingly, God’s way to peaceful relationships requires respect. “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:13-17). Not showing proper respect has the potential of destroying peaceful relationships. So, it is important to understand what God means by “respect”.
We read in 1 Peter 2:17 that we are to honor everyone. The word translated honor, also means “recognition of worth” or “recognition of value”. This definition gives us a sense that respect begins with a cognitive realization that people, leaders, God, things, etc., have value and worth. That they cannot be dismissed. This aspect of respect reveals why there’s such a vast degree of respect or disrespect because what each person values can be vastly different. This relationship between valuing and respect is absolute and correlates directly. If you don’t value something at all, you will disrespect it. If you highly value something, you will respect it.
For example, narcissistic people are the type of people who only value their own opinions. They might value your opinion if you agree with them. What respect they appear to show is only because it advances their agenda. If not, they simply regard your opinion as worthless and toss it away. In contrast, if one values relationships, and views them as eternal, not just temporal, that person will treat their family, friends, and acquaintances with the deepest respect. The degree of respect we have towards anything is a barometer of how much we value it.
The correlation of values and respect also includes knowing what another person’s values are. An ambassador receives training regarding the customs and values of the country that they reside in. He is respectful when he pays homage to those customs. This is what Paul means in I Corinthians 9:19-23. Paul understood that there were societal customs and values, differences between the Jews and the Gentiles. He was careful not to treat anyone disrespectfully so as not to offend and effectively close the door between them and God.
However, problems often arise because people differ on just what “being respectful” means. The dictionary.com website has two definitions of respect, related but slightly different. First, respect is: “Esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability: Such as, I have profound respect for her judgment.”
This definition helps us to understand the world in which we find ourselves. It is more materialistic, temporal, and vain in what is admired or esteemed. The enduring qualities and abilities are no longer what is valued. The issue is not so much a lack of respect, but the valuing and esteeming of the right things and the wrong things (Isaiah 5:20).
True values are built upon God’s values. Proper respect is teaching what has eternal value and what does not. When teaching your child true respect, you must teach them what is valuable to God and what is not. It doesn’t mean we disrespect material things. But what we must highly respect is our eternal potential; that we are created in the image of God.
The first definition on Dictionary.com focused on esteeming values. The second adds another distinct aspect of respect: “Deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges; proper acceptance or courtesy; acknowledgment. Respect for a suspect’s right to counsel; respect for the flag; respect for the elderly are examples of that.”
Deference involves sincere humility where one places themselves below and in service to someone who they are in every way considered equal to or less than. Whether in talents, whether in wealth, whether in intellect or strength, physically or spiritually, the individual defers to others. You can have a person who excels in all of those. However, that person is only truly respectful if he/she defers to others.
Christ is our perfect example of this type of deference (Philippians 2: 1-8).
The deference is towards the inherent rights and privileges God has ordained. God, through Jesus Christ, made man in His image and placed him into a particular status. And Christ lowered Himself to that status. The definition uses examples such a right to counsel, a standard such as a flag, or respect for the elderly. For God’s people this deference extends to our respect for every man because they were created in the image of God. If we allow our respect to differ between individuals especially due to perceived status, we are being partial, which is one of the greatest acts of disrespect (Acts 10: 34-35).
No partiality means God respects every member equally. A Jew, and in this case a Gentile. A millionaire, a pauper. A widow, a minister, a deacon. In God’s eyes, the respect is the same. Roles and responsibilities are different, but God lifts everyone to the level of honor. He asks us to do the same thing. Deference is given regardless of how we perceive another person’s behavior. We may have situations where somebody continuously treats us with disrespect. We are still held accountable to respectfully reply, to respectfully draw the lines. But we are still supposed to be respectful.
In Leviticus 19: 1-18, God spoke to Moses about many of His statues and judgements exemplifying how to respect our fellow man. They are very enlightening demonstrations of what godly respect looks like.
To have a proper respectful relationship with God, we must understand His values and not trample on them. We need to embrace God’s value system delineated in His laws, statutes, and judgements given to mankind for his good. When we disregard God’s values, we are disrespecting them and Him (Ezekiel 22: 26-30). When God asks us to distinguish between the holy and profane and the clean and unclean, He is asking us to regard them. A proper respectful relationship with God is based on His values as the foundation of our values, and our adhering to them and respectfully observing them.
One example requiring our respecting God’s values is found in Matthew 5:21-22: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”
When we define someone as a fool – in Greek it means stupid – we are judging them and removing the aspect of being one of God’s own. Effectively we are stripping them of all redeemable value. We are saying, “We are done!” Christ said that when we treat someone in this manner, we ourselves stand on the brink of judgment. If we disregard – disrespect – any man in such a way, we are refusing to give him the God-ordained right of respect. We are refusing to respect God’s value that He places on His children. Instead of helping them by stooping down and raising them up, we are jumping on top of them and pushing them down. Even the archangel Michael would not rebuke Satan when contending over the body of Moses: “Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!”’ (Jude 9).
Another way to think about values is to equate them to boundaries. God’s law and instruction are boundaries. All our human relationships, whether in the Church or not, within the physical family or not, are based on boundaries. Since these boundaries involve mere men, they are flawed, nevertheless, the boundaries need to be respected. If family members say we can have a relationship if we don’t speak about religion, we are to respectfully not talk about religion. If we cross a boundary, we are slamming a door and burning a bridge. If we keep poking at someone that we think needs to change, we are crossing a boundary. If parents keep interjecting themselves into their grown children’s lives uninvited, they are crossing a boundary.
God set physical boundaries in ancient Israel. He defined boundaries for each family. These boundaries were sacred to God. Every 50 years, when the Jubilee happened, if you had lost that piece of land that had boundaries on it, it was restored to you. God wanted those boundaries protected (Deuteronomy 19:14). God considered changing a boundary – crossing into someone else’s domain – a major offense and lists the infraction in the curses of Deuteronomy 27:16-17).
There are times when people need intervention. So, who are the best people to help someone with an intervention? It’s those who knew his boundaries, didn’t cross them, and treated him with respect. The best way to effectively help someone is when we respectfully stand by them and wait to be asked and invited in. Revelation 3:17-20 reveals how Christ deals with His own Church. He knocked and waited.
Every human being possesses the human spirit. God has created around that human spirit a protected shield that can be influenced but cannot be freely possessed. Man’s spirit cannot be overpowered unless he allows it. Man has the freedom of choice. The only way the human spirit can be strongly influenced by another is if he willingly allows it. To God that human spirit is sacred. So sacred that God Himself does not overpower it and force Himself in. He does not cross the boundary that He has set: “Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He will declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out, Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench, Till He sends forth justice to Victory; And in His name Gentiles will trust.” (Matthew 12:18-21).
To summarize, we have discussed respect. We have discovered that we respect what we value. That we must recognize and respect what others value. A proper respectful relationship with God is based on God’s values. Respect includes recognizing and esteeming others for their admirable traits.
Respect includes deference to others, not because of their traits or status, but because they are created in the very image of God. Lastly, respect at its roots is the respecting of boundaries. Regarding God, we are to adhere to the boundaries He has established through His law and His word. Regarding our fellow man, we are to respect their personal boundaries in the same way Christ does.
God is looking for people who respect His laws, people who look to His values as the foundation for their values. He knows that those lives will be blessed because when His values are practiced, they produce peace and hope in this life.