To whom should we give respect?

July 16, 2014.

There is a saying that goes around in our society that says “respect is not given, it’s earned,” or something along those lines. The premise is that you do not just automatically have respect with people, but you must gain respect through your actions and the way you handle situations. On some level, this makes sense in the world we live in today and it is almost engrained in us to think this way. It is true that for people who view respect this way, you indeed need to earn their respect. But is this a biblical concept?

“Of course it is! Paul says so in Romans!” Indeed, Paul does make a statement in Romans that certainly sounds like the embodiment of this thought process:

“For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”
(Romans 13:6-7)

Respect to whom respect is due. In context, Paul is referencing the oppressive government at the time. The Romans were in control of most of the known world, and they were detested near and far I’m sure. But Paul tells the Romans to respect and honor the governing authorities. Perhaps you know where I am going with this. What did the Romans do to “earn” the respect of Christians? Did they give respect to Christians? No. Did they care for the people they ruled over? Not really. Did they have any problem with killing anyone who wasn’t a Roman? Nope. So what did they do to demand respect besides harbor military fear? Not much that I can tell. God just says we should honor the governing authorities as Christians, because everyone who is in power is only in power because God put them there. This doesn’t always make intuitive sense, but it is a concept that is throughout the bible.

A case study that I think is important to this concept of who we should give respect to is the story of David and Saul. If you don’t know the story, you can familiarize yourself with the suggested reading today as I have included it in there. In short, Saul was anointed by God to be the first king over the children of Israel. Saul does well for a while, but then makes some really bad decisions and God sends a prophet to tell him he has removed the kingdom from him and given it to another, David, a man after God’s own heart. David gains military prestige and popularity among the people and Saul starts to get very jealous of David, to the point where he tries on several occasions to kill David. But here is where the story takes a route that you might not see coming.

David has two opportunities to kill Saul when he is running from the King. David’s loyal men who are with him and protecting him encourage him to take advantage of the opportunity that has been given to him by God. Everything is falling into place for David. But listen to his response:

“And the men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.’” Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.” So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way.”
(1 Samuel 24:4-7)

David would not do anything to stretch out his hand against the Lord’s anointed. What had Saul done to earn David’s respect? Nothing. In fact, Saul had done just about everything imaginable to lose David’s respect. Why didn’t David strike him? Because he was the Lord’s anointed. David showed respect because of The Lord, not because of man’s actions. A very similar think happens two chapters over where Saul is once again pursuing David to kill him.

“Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Joab’s brother Abishai the son of Zeruiah, “Who will go down with me into the camp to Saul?” And Abishai said, “I will go down with you.” So David and Abishai went to the army by night. And there lay Saul sleeping within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and Abner and the army lay around him. Then Abishai said to David, “God has given your enemy into your hand this day. Now please let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice.” But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” And David said, “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish.”
(1 Samuel 26:6-10)

David holds this position to the end when he is sitting on the throne and gets word that Saul has been killed in battle. Instead of rejoicing, he kills the man who claims to have killed Saul. David had respect for the Lord’s anointed, even though he did nothing to deserve this respect.

So, what does this have to do with us? Are we to respect people as David did? Or do we only have to show respect to those in authority? A reading of Peter’s writings I think clearly shows otherwise:

“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
(1 Peter 2:17-25)

We are to follow Christ’s example. Christ respected people, even at times when they did not “earn” their respect. Paul respected governor Felix even when he certainly didn’t “earn” his respect (Acts 24). And perhaps most of all, God showed man respect at our lowest point, when we did nothing to deserve it, dying in our place to offer salvation to us while we were still sinners (Rom. 3:23). We did nothing to deserve salvation. Nothing. Yet Christ willingly offered up himself as a perfect sacrifice in our place. At what point did we gain the right to not show respect to others unless they earned it first?

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
(1 Peter 3:13-17)

Suggested Daily Reading: I Samuel 16, 18, 24, I Peter 2-3.

The Lord bless you and keep you.


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