“Respect has to be earned.”
It’s a common complaint in the counseling room, and it’s implicit in every joke leveled at every politician, corporate bigwig, religious leader or individual-of-the-opposite-gender on the internet. And if respect has to be earned, then we don’t have to give it to the people we don’t like. That’s based on instinct. It seems simple, and it is. But it’s also wrong.
Respect doesn’t have to be earned. Or rather, we have to earn it ourselves, but nobody else has to.
Shoot! That’s not fair! That’s what Scripture says. Rather contrary to instinct and human nature, isn’t it? As with most important words translated into English, there are actually many words for respect in the Bible, but they fall into two general camps, one for other people, and one for us.
First there is respect which must be given. This kind of respect is what everyone owes to the Lord, to their spouse, to their parents, to the church, to the governing authorities and to their supervisor at work. It doesn’t have to be earned, and it falls more into the category of fear and honor than into what we normally think of as the warmer emotion of respect. Our sovereign God claims the right to put people in specific roles our lives (Romans 13:1, 7), and respecting them is respecting the position He has given them – which includes fallen, broken and even evil people. Jesus showed that kind of respect to Caiaphas and Pilate during His final night on earth. That doesn’t mean we respect all their actions, it just means we respect their office. It means we obey an authority unless their direction conflicts with God’s.
Except highway signs. And we don’t tell demeaning jokes or pass along juicy gossip at their expense. Does this include blondes? We shouldn’t be doing that anyway!
Second, there is respect which has to be earned. By us. That’s really the only context for earned respect in the Bible, and it occurs in just a few commands in both the Old and New Testaments. See Proverbs 11:16 and I Timothy 3:11 for examples of this kind of respect. Our behavior must be such as would ordinarily earn respect among the people to whom we are witnesses. Jesus and the early Christian church were both known to be generally respected even among those who did not agree with them, based largely on their goodness and integrity. Can we say the same? Have we earned it?
So the next time you share a good joke about the President or have a hearty laugh at your boss’s expense, consider whether you really understand the word ‘respect.’ There are only two questions you can legitimately ask yourself:
1. Are you giving respect to whom respect is due (I Peter 2:17)?
2. Are you earning it for yourself?
Praying for your elected officials, InTouch Ministries
A wife talks about respect in marriage, by Jolene Engle
Quote on respecting the elderly, Charles Spurgeon
Showing your children respect, by Jen Wilkin