Respect

“Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (I Peter 2:17).

 The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield made a career of getting no respect. He would start by saying “I get no respect,” as he wiggled the knot of his red tie, then deliver a one liner proving that, in fact, he got no respect, such as, “I get no respect.  When I was born, the doctor took one look and slapped my mother.” His comedy routine consisted of a rapid fire string of these one liners always starting with, “I get no respect.”  Getting no respect made Rodney Dangerfield millions of dollars over his lifetime.  However, he had the respect of everyone as being a very funny guy.

Respect is a very big issue in the lives of most people. One would have to be pretty well beaten down psychologically and spiritually to be divested of the human need for respect.  Possessing the divine spark of the Creator, we automatically react to anyone whom we sense is treating or viewing us as a nobody who is not worth caring about or not being taken seriously.

In one of my careers, as a school counselor, one of the main areas of student agitation was of being disrespected.  It didn’t take much for an insecure adolescent to make an accusation of being “dissed.”  I had the best connections with students when I told them they were just as important as anyone else, and that I respected them.  In the gang culture respect is one issue that can get you killed.  Wearing the wrong color, being in the wrong neighborhood, giving the wrong look, throwing the wrong sign, having the wrong tattoo, are a few of the ways of showing disrespect and placing oneself in danger.  This type of misplaced respect is the same used by totalitarian governments to keep people in line.  It is not respect, but fear.

What about the idea of respecting one’s position but not necessarily the person?  That’s sometimes difficult if the person dishonors the position.  I would go to great lengths in trying to convince a student to respect a teacher’s “position”, even if they could not respect the teacher.  Even though they have not earned your respect, I would tell them, you show respect not because of who they are, but because of who you are.  Before the Sanhedrin, Paul was smacked on the mouth when he spoke, and then gave them an earful.  He was then told, “You dare to insult God’s high priest?”  Paul responded, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people’” (Acts 23:1ff).  This seems to be a clear indication that respect is to be paid to certain positions even though you may not even know the person in the position.

In families, what is the basis for children respecting parents, and for parents respecting children?  When a child is fearful of the consequences of “dissing” the parents, is that respect or fear?  The Bible teaches that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.  I have heard numerous sermons on what that fear really means, and it is very similar to respect.  If we respect God, and how can we not considering what He has done for us, we will do everything possible to please Him and learn of His ways for us, and that certainly is wisdom.  One young man told me he feared that his father would learn of his deceitful behavior behind the parents’ backs.  His heartfelt comment was, “If dad ever finds out what I’ve been doing, it would break his heart.”  His respect for his father was so great that he could not stand the thought of causing him pain.  His main concern was not getting in trouble, but losing the respect of his father.

Other than the respect given to a certain position, a great deal of the issue of respect seems to revolve around behavior.  The common saying that one must earn respect is true.  The Bible reads that the kindhearted woman gains respect (Proverbs 11:16), behavior will win the respect of others (I Thess. 4:12), being worthy of respect (I Tim.), and many more.  A long list of respect items include God, parents, wives, husbands, offerings, and maybe my favorite, “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly…” (Lev. 19:32).

It might be that self-respect works the same way.  Along with our God given personalities and other hard-wired attributes, I believe that we have a God given sense of when our behavior has gotten us out of sync even if we are not a Christian.  The Christian has the advantage of the check of the Holy Spirit’s conviction when our behavior is wrong. And if that behavior happens continually and degradingly, we have a hard time respecting ourselves. A person who has been raised in a “beaten-down” environment will struggle with self-respect.  We have all heard people say that God will not accept them because of their past sins.  What they are saying is down deep, with the knowledge of being out of sync, they think God does not believe they are worthy of His acceptance.  They do not respect themselves.

When an unbeliever loses respect for someone, how do they ever view that person as someone of value?  Well, in most cases, they never do.  Your worth as a human being is zero.  But, for the Christian, regardless of the severity of a person having lost our respect, we yet value them, for they are a created child of God.  I often have to seek the Lord to speak to my heart in looking at a “scalawag” through the eyes of Jesus.  I must respect their value and standing with my Father.

My father was buried at a state National Cemetery for his service as a WWII veteran.  It was a moving and sad experience to see him honored and given the respect that a veteran deserves.  In real life he had no respect from anyone, except perhaps from his alcoholic friends (as long as the booze didn’t run out).  His behavior garnered disgust and hatred all his life; no respect.  And though he never knew, and to our knowledge did not receive it, God loved him to the end, and so should we for his being a child of God, worthy of respect for that alone.

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