by Adam Litmer
People often declare that a person must earn their respect. We like to establish criteria to be reached before respect is extended. The criteria may shift or remain static, yet the end result is the same: the ball is in their court, and they need to play it correctly to receive respect or honor from me. Many Christians have bought into this thinking. That’s a shame because it is simply not biblical.
In I Peter 2:17, Peter says, "Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor." The word “timao” (honor) means, “To set a price on, value; regard, respect.” Peter tells us it is to be given to everyone.
He clearly anticipated arguments. You can almost hear some of his first readers objecting. “Surely Peter cannot mean the politicians. Some of them are corrupt. And the emperor? The man is a scoundrel! They must be excluded from Peter’s command.” Not a bit. A few verses before this Peter spoke of being subject to every human institution, specifically mentioning governors. (I Peter 2:13-14) In I Peter 2:17, after commanding honor for all, he makes a point of specifically mentioning the emperor. None of those people were required to earn the respect of the early Christians, rather the early Christians were required by God to give it.
Think carefully here. Many of us do not like the behavior or politics of some of our leaders. That’s fine and we have the right to question their decisions and actions. More than that, we have an obligation to speak out against ungodliness and faithfully stand with Christ should they seek to force us into sinful actions ourselves. We do not have the right to treat them in an ungodly manner. Protesting their failure to earn our respect is meaningless.
Perhaps we are willing to concede the point as it relates to the leaders of the land. “After all,” we might say, “It is hard enough to serve in those capacities without people dishonoring you. But what about the workplace? What about cruel and mean-spirited supervisors and the like? Surely, they don’t deserve such honor!” Peter anticipated this objection as well. "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" (I Peter 2:18-19) The unjust, even those in a position to boss us around and give us grief, are to be respected. Why? Because God said so. For Christians that is enough.
The wisdom of the world and the wisdom from above stay in conflict. Here is yet another example. Unfortunately, this is a place where the wisdom of the world has gained much traction in the lives of Christians. Let’s hear God on this and mark it well: no one has to earn our respect. By virtue of being created in the image of God (whether they accept that or not) along with the dignity inherent within it (whether they live in a dignified way or not), we owe our fellow human beings honor and respect.
"Honor everyone … with all respect … also the unjust" (I Peter 2:17-18). It’s not easy but it is simple. Let’s show God that we respect and honor Him by doing it.