There’s an old song from the 60’s about respect by Aretha Franklin. In it, she makes the simple declaration: “R E S P E C T. Find out what it means to me.” She takes ownership of the definition and creates her own. Everyone seems to have a different definition of respect, but what does it really mean to show respect; and who is worthy and why?
Much of the world relegates respect to those who have earned it. This is measured in many ways: whether by their social status and prestige or by particular deeds they have done, or by how much money and wealth they have accumulated. Respect, the world says, is something that must be earned. And if it’s something that must be earned, then, it’s something that can be lost.
Respect, therefore, is not automatic. It’s an achievement. During this COVID-19 Pandemic, we have often seen people on social media venting that a friend, family member, theologian, or public official they once thought highly of, had done something they vehemently disagreed with, and used social media as an outlet for their unbridled frustration.
It’s not unusual to see the response, “That person has completely lost my respect!” When someone responds along the lines of, “Respect your elders,” you might read the response, “Respect must be earned.”
But what if respect isn’t given because of something you do, but because of who you are?
At the base of our being, beneath our heritage, our accomplishments, or what we want others to see us as, we are created in the Image of God – that is worthy of respect. It’s not our accomplishments or what we do that matter when it comes to respect, but in whose image we have been created.
In the biblical definition, to respect is to show honor. In 1 Peter 2:17, Peter tells us who falls into the category of people to whom we must respect when he writes, “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”
In this view, respect is something that’s given regardless of health, wealth, status, or accomplishments. Whether another person’s opinions – or actions – align with ours or not, they are still to be treated with respect as image-bearers of God. That means we cannot stoop to treat another in contempt – even when they do not offer us the same courtesy.
So why does the world define respect in this way instead of the standard we see in Scripture? Because it allows respect to be withheld for a multitude of reasons. Being respectful to someone we don’t like is something that doesn’t come to us naturally. Instead, we desire to have control over who is worthy of respect and who isn’t. But that is not the way it should be.
The Apostle James gives a rebuke to people in the church who work from a worldly definition of respect, rather than the one given by God.
“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? … If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” – James 2:1-4; 8-9.
Here we see that everyone is to be treated with the same respect. They all bear the same image. Wealth does not add value to God’s image; and being poor doesn’t take it away.
Jesus himself gives us an example of respect when he visited the outcasts of Jewish society – men and women deemed by the Pharisees as “unworthy sinners.” During His earthly ministry, Christ was not a respecter of persons in the sense that He was not swayed by appearances, but truly taught the way of God (Matthew 22:16). He gave his life for all –Jew and Gentile, rich and poor alike – who would believe in him.
When we are tempted to think someone does not deserve our respect, whether by their actions or status, we can turn to Scripture, relying on the Word of God and not solely our feelings to determine their worth. Using Scripture as our guide, we can treat people with the dignity and respect of the image they were created in even, and especially when they do not show us the same favor. When reviled, we do not revile in turn.
Though marred by the fall of Adam, humans still retain the image of God; that image is worthy of respect.
–Joseph & Jesse Hamrick
This article was originally posted at http//:www.dollsheadquarters.com. DOLLS (Daughters of Our Living Lord & Savior) is a non-profit organization designed to be a tool used by students to invite their peers to hear the saving message of Jesus Christ.