Respect has become a controversial word and is interpreted in many ways by different generations and cultures. Some demand respect, others feel respect should be earned and not just given. Is it possible to put our preconceived ideas aside and look solely at Scripture? What does the Bible say about respect for one another, for our leaders, those in authority, and those in government?
Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.”1 Peter 2:17 NIVUK
What the Bible says About Treating Others with Respect
We are to show respect to one another as every human being bears the image of God. Some may stumble right here with the attitude that individuals need to earn our respect. But Scripture teaches that everyone has the innate right of respect and dignity, because of the measure of our Creator that is present in each one of us.
To Love the Family of Believers
We acknowledge that even in the family of believers there are differences, in culture, tradition, education, and social status. But when diverse people show respect and love for one another the grace of God is evident.
We do not get to choose our spiritual family, any more than we get to choose our natural family. Instead, we remember that each one is chosen and equally valued by God. He does not show partiality. We grow into maturity as we learn to love and respect the family of believers, everyone, not just our preferred friends. With God’s love in our hearts, we can start to view each other as a friend of God.
We give God the respect and honour due to Him, as our Creator and the author of our Salvation. All that we are is a gift from Him. In the first line of what is commonly known as ‘the Lord’s Prayer,’ Jesus teaches that we are to ‘hallow’ the Father’s name. Jesus was teaching us how to pray, this is more our prayer than it was His, and He starts with the thought that we are to honour God’s name. We ‘fear’ God, we bring Him the awe and reverence that is His due, as a Holy, Righteous God. That respect is not just an outward show but is a reality when it is demonstrated through obedience in our lives.
To Honour those in Authority
As Christians, the Bible teaches that we are to show respect to all legitimate authority. God is the God of order and not of chaos, and all existing authority is instituted and established by Him. The authorities are there to benefit and protect us, by maintaining order and providing the infrastructure for our society to thrive.
Why is it Important to Respect Authority?
We are called to honour those in government, and to pray for those who have been placed in authority over us. It is not dependant, on whether we agree with their politics. When Peter wrote this verse to ‘honour the emperor’ the country was ruled by the godless, brutal emperor Nero. Someone, who persecuted Christians, and who by his actions would have been hard to honour and respect.
Peter is urging and encouraging the persecuted Christians to live in a way that glorifies God and to submit to human authority for the example that it sets to others. The authority may be incompetent and lacking in skill or ability, but their authority is to be respected as part of God’s orderliness. We may not be able to respect the behaviour and morality of the individual, but we are to respect their office – otherwise, we are rebelling against God’s order.
If obedience to that human authority violates God’s law, then we know where our allegiance lies. Peter himself refused to be silenced when he was given strict orders by the Sanhedrin to stop talking about Jesus. He made it clear that our ultimate authority is God, and we listen to and obey Him. But, as far as it is possible, we are to show respect to those in authority for the office that they hold – ordained by God.
How To Show Respect for Authority
Respect by Listening
One of the ways that we show respect to another person, and in particular to someone in authority, is by being willing to listen to what they have to say. Being willing to listen to someone else, may be with a different viewpoint from our own, is important. It shows respect and that we value their opinion.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.James 1:19
Related: Listening Skills
Respect by Serving
The Biblical principle is that we serve, in whatever capacity, as if we are serving the Lord. We have an obligation to our employer, to fulfil our side of the contract and to give a full day’s work. To work just the same when they are absent, as when they are present. But, we are not expected to give all of our time and energy to our employers. For our own well-being we need to lead a balanced life with time for rest, family, and fellowship.
Serve wholeheartedly, as if you are serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.Ephesians 6:7
Respect by Giving
Out of a sense of service to God, we pay our dues and keep a clear conscience. As children of God, we desire to live in a way that reflects and honours our Heavenly Father.
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.Romans 13:6-7
Respect by Obeying
Scripture teaches us to honour and obey our parents. It also instructs slaves to obey their ‘earthly masters’. This did not give approval to slavery, but instructed order, and a good witness, within the culture of that time. We can transfer that obedience to our employers, or those who are in authority over us in education or voluntary work, within the constraints of our moral and civil laws.
Does the Bible Say to Respect our Leaders?
The Biblical principles are to show respect for authority, to maintain orderliness and discipline, in society and within the church. Jesus is the example of godly leadership – He set the standard for faithful service throughout His life. Leaders within the church, the body of Christ, are accountable to God.
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.Hebrews 13:17
It should be so simple, mutual respect and God’s love empowering and enabling unity within the church as an example to society. But we are all aware that this is not always the case. This point has become divisive and controversial because of the abuse of power that has occurred. We need to be aware of possible manipulation and build in accountability within our church communities.
The breakdown of trust and damage to vulnerable people is devastating and heartbreaking. We pray for healing for those who have been abused. And we pray for God’s standards to be upheld.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.Matthew 6:9b-10
Pray for Those in Authority
Those who are in authority need our prayers, today, as much as ever. Intercessory prayer makes a difference – it is the greatest and most effective work that we can do.
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour.2 Timothy 2:1-3