For those of us who are Christians, everything we put out there, even if we think it’s in secret, sends a message to our children and to nonbelievers: Disrespect the president and you teach your children disrespect.
“But Gina,” you might be thinking, “respect is earned!” I HEAR YOU! I’ve spent a good part of my life believing this, but as a Christian, and after studying God’s Word, I now know that’s not quite correct.
The SHOCKING thing is…
..that’s NOT what the Bible teaches!
The fact is, God wants us to respect people in authority over us, not because they are good people with our best interests in mind. God wants us to respect them because He allowed them in place right where they are, and He does all things with both our best interests and His perfect purposes in mind.
This is tough, tough stuff, but let me give you a life example and show you where the Bible teaches this.
Respecting Those You Don’t Like In Life
Ok, so when you go through the Bible there are numerous people in our lives whose authority we are called to respect. One of the easiest examples to understand is your boss. The best story to read about giving respect it’s due, in terms of a boss, is about Joseph. You can see how he treated his “bosses” (he was actually a slave, then a prisoner) in Genesis 39, 40, and 41. Even when wrongly accused, Joseph did what he needed to do. He didn’t get tempted by his boss’ wife, he didn’t try to escape slavery or prison, and he didn’t get angry at God or his masters.
What he did do was work “as though working for God,” to the best of his ability. In this, God blessed him more than he could possibly imagine and he ended up being the top official in the whole land, next to Pharaoh. Not only that, but Pharaoh got to see firsthand the hard work, faithfulness, and devotion of a believer and how God can save many.
Remember that God tells us:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. – Col 3:23-24
What about your boss? You may not like him or her but you do like or need or want your job. Without respect, your job will be much, much harder. I worked in the corporate world for nearly 20 years, and let me give you an idea of some of my bad boss experiences:
- The super-rich guy who had NO idea what it was like to earn a living. One time he made me stay 4 hours late on a Friday night because he couldn’t figure out where to put a comma in his presentation.
- The boss who was the only person in that firm who didn’t see that I was more capable than a secretary, didn’t attend my farewell lunch on my last day, and AFTER coming back from my own farewell party, gave me a 100-page document to photocopy just before the end of my last day.
- The woman who didn’t like women and had low self-esteem. She used to like to assert her authority by making me get her cups of coffee when I had work to do.
- The lady I subbed for who threw her device across the room in a fit of anger, picked up the broken pieces, furious that they didn’t work, and then made me call their corporate offices to threaten that her husband, a financial big wig, was going to sink their stock if they couldn’t THIS device restored. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.
This is not even a complete list of crazy bosses but I did my best to be respectful. Even before I was a Christian, I always wanted that paycheck. A good number of these jobs I liked in and of itself or presented a great opportunity, usually some combination of those things. Good work that doesn’t crush your soul can be hard to come by. I was grateful to have those jobs and careful to respect the authority above me, even when I didn’t like them.
Now, as a Christian, the story of Joseph shows me how respect for authority in the workplace can bring both blessings for my family and glory to God. But while it’s easy to see this example in the workplace, what about elsewhere in life? For that, we need to look to the only model we can: Jesus.
Who Did Jesus Respect and Why?
So what was Jesus’ take on respect? The fact is, Jesus always respected the authority of His Father, first and foremost. As He was preparing to die, He prays this:
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” – Luke 22:39
For Him, the thing to do was what God wanted first. Later on, we see Jesus facing Pontius Pilate, who by all accounts of the story, doesn’t seem to want to kill Jesus. Naturally, his motives were not pure, but most likely, political. However, look at what they say to each other in this confrontation:
[Pilate] entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” – John 19:9-11
Jesus could make a big stink, make an argument, defend himself, etc. Instead, he simply states that the authority Pilate has comes from God – and no one else. It’s clear that in no way did Pilate earn Jesus’ respect but that Jesus respected the position of authority that God gave Pilate to fulfill His purpose of the crucifixion.
Now, while writing this revelation, I realized that people could take it in an isolated way. That is, in this instance, Jesus is only speaking to Pilate about Himself and His fate on the cross. However, that is at odds with the fact that Jesus never actively contradicted authority EXCEPT in the case where people were blaspheming His Father (the story of money lenders in the Temple in Matthew 21:12-13).
Jesus says more about this earlier on in His ministry. In Mark 12, a group of Pharisees (the corrupt religious leaders of the day), were trying to trick Him into saying something against the Roman government. They ask him if they should pay taxes.
In those days, the Jews were heavily taxed by the Roman government over them and many Jewish tax collectors would skim off the top of that as well. (This group was hated by the Jews.) If He defended the tax, Jesus would lose His crowds and His popularity or so the Pharisees though. If, however, He openly opposed it, He could get in trouble with the government. Then the Pharisees could let the government do their dirty work of killing Him.
However, Jesus deftly avoids this trap. He makes someone show him a Roman coin, which was imprinted with an image of Cesar. Then He says:
“Render, therefore, unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God, the things that are God’s.” – Romans 12:17
This means that you must pay your taxes, yes, but it also means is give leaders what is their due. What was due Cesar? His own coins back. Cesar, though, imagined himself a god and also asked the people to worship him. However, that belongs only to God. Even to point of death, torture, or incarceration, Christians are not to worship anyone other than God. Jesus is saying, give what you actually owe to each authority. God is your supreme authority but your leaders come next. So yes, respect them but don’t worship them; obey their laws and taxes, but not if it conflicts with what God tells you to do.
At Grace To You, the article our obligation to God and Government gave me some guidance on this and covers this story in depth. It also matches what God placed on my heart about this topic.
Peter and Paul’s Comments
So maybe you’re now convinced of taxes, but no other kinds of respect. Well, that’s actually contradicted by two builders of the early church, Paul and Peter. In Romans 13:1-7, Paul says,
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
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 honor, then honor. (emphasis added)
Yikes. That’s a tough verse. And it’s long…I’m not going to completely dissect it. But “give to everyone what you owe them” makes it pretty clear. And this line: “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good” may seem confusing. It doesn’t mean that your leaders are good, just because you are a Christian. It means that God will use those leaders, good or bad, for His good. The troubles of this world will shape you into who God wants you to be. God placed you under your leaders, good or evil, for His purposes to shape you as He wills. (Rom. 8:28)
Yea, I know, no one likes this stuff. Trust me. (So far I’ve figured out the only Biblical rule almost everyone likes is to rest on the Sabbath, which is why I take that one VERY seriously!) It’s not for us to pick and choose the rules we like, but to obey as many of them as God has convicted us about.
Even the apostle Peter says something very similar:
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king, as supreme, or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by them for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men; as free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honor all men. (emphasis added)
This verse ties it up with liberty: freely honor your leaders and all men. Honor people as you owe them, like showing up on time to work for your boss and respecting your parents in general and not badmouthing your neighbors or mocking your leaders with the intent to shame them. Submit to every ordinance – not just the ones you agree with. Of course, again, God’s laws and rules come first, but after that obey everything else.
So Must I Always Look The Other Way?
Absolutely not! Jesus didn’t. Let’s talk about the one time He openly rebelled. We’re going to look at the version in John 2:14-16, because that’s the most “violent” (see all 3 versions here):
In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.
Jesus was offended because the temple was the only place at the time that you could legitimately worship God as per the laws the Lord had laid down. It was meant to be a place of reverence and respect. The money changers, however, were notorious for cheating people. They were NOT there to serve the people, they were there for profit. I have NO DOUBT that just like today, when “prosperity gospel” preachers ask for money to build luxurious offices or million dollars jets, people got turned off and stopped going to temple. As such, they were perpetrating a lie: that they were helping the people do their worship. What they were helping was themselves. How many people rejected the faith because of this?
This is not to say you can’t try to change laws. I believe we need to point out injustices and hold corrupt leaders responsible. But do we just complain at election time? Do we mock and revile to puff up ourselves? Are we taking legislative channels and proper actions to fight injustices in our laws and around the world? We have this great blessing of liberty but how often as Americans do we bother to use it? Voting once every 2 or 4 years – is that all we do? Do we talk to our kids about our leaders? Do we really investigate what backgrounds people bring into the office when we vote? Do we even know what different officers do – like treasurers or assemblymen?
That’s not to say that you need to succumb to laws or edicts that you believe are harmful. There are health issues that we ABSOLUTELY will not follow the government’s decision on, even if it means we have to violate laws because we believe they are detrimental to good health. The Lord NEVER calls you to hurt yourself or members of your own family. The government is notoriously illogical and uninformed on health matters, and there are also government agencies that, just like the money lenders, make a profit off YOU following the rules.
This calls for great wisdom, discernment, and courage, so your only way through is with plenty of prayer, scripture, and Godly advice.
However, don’t embark on a journey to change the way things are out of anger, malice, peer pressure, or self-serving purposes. That’s the difficulty with politics in America. We are so caught up in what we think is right for everyone, that we struggle to see outside our own perspective. (Been there!) We need to understand our “opposition.” Actually, we should stop calling them that. What we really need is to try to find common ground.
I believe that “real change” only occurs when we understand what’s going on for other people. That change necessarily needs to come with compromise. We are not The Left and we are not The Right. We are Americans, and I think we are losing that sense of finding common values that is so critical to keeping us together.
That doesn’t mean blindly accepting the crimes and corruption of our leaders. If you think a president, congressman, the media, or anyone with power is corrupt and are speaking up, that’s good. First, though, ask yourself, what’s your motivation? It’s for you to look inside yourself and discover what your true motives are. If you are motivated by pride or malice, you are walking the wrong way.
Finally, as a Christian, the causes you take up should be directed by God, and God alone. He won’t grant you success outside of His will for you so you may be wasting precious time. (Boy, I have been there!) He will call you when and where He needs you most and you will encounter guidance that can make even the toughest tasks easier.
What Happens When You Respect the Disreputable?
Can respecting someone who doesn’t deserve it change them? I think it can, but not always. You must also realize that it’s far more difficult on a national level. But if someone started to work for you and told you how excited they were because they knew you were a person of integrity, don’t tell me you wouldn’t raise your standards for yourself. You would feel on top of the world and you’d live up to it.
If you really want an answer to this question, try it on someone in your life. Show respect for them before they’ve earned it and see how it affects them. I hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Meanwhile, ask for God’s help in respecting the authorities in your life that you find distasteful. Those authorities include bosses and government officials, yes, but also leaders in the church, law enforcement, husbands to wives, parents, and anyone you report to in any capacity. Remember that before all those, you report to God first. He’s the only One who can help you do it.