Respect, like Love, is Commanded, Not Earned

Respect is like Love (Agape Love, to be precise). It is commanded, not earned.
Yes I am fully aware that this is not a popular opinion, but I am so much more interested in what's Biblical than what's popular.
Another thing that Respect has in common with Agape Love is that neither is relative. "R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me," so goes Aretha Franklin's song; as if Respect was a morally relative term; it is not. If it were we would spend our lives trying in vain to please each other's fleeting whims. 


Like Love, Respect is commanded in the Bible. And it is done so in a manner that is so much more than merely unpopular, it is downright offensive to western morality.
Take, for example 1 Peter 2:18: "Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust" (ESV). The same level of respect is commanded of the slave toward his or her owner whether they are abusive or kind. Peter then doubles down in the next chapter when he addresses wives in 1 Peter 3:1–2: "Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct" (ESV).

Yea, it's pretty radical stuff! But before you disregard these commands, I would encourage you to take a moment to follow Peter's rationale a bit. It revolves around the Christian value of suffering unjustly. This is not a doctrine you're going to hear much about in a seeker-sensitive, life-coaching, you-focused kind of church.; but you will hear it in a Christ centered, bible preaching church, because the doctrine is drawn directly out of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sandwiched between these two commands is this: 

1 Peter 2:20-25 "But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (ESV).

Respect is commanded for the following reasons:

  1. Christ endured unjust suffering graciously, committing no sin and speaking no lie or exaggeration. He did not revile back, He did not threaten or seek revenge. He did this by entrusting Himself to His Father, the author of both authority and justice. This took a great deal of self-discipline, assurance, and a profound sense of identity.
  2. Christ endured unjustly not just at the hands of the Romans who crucified Him, but at my hands, and yours. He did this for the sole purpose of setting us free, from death to life. By His wounds we are healed.
  3. We now live to His same righteousness, entrusting our lives to His Father, with the same access to self-discipline, assurance, and a profound sense of identity. We don't have to demand justice. We may, of course, but in most instances so much more is accomplished if we entrust justice to God. 
  4. We have a different shepherd from the non-shepherds of the world around us. We respond to a different voice, we sing in a different key, and a different time signature. I pity the sheep gone astray who has to rely on his wits, camouflage, and self defence in a world of wolves. We have a legitimate overseer from the despots and dictators of the world around us, we can be confident He will put all things right; not just injustices we have suffered, but those we have committed also.

So we are commanded to "Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed" (Romans 13:7 ESV). And, by inference, we ought to know who those are. There are a few objects of the respect the Bible commands us to give: 1) elders (by this I mean those older than us), 2) human authorities (governing and pastoral), 3) parents (good ones and bad ones), and 4) husbands. I'm not, in this article, going to go into each of these. I want to speak instead about wives and husbands.

Ephesians 5:33 "However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband" (ESV).
For a long time now I have heard many wives (and husbands for that matter) who claim to follow Christ tell me, "I will respect him/her when they behave worthy of respect." However justified we may feel saying or thinking something like that, how would it sound if someone said, "I will love him/her once they have earned my love." There are no relative mitigating circumstances given to the subject here that allows him or her to stop either loving or respecting. 

Both Love and Respect are commanded, not earned; our different values of each are cultural, not biblical.

Now, just as Jesus had some choice words to say about–and to the face of–his oppressors in positions of authority, the Bible leaves plenty of room for one's voice to be heard; and for protection, intervention, arbitration, and mediation from local church authorities. But love and respect are still mandatory, it is possible to voice very strong disagreement without losing either love or respect for the one you are disputing with.

When we love someone who is actively sabotaging those attempts at love, we are actually treating them as their identity demands. A human acting badly is no less made in God's image than one acting deserving of our love. We are actually loving God through them, as well as proving the power of God's Love through us. Likewise when we respect someone, especially when they are acting in a manner that is not worthy of respect in our eyes, then we are respecting God because it was God who made them. 

This command is given specifically to wives to respect their husbands, not because they are better than other men, not because they are more honorable than the average man, but because they are men and not women! Men have burdens to bear that women do not. Someone once said that it's amazing how quickly feminism evaporates when your country is invaded. Men put themselves on the frontlines of battle, men mine the minerals we need, fix the plumbing, install the networks, design and build the roads, bridges and houses, not exclusively but in vast majority. Husbands also have a special accountability before God for their families, that is who they are by design, and that is worthy of respect. 
What if, in his wife's opinion, a man is not living up to that standard? There are a number of ways she can address it, starting with prayer. He is God's son before he is her husband. Speak to God, then leave it in God's hands. She can encourage him, she can raise her concerns with him, she can even leave him if she is in danger. But she should still respect him, because he is a man made in God's image.

In the exact same way men are to commit to, sacrifice for, and lay down their lives, their peace, and their personal goals for their wives (that is what it means to Love her). Not because she is better than other women, or because she's closer to a Proverbs 31 women than other women, but because she is a woman! Women also have burdens to bear that men do not. It is his and her identity we are to respect, and thereby the God who gave it to them, regardless of our feeling about their performance. And, whether you believe it or not, Christ will enable you to do precisely this! 

A human acting badly is no less made in God's image than one acting deserving of our love. We are actually loving God through them, as well as proving the power of God's Love through us. Likewise when we respect someone, especially when they are acting in a manner that is not worthy of respect in our eyes, then we are respecting God because it was God who made them. 

God's Love is not appeasing, it is honest (sometimes Love demands that we have very tough discussions); so also respect is not appeasing. Respect is voicing your opinion and even taking action when love or stewardship is violated. In the case of government it may be civil disobedience, it may even be revolution. In the case of marriage it may be separation, it may even be divorce. But, here's the kicker, contempt and respect are mutually exclusive.
One of the key precursors of divorce is contempt. If respect had an opposite it would be contempt.
Contempt for someone of the opposite gender based on opinion of their performance is arrogance. None of us truly know what others are going through; the fears, the competition, the responsibility, and the temptations (many of them hormonal). Who am I to have contempt for someone made in God's image, someone given specific authority?
If respecting or loving those made in God's image is ultimately respecting and loving God, then having contempt is the same thing as having contempt for God! James warnes us in James 4:11–12 "Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?" (ESV)

contempt and respect are mutually exclusive

Even when Jesus says of the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 15:14 "Let them alone; they are blind guides" (ESV), he did not say so with contempt for their authority. In Matthew 21:13 "He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”" it was not done with contempt for their authority. 
Even in His tirade in Matthew 23:13–37 Jesus offers hope and guidance back to the legitimate path.:
23 “...For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others."
26 "...First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean."
Finally offering this plea: 37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"
We know that Nicodemus, one of their order, eventually submitted to the Lordship of Christ, and Christ entertained his honest questions with honest instruction, not contempt. Contempt is a lot like unforgiveness, it has the same root of bitterness, it defiles, first the heart of the one carrying it.

It is not very easy to do, much that is worthwhile isn't easy, but let's learn to give respect as the bible instructs us to and let's stop demanding that people earn it, especially our spouses. 
There is one last hidden gem in this instruction, Peter tells us that even the most stubborn man may be won over by "the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct." Of course this is not a guarantee because no man is saved against his will, but it is arguably the strongest stance to take especially since believers, in the loving and protective hands of God, have nothing to fear from any man.