Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)
In an Air Force ROTC management class, we learned there are two types of power. “Power of Position” comes from holding a position of authority – be it by consent of those governed or by force. This includes dictators, presidents, bosses and other leaders.
I have “Power of Influence” when I am trusted by someone in a position of power. One example given in the class was then Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. Though he held limited authority, he was held in high regard by President Nixon, and thus was in a position to influence the decisions that Nixon made.
Most of us will have limited chances to be in positions of authority over more than a small realm, but we all have the potential of being an influence in the life of someone in authority over us.
As believers, we are not generally called to be in positions of power. But we are all called to respectfully submit to those in authority over us, not because they are somehow more important than we, but because God has put them in positions of authority. It does not mean their role is any more significant than ours, just different. In fact, their roles are often more difficult.
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)
Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)
In several Bible stories, God used those in “lesser” positions to greatly influence the course of history by the advice given to those in positions of power. Examples include Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Esther, Mordecai, and Joseph. All of these were slaves or “conquered” people whom God used to “turn the hearts of kings.”
Wise leaders choose trusted advisors very carefully. They look for those that demonstrate wisdom, loyalty and respect. Wisdom, by itself, will not guarantee a hearing unless the leader first trusts the person with wisdom. Loyalty, by itself, may be misguided, and prompt one to do unwise things that look like a good idea, but in the end may undermine the leader’s authority or power.
When I show respect for a leader, it communicates my recognition of his or her position of authority and my desire to see him or her succeed. It communicates intentionality, on my part, to commit to that success. It does not mean I will always agree with every decision made, but that I am committed to advising with wisdom, even as I defer to the leader’s ultimate judgment.
As a believer, respect implies an additional responsibility - that I will lovingly intercede on the leader’s behalf, that God will protect, shower mercy and grace upon, and grant wisdom to the leader. Those desires arise from my love for the leader, not just as my leader, but as a valued friend.
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
Some leaders are easier to respect than others, and some of us more easily show respect than others. But the Bible commands us to submit (respect, serve honestly, and pray for) our leaders and rulers, so that they can improve the conditions under which we, and others live. I so appreciate the example of Billy Graham as he has won such a place of deep influence even in the lives of presidents that often stood diametrically opposed to the message he preached. He gained that influence because he lovingly respected them and prayed earnestly for them. In at least one case a former president finally came to Christ. Only in heaven will we know the full extent of his influence on these men and the world events they presided over.
Like the Centurion in Luke, Chapter 7, I need to recognize that “I myself am a man under authority …”, because all of us are ultimately under authority, whether we acknowledge it or not. But how does respect live itself out in my life?
Biblical servanthood was modeled for us by the most powerful person in the Universe. Jesus said he did not come to be served, but to serve.
… and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:27b-28)
He admonished His disciples to be like-minded.
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12-17, underline added)
and we are reminded by Paul in Philippians 2:5-7
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,…
Even more attention to respect is expected of us when dealing with other believers as our authorities. We should, in no way, show less respect (desire to see them succeed), because their success reflects well on Christ.
All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God's name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers. Instead, they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their service are believers, and dear to them. (1 Timothy 6:1-2a)
Respect is not required only of those under authority, but of all, in all circumstances - just as Christ modeled. We are commanded
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)
That pretty much covers all of our relationships, vertical and horizontal. We are commanded to respect those under our authority as well. While wives are commanded to respect their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24,33b; I Peter 3:1-6), husbands are commanded
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, … (Ephesians 5:25-33a)
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3:7 emphasis added)
While children are admonished to obey and honor their parents (Ephesians 6:1-3), fathers are told
… do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
If we treat our children with respect, we will not exasperate them. They will feel valued, even as we correct their errors and disciple them into the service of Christ.
Even masters (bosses) are told
… treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (Ephesians 6:9)
after Paul tells slaves to
… obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. (Ephesians 6:5-7)
As far as lateral relationships we are commanded
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. (Titus 3:1-2)
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:15-16)
When I demonstrate respect for someone, I increase the influence I have in their lives. This is an important concept that can improve the quality of every relationship I own. Besides the obvious effect my respect will have upon my superiors’ (bosses, church leaders, civic leaders) attitude towards my advice, it will increase my influence in the lives of all to whom it is shown.
A wife who demonstrates respect for her husband will find him generally more willing to listen to her concerns and ideas, and will increase his desire for her. As she looks to making him successful (not just in the workplace but in the home, the church and the community), she will find him more enthusiastic about his protective role as a husband. She will find him more demonstrative in his affection towards her and more inclined to seek time with her over other pursuits. We men are like that. We prefer to spend ourselves where we feel most successful. Nothing builds up a man and brings out the best in him than when he hears of his wife’s respect for him – be it from her mouth or from the mouths of others.
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (1 Peter 3:1-2)
Likewise, when a man demonstrates respectful love towards his wife, he will find her more willing to give herself to him in every way. He will find her more willing to communicate respect towards him at home and abroad. He will empower her to become a “Proverbs 31 woman”, who is successful in all spheres of life, and she will enrich his life and the life of her family.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
31 Give her the reward she has earned,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
Looking at these verses from Proverbs 31, it becomes obvious that her success is directly related to the respect and praise she is afforded by her husband. And because she is successful, he will prosper on all fronts. If it is his mouth praising her in the city gates his stature will rise with hers.
And as a husband and wife demonstrate love and respect towards each other, they will be drawn closer together by their very actions. As they each communicate love and respect, their feelings will follow. They will find themselves drawn deeper in love with each other. Loving respect will render a marriage invulnerable to the temptations of unfaithfulness. But it will do far more than that. It will turn the home into a safe haven, a place of peace and rest, a recharging station that counters the weariness of life.
Likewise, children who show respect for their parents will likely find them more willing to trust them with responsibilities and privileges. They will find their parents more interested in their lives and concerns and more eager to enter into their world.
Every parent seeks to build lasting influence into the lives of their children. Children who feel respected by their parents, will welcome that influence because they feel valued and significant. They too want to feel successful, and if they feel respect at home, they are more likely to look to their parents for advice, consolation and leadership (by example).
Every relationship in which I exercise respect, will be improved by that. If I desire greater cooperation and camaraderie among my co-workers, my respect will communicate that I value them and wish to see them succeed. Like me, they will be drawn to relationships in which they feel successful. If I want to win over the crabby neighbor next-door, respect will draw him or her into relationship as they feel valued and invested in.
I will find my success in evangelism directly proportional to the respect I demonstrate towards those I seek to bring into the kingdom. By respect, I demonstrate my concern for them and my desire to see them ultimately successful in life. I show them that I value them because they are children of God and as they feel valued by me, they may begin to feel valued by God. My respect will earn their trust, so that my words, especially God’s truth, spoken in respectful love will be heard and taken deep into their hearts where it can grow, blossom and bear fruit.
Lastly, in order to show proper respect, I need to be a respectable person.
Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:7)
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)
Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect,
In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, (1 Timothy 3:8,11
Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:16-17)
As my respectability rises, so will the value of my respect in the lives of others. As others feel my respect, they will invite my influence in their lives, and I will be drawn deeper into an ever-growing fellowship, in numbers and depth.
If we, as the church, would practice this kind of loving respect towards each other and others, the world would sit up and take notice.
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)
And we would see the church become the powerful influence it was in the first days.
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47)