Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect for everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:17 NIV)
All are keenly aware whenever they are legitimately disrespected. America’s president Donald Trump made it clear from his interview in Davos, Switzerland this week that his administration felt disrespected by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. With the $100’s of millions in aid the U.S. doles out annually going to his government, he still refused to meet with Michael Pence during the vice-president’s recent visit. For the slap in the face, the hefty sum America sends to the PLO is now “on the table.” The money flow has stopped. Abbas broke a simple rule: “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”
“As in everything, do to others as you would have them do to you.” -Jesus
What is there about us? We know instantly when we are disrespected? There is a built-in sense. Certainly President Trump knows and has chosen Twitter to return fire–which is his trademark. “An eye for an eye.” He is not given to turning the other cheek, the Lord’s way of dealing with persecution. Striking back only empowers our enemies, but the illusion of impunity emboldens the attackers as well. It is an illusion because God and God-fearers are fully aware of their lack of reverential awe and disrespect.
We are made in God’s image. When we are ill-treated, God feels it. For that reason, we should treat each other according to the Golden Rule: “As in everything, do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12)
“Christians are the best of citizens.” -St. Augustine
To get respect, we must earn respect. Peter’s teaching (above) came during a horrific period of history. Nero’s persecution had broken out on the pretext that Christians started the fire that destroyed much of Rome. Innocent followers of Christ were burned alive, others ripped to pieces by wild dogs, still others lost all possessions. Suffering unjustly had to elicit the deepest of negative emotions. With apostolic authority, Peter taught to respect everyone, to love the believers and to unconditionally honor Nero, their murderous king. Saint Augustine would later observe, “Christians are the best of citizens.” Of all people, saints should understand both dimensions of respect.
“Fear God and obey his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13b)
Respect is in short supply. As a result, nations like the U.S. are dividing into factions. Respect has not been taught or re-enforced in the home. Disrespect is taught by example, then protected and encouraged through various institutions. Insults, slander, lies, corrupt talk and open threats against authority, are an assault against the order established by God. Rebellion against the king is rebellion against the Lord himself. The vertical dimension of respect is founded on the oft repeated precept, “Fear God and obey his commands.” The fear of God has to be taught and enforced from generation to generation or all restraint will disappear and the divided state will fall.
We do not choose between treating others with dignity and loving God, for how can we love God whom we have not seen, if we hate our brother whom we have seen? The answer is that we cannot. Hate that manifests itself in shouting down, shutting up or tearing down a fellow human being, is hatred of God and what he has created.
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established… Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:1, 2)
If there is no fear of the king’s sword, then God still has a way of punishing the disrespectful. For his insolence, President Abbas may be humbled by a loss of funds. God commands fear, respect and honor, as does the king. If we curse (“Raca”) our brother, then at our King’s discretion, death and judgment may follow (Matthew 5:22, 22:5-7).
The disrespectful will be purged. The humble will be exalted. As to the one who spits in God’s face, they will feel His wrath. Their knee will bow and their tongue will confess, to the glory of God the Father, that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). Immediately after their confession and humiliation, into the eternal fire they go.
It all starts with God. And so, with the sixth commandment in mind, God asks, “If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” (Malachi 1:6a). The vertical dimension governs the horizontal. In an age of unprecedented lack of respect, many Christians ought to be more concerned.