“At the base of our being, beneath our heritage, our accomplishments, or what we want others to see us as, we are created in the Image of God, and that is worthy of respect.“
Written by Jesse & Joseph Hamrick
There’s an old song from the 60’s about respect by Aretha Franklin. In it, she makes the simple declaration: “R E S P E C T. Find out what it means to me.” She takes ownership of the definition and creates her own. Everyone seems to have a different definition of respect, but what does it really mean to show respect; and who is worthy and why?
Much of the world relegates respect to those who have earned it. This is measured in many ways: whether by their social status and prestige or by particular deeds they have done, or by how much money and wealth they have accumulated. Respect, the world says, is something that must be earned. And if it’s something that must be earned, then, it’s something that can be lost. Respect, therefore, is not automatic. It’s an achievement. Often, we see someone on social media venting that a person they once thought highly of had done or said something they didn’t agree with. It’s not unusual to see the response, “That person has completely lost my respect!” Or, when someone says, “Respect your elders”, you might hear the response, “Respect must be earned.”
But what if respect isn’t something you do, but something you are?
At the base of our being, beneath our heritage, our accomplishments, or what we want others to see us as, we are created in the Image of God, and that is worthy of respect. It’s not our accomplishments or what we do that matter, but in whose image we have been created.
In the biblical definition, to respect is to show honor. In 1 Peter 2:17, Peter tells us who falls into the category of people to whom we must respect when he writes, “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”
In this view, respect is something that’s given regardless of health, wealth, status, or accomplishments. Whether another person’s opinions – or actions – align with ours or not, they are still to be treated with respect as image-bearers of God.
So why does the world define respect in this way instead of the standard we see in Scripture? Because it allows us to withhold respect from someone we don’t like. Being respectful to someone we don’t like is something that doesn’t come to us naturally. Instead, we desire to have control over who is worthy of respect and who isn’t.
James gives a rebuke to people in the church who work from a worldly definition of respect, rather than the one given by God.
“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? … If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” – James 2:1-4; 8-9.
Here we see that everyone is to be treated with the same respect. They all bear the same image. Wealth does not add value to God’s image.
Jesus himself gives us an example of respect when he visited the outcasts of Jewish society – men and women deemed by the Pharisees as “unworthy sinners.” During His earthly ministry, Christ was not a respecter of persons in the sense that He was not swayed by appearances, but truly taught the way of God (Matthew 22:16). He gave his life for all, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor alike, who would believe in him.
When we are tempted to think someone does not deserve our respect, whether by their actions or status, we can turn to Scripture, relying on the Word of God and not our feelings to determine their worth. Using Scripture as our guide, we can treat people with the dignity and respect of the image they were created in even, and especially when they do not show us the same favor. When reviled, we do not revile in turn.