Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
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RESPECT - Vital Compenent of God's Love


By Dennis Pollock

The concept of love as it is found in the Scriptures is so big, so paramount, and so comprehensive that it is sometimes incredibly difficult for us to truly grasp. In my days as a pastor I was sometimes hesitant to preach on love for fear I would be unable to do the subject justice. The song writer got it right when he wrote those classic lyrics, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love…” but somehow we suspect most of the pop singers who sang that song had little or no understanding about the source of that love or even its nature.

Even though I have spent a great deal of time in the Scriptures over the last forty plus years, I still do not feel I can speak as an authority on love, but in this study I will attempt to elaborate upon one important aspect of the love of God which we are commanded to exercise toward our fellow human beings. I want to share about the concept of respect. I do not see love as possessing one ingredient, but rather it seems that to be a composite of many virtues. Paul lists some of the key ingredients in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, which include patience, kindness, forbearance, and humility. And although he does not use the term “respect” in this passage, from what he does say, and in many other instances in the Scriptures, it is clear that respect is an incredibly important and necessary component of the love of God.

Some people have suggested that we earn respect by our behavior, which subtly implies that if our behavior is not quite as it should be, we deserve no respect. There is some truth in that, but it is not the whole truth. It is true that we should respect the respectable and we should honor the honorable. And likewise, when we see cruel, abusive, hot-headed, obnoxious people, there should be something within us that shudders and goes, “Yuck, what a miserable person.” This is instinctive within all of us. If we had a friend who greatly admired some murderous terrorist and had pictures of him plastered all over his bedroom, and quoted him incessantly, we would conclude that this individual had serious issues.

Made Like God

But this has to do with our inner feelings, based on an assessment of a man or woman’s attitudes, lifestyle, and behavior. Just because we may be decidedly unimpressed by these things in some people we come to know, this does not justify treating them with disrespect. Nor is it right for Christians to show disrespect to people who have no use for our Savior. We may not admire them, we may be certain that their attitudes and beliefs are dead-wrong, but still we must treat them with the respect that is due any and all who are part of God’s creation.

The heart of this concept of demonstrating respect for all people is found in the writings of James, who tells us:

But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God. (James 3:8-9)

“Made in the likeness of God…” This single phrase contains within it a plethora of insight and instruction regarding how we are to relate to our fellow human beings. And this does not simply refer to our fellow believers. Muslims have been made in the image of God, Hindus have been made in the image of God, atheists have been made in the image of God, homosexuals have been made in the image of God, and everybody else in this world, regardless of religion or behavior have all been made in our Creator’s image. When James uses this expression, he is rebuking believers for “cursing men” and insisting that the major reason we should not curse them, speak badly of them or demonstrate visible contempt for them is this one fact: there is something of the divine nature in the heart of every man and woman who lives and breathes on this planet.

God’s Great Love

One thing James does not mention here, but which is unquestionably true and relevant, is that not only have all of us been made in the likeness of God; our great Creator passionately loves and values every single person we will ever meet. He does not approve of the lifestyles of all, and many of the people we see from day to day will live out their lives, and then experience eternal destruction. But although this is unquestionably true, this in no way justifies us in looking down on them or demonstrating contempt toward them. Anyone who is filled with the Holy Spirit will begin to sense this love God has toward all, and His great desire to draw them to Jesus, His Son, that they might be saved. And if God wants the Muslim, the Hindu, the New-Ager, and the atheist saved, and cares intensely for them, we must flow with our loving God’s great desire.

Respect is attractive – it draws people to you, makes them feel warm toward you, and gives you an open door to share the gospel that would not exist if you approached unbelievers with a haughty, condescending, superior manner. Showing respect means you take the time to listen to people and converse with them; you do not see them as obstacles and hindrance to your busy day. You value them enough to engage with them, even if they are not of the same race as you, or not of the same economic status as you, or not as cool as you, or not as pretty as you, or not as smart as you, or not as anything else as you.

Some people only want to engage with folks that are either equal to them or superior to them in some way; people who can perhaps be an asset to them. But respect for all means that whether you perceive an individual more or less talented or gifted or important than yourself, you recognize their infinite value in the eyes of God, and you value them accordingly. You see that behind the perhaps disheveled appearance, or awkward speech, or strange mannerisms, there is something of God about them. They have been formed in His image and likeness. And that makes them worthy of respect and of your time and attention.

The Disrespect of Partiality

James hammers this theme home in another passage in his short epistle, writing to the believers:

My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)

James is addressing the problem of Christians in their church services failing to show proper respect to the poor, while clearly preferring the wealthy. What these believers were failing to grasp is that there is no partiality with God. People are valuable to Him – all people, rich and poor, highly intelligent and not very bright, socially skilled and socially awkward, Anglo, African, Asian, and Hispanic. At the cross of Jesus the ground is completely level, and it is the intense, brilliant, overwhelming, all-consuming love of God which has made it so. What God has cleansed we must not call common, and God has potentially cleansed the entire human race; we need only to receive Jesus Christ by faith and we are welcomed into the kingdom and family of God with full privileges, promises, and rights. And no one is superior to anyone else, “for we are all one in Christ Jesus.”

We find this respect in the life of our Lord throughout the gospels. When the little cheating tax-collector, Zacchaeus, climbed a tree for a look at the famous prophet of Israel, Jesus stopped directly under his tree, called him by name, and told him He wanted to eat dinner with him that night. Zacchaeus was ecstatic. No other respectable Jew had ever given him the time of day. And now this man everyone was talking about, the One who healed lepers with a touch and raised dead people with a word, wanted to eat with him in his home. I would love to know what the dinner conversation involved, but whatever it was, surely it was simply the respect Jesus gave to miserable, cheating Zacchaeus that won the day, and caused him to declare: “Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold” (Luke 19:8).

The Sweetest Word

Sometimes respect is demonstrated in small yet significant ways. One of those ways is using a person’s name in communicating with them. Jesus didn’t just say to Zacchaeus: “Hey, you, I’d like to eat dinner with you!” He called him by his name. When I was a boy my dad used to quote from the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” telling me that the sweetest word in the English language was a man or woman’s name.” When you call people by their name you make them feel important. You are not addressing some crowd, you are not making a general announcement to the masses, you are focusing upon one person – them! This is such a small and simple thing, but it can go a long way in making people feel you respect them.

Another aspect of respect is the willingness to take the time to talk personally to people we meet. Too often we are all business in our dealings with people that we meet casually. We give our waitress our order and never consider any further conversation. We see a neighbor and limit our conversation to a hurried, “Howzit going?” We expect and desire no other answer than the single word “good.” We say our obligatory “good” and quickly go into our house. Respect shows interest in others, even those who may not appear especially impressive. Respect says, “What you have to say is important to me, and I’m willing to take the time to listen.”

As Jesus Did to Us

We also demonstrate respect by tolerating people’s annoying habits. You cannot get to know someone without soon discovering their weaknesses. Too often people simply drop the relationship when they discover these things. In other cases, they attempt to fix them by constantly pointing out their flaws. But love and respect for people enables us to, if not overlook, at least bear quietly with things they do which we find annoying. This is especially true in marriage, but it is also important in every relationship where we regularly spend time with people. We are not heaven’s chosen “fixers,” called by God to point out every flaw, rebuke every irritating habit, and confront every weakness in all we meet. Respecting people means you will leave most of those things to God and forego the urge to trumpet their flaws.

There are many more practical means of showing respect but suffice it to say that getting a handle on this concept of respect for one and all is a vital dimension of genuine Christianity. Our Lord demonstrated respect in its perfect measure when He came to this earth and formed loving relationships with all kinds of imperfect people. If anyone ever had the right to show contempt for people, Jesus surely did. He was perfection itself, and all around Him He saw weak, stumbling, faltering, argumentative, thick-headed, spiritually inept people. Still He loved them and bore with all who would follow Him.

In the end He gave His life on the cross for them, and that includes you and me. He showed us the ultimate respect in His great sacrifice for us. The Bible says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” And then He rose from the dead the third day, appeared to His disciples over a period of forty days, and commissioned them and all future disciples as His servants, co-workers, and co-heirs, to go and share the gospel with one and all. And as He showed us respect in first loving us when we were so very, very unlovable, so we are to go and demonstrate that same respect and love to all the world – in His name.



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