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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

How Do We Treat Authorities Who Don't Earn Our Respect?

Some people respect Donald Trump. Some people don’t’ respect him. He’s done some helpful things for this country while being in office. For example, when was the last time you heard about ISIS? His team has been working diligently to eliminate ISIS. But he’s also done some things that appear, at least at this point, to be detrimental to this country. For example, he has been exchanging verbal threats with Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, who now claims to have a nuclear bomb button on his desk that he’s not afraid to use.

Has Donald Trump earned my respect? Not really. Did Barak Obama earn my respect? Again, not really. How about George W. Bush? Eh, not exactly. What about Bill Clinton? He didn’t earn my respect either. All these guys are merely human beings who make mistakes…lots of them, just like everyone else who has ever been the President of the United States. I have very high expectations for people to earn my respect. If every President of the United States has to meet my expectations in order for me to respect them, then I’d have no respect for any of them.

What about a boss at work? Maybe it’s your direct boss. Then again, maybe it’s a boss a few rungs up the ladder. I once had a boss a few rungs up the ladder who did very little to earn my respect. First of all, he was a bully who regularly used his position of authority to poke fun at people who were lower on the totem pole than him. Second, he didn’t appear to be standing up for us, the people working for him, when conversing with other managers across the company. And third, it was well-known that he had been cheating on his wife. Why should I respect him? He didn’t do anything to earn it.

Or how about our parents? I am very grateful to have parents who have earned my respect. But not everyone has parents like mine. What about the young woman whose parents disowned her? What about the young man whose dad told him he was a poor excuse for a son? Or what about the young woman whose mother sexually abused her as an infant and whose dad, who knew what was going on, did nothing to stop it? How are we to respond to these parents? The actions of these parents don’t give their children any reasons to respect them. If anything, it seems like their kids would be justified in disrespecting them.

At different times in life, we all find ourselves under the authority of a person who fails to earn our respect. How do we respond to these people? Do we respond by disrespecting them? Or do we respond by respecting them, even if they do nothing to earn it?

Should We Respect People with Authority?

If you’ve read some of my other posts, then you probably realize that I believe God has the highest level of authority of anyone in the world. And I believe the Bible to be his Word, meaning that it is also authoritative.[1] According to the Bible, anyone who has authority over other people has it because it has been given to them by God.[2] When we don’t respect our authorities, we are in turn disrespecting God since he is the one who put those authorities in place.[3] Therefore, if we claim to be followers of Jesus, then we also must respect the people who have authority over us, whether or not they seem worthy of our respect.

In theory, it sounds pretty easy: respect your authorities. But oh how hard it is to actually live this way. How do you respect a President who appears to fire everyone who reports him for misconduct? How do you respect the boss who pokes fun at you while you can do nothing except sit there and take it? How do you respect the parent who sexually abused you as an infant? I’m definitely not 100 percent there, but here’s a brief overview of what has happened in my life which has led me to respect my authorities, whether or not I feel like they have earned it.

Why I Choose to Respect My Authorities

For many years, I believed God was in some type of control of the universe, but I wrestled with his level of control. Some days I concluded that he was in control of everything and other days I concluded he was in control of nothing. How in control is God? Most of the time, I believed God created the entire universe and everything in it, but I didn’t think he was actually in control of everything that takes place in the universe. I wouldn’t say I believed he took a completely hands-off approach, but for the most part, I thought he left the universe to play out however it played out.

But this belief poses a problem: How could God claim to institute the authorities on earth if he has little to no involvement in the things that happen on earth? He can’t. He’d be taking credit for something he didn’t do. It’d be like me taking credit for a beautiful rainbow in the sky when I did nothing to put it there. Thus, God is either taking credit for something he didn’t do or he’s much more involved in the daily operation of the universe than I believed.

A few years ago, my beliefs began to shift. The Holy Spirit led me to dig deeper and deeper into the Bible, and then began to open my eyes to see just how deep and wide God’s control spanned. Kicking and screaming the whole way, my beliefs shifted to the point where I now believe that God is completely sovereign over all of his creation, meaning that he is in absolute control of everything that happens here on earth. Therefore, if God is truly in control of everything that happens here on earth, then he can rightly claim to have instituted every authority on earth.

But we can’t stop there. The Bible also says that everything that happens on earth happens for a reason.[4] God has a purpose in doing everything he does.[5] For me to resist something that happens on earth displays a lack trust in God. Do I trust that he knows what he’s doing, or do I think I know better than him what’s best? When I resist what he does, I am essentially saying that I know better than him. On the other hand, when I go along with what he’s doing, especially when it’s not what I would do, then I’m displaying trust in him.

This shift naturally led me to begin respecting the authorities in my life, not because they did something to earn my respect, but because of the trust I have in God, my Lord. God placed Donald Trump in the authoritative position as the President of the United States. God placed my boss in his position of authority over me. And God placed our parents in their positions. To fail to respect them would be to fail to trust in God.

What Does It Look Like to Respect Our Authorities?

I want to end this discussion by attempting to provide some brief guidance that will help us live in a way that is respectful to our authorities. When I use the term respect, I’m referring to an attitude which is manifested through our actions. One of the biggest ways we can tell whether we respect someone is the way we desire to talk about that person with others. Do we desire to talk positively about that person or do we desire to talk negatively about that person? If we find ourselves constantly complaining about the person, then we probably don’t respect him or her.

To respect someone doesn’t mean we have to like everything he does or says. We don’t have to believe that everything he does is worthy of respect. And we don’t have to like everything we have to do as a result of his decisions. But that doesn’t give us a right to treat that person disrespectfully.

To respect our authorities doesn’t mean we blindly follow them without exercising discernment. Discernment is one of the gifts of the Spirit,[6] meaning that we are called to exercise great discernment. One of the toughest challenges we will face in respecting our authorities is found when our discernment tells us that something our authorities have asked us to do comes into conflict with living in obedience to God. Our obedience to God is always more important than our obedience to our earthly authorities. But we can’t use this as a pass to not obey our authorities when we don’t want to do something. In my life, when I don’t agree with something a person in authority asks of me, I will provide a logical explanation to explain my reasoning, but will end by stating that I will do whatever is asked of me, as long as it doesn’t come into conflict with my obedience to God.

If we truly love God, then we will respect the people who he has placed in positions of authority, not necessarily because they are deserving of respect, but because God is worthy of our trust and respect. I don’t say this as a guilt trip; I say it as a cold hard fact. How would our world be different if everyone treated their authorities with the highest level of respect?

Do you respect the people who have authority over you? If so, why? If not, why not? How does the realization that God has placed these people in their positions change the level of respect you have for them?

[1] “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” – 2 Timothy 3:16.
[2] “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” – Romans 13:1.
And as Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor in Jerusalem, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” – John 19:11.
[3] “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” – Romans 13:2.
[4] “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” – Romans 8:28
[5] “I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” – Isaiah 43:6-7 (emphasis mine).
“My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” – Isaiah 46:10.
[6] See 1 Corinthians 12:10.

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