You can tell a whole lot about a person by noticing who they respect and how they treat the ones for whom they have respect. When God had Moses to give the Israelites the Ten Commandments the fifth one was, “Honor your Father and your Mother that your days may be long in the land.” He had already noted that one must respect God and keep his very name as holy. But part of the respect for God was demonstrated in respect for ones parents. Think about this question: “Did God think that all parents were deserving of respect?” No, he didn’t think that at all. There were then as now many parents who were not respectable at all. Yet it wasn’t God’s charge for us to try to determine which parents deserve our respect and which ones don’t so that we can respect the ones who deserve it but not the ones who don’t. He simply declared that we should honor our fathers and mothers. Paul later will tie that command to another when he said children were to obey their father and mother. Now it is certainly true that he turned immediately to say to the Father, that he wasn’t to provoke his children to anger but bring them up in the training and discipline of the Lord, so it wasn’t a one way street.
Think of that charge when you look at another given by the apostle Paul in Romans 13. “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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is the authority? Then do what is good and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:1-4) Who was the Roman ruler during the time that Paul wrote this charge? Was it some really good king that was respectful of Christians and supportive of good causes? NO, it was a man named “Nero” who was one of the worst rulers of all time. Did Paul believe that all the policemen or soldiers who represented the government were good, honorable people that deserved respect because they were respectable individuals? NO, that wasn’t the case then or ever. As in any other profession there are really good, honorable people that work extremely hard to do the right thing and treat all people in the right way, but there are those who use the office and the authority in the wrong way and actually take advantage of others using that authority. But notice, he didn’t say to the Christian that they should examine each policemen or each soldier and see if they were honorable and if they were honorable people then show them honor and respect. He simply said that they were set apart by God as His servants with the purpose of punishing evil and upholding the good so they were to be honored and treated as God’s ministers or servants.
Later when Peter wrote to Christians that they were to be strangers and pilgrims on the earth and to live in a way that caused those who longed to say something bad against them to be ashamed because they couldn’t think of an evil thing to say about them. In that context in I Peter 2 he then challenged the people to “Honor the king.” This is still Nero. He wasn’t honorable. Yet God’s charge to the Christian was to honor him. Notice that along with that charge were these as well. “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
Then consider the fact that Paul in writing I Timothy while in a Roman prison awaiting the time when he would appear before Nero and be executed for his faith in Christ wrote in I Timothy 2:1-4 “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Think about God leading Paul to tell Timothy in working with the church in Ephesus to pray for the king and all those in high positions.
When followers of Christ determine that some ruler in the land is so awful they can’t pray for them or show them respect or when they think that the policemen or soldiers shouldn’t be respected by us all, they aren’t following Jesus or the teachings of Scripture. I know the pleas that are made on all sides. But I know that one of the things that should distinguish the Christian is their respectful behavior and attitude toward all people, even the ones with whom they disagree. If God looked at a Nero and declared that he was a servant of His because all authority is from God, then we certainly need to be careful how we react to anyone in a place of authority. Does that mean that we overlook all the ways they are mistaken or in things that we believe they are wrong about? No it doesn’t mean that, but it does mean that you disagree while showing respect and honor for the person and the office they hold.
If there was ever a time in the history of the world when people needed to learn to show respect to each other, even when you disagree, it is now. If you claim to follow Jesus, then strive to act like him. What is amazing to me is that while Paul was in that Roman prison he wrote the letter to the Philippians and tells the people not to be overly concerned for his welfare since what had happened had turned out for the furtherance of the gospel of Christ. Among the reasons he said that was that many of those in Caesar’s household had heard from him the good news of Jesus and had turned their lives around so that when Paul concluded the letter he said the saints in Caesar’s household sent their greetings. You don’t gain the opportunity to lead a person to Jesus by being disrespectful of the person. You open the door to help another person to learn and grow by respecting them where they are already.