It is something that God says should matter to every child who has a parent, to every wife who has a husband, to every man who has a superior. It turns up in the Bible all over the place. Every one of us is supposed to learn it from Mom's breast and onward (Exod. 20:12; Eph. 6:1-3; etc. ad inf.).
Yet I observe that few of us do understand it, and I observe that it isn't really preached on or written about as it should be.
So I offer a couple of bite-sized thoughts, and I do it in this spirit: I am a guy watching a raging fire with a glass of water in his hands. That's all I've got. It isn't much, and I'm even less. I'm not expert on either theory or — God knows! — practice. But there's this raging fire, and I've got something, I think, and I see a lot of other people just watching the fire (at best) or toasting marshmallows on it (at worst), so I'm going to throw my glassful on the blaze.
And I'm going to use Frank Turk to do it! Whee! What's not to love?
It wasn't in the least because I hated Frank's Open Letters. I've thought they were an absolute stroke of genius, and were brilliantly executed. When prissy souls fluttered their hands and cried "Oh, la!" and "Please, pleeease make it stop!" I thought these were bad signs of what was inside of the objectors, not the letters; and, sadly and to my disappointment, subsequent history reinforced that fear.
No, I just didn't like the idea of an open letter to Jesus. It just seemed.... ew. How could that go well? How could it not be pretentious, or silly, or artificial, or treacly, or just... ugh?
Well, the answer is simple: because Frank was going to write it.
Now, follow this next bit carefully, please, because this is my point. Do I mean that Frank is perfect? No; he's perfecter than I, but I know he's not perfect. Do I mean that Frank never makes mistakes? No; he makes fewer than I, but he does make them. Do I mean that I always "get" everything Frank does? No, not always, though when I don't it's probably me being slow-witted, dull, ill-informed, or all three. Do I mean that Frank never sins? Again, he probably sins less than I, but I know he does.
So what do I mean? Well, I mean that I respect Frank. I know Frank loves Jesus very much. I know Frank would never do anything to dishonor Him or, if he did, he'd make it right. I know that Frank's heart — his priorities, his guiding principles, his convictions — is in the right place.
Thus, I had my initial visceral response ("Agh! No no no, bad idea!"), and then I took that response and held it up against the deeper principle ("But it's Frank, and I respect him"), and I reasoned from that principle ("...so he has a plan I'm not privy to, and I can give him the benefit of the doubt in trusting that it's a sound plan").
And now, having read the post, I note without an atom of surprise, that (to my mind) I was right.
Let's take this apart a little. In my case, unlike the case of a child towards parents, and so forth, I am not under a command to respect Frank beyond 1 Pet. 2:17 and the loving 1 Cor. 13 principle of hoping for the best. In my case, Frank has earned my respect. When I first "met" him, as Frank correctly observed, I didn't know what to make of him. In fact, the degree of my not-understanding of Frank made for frequent merriment at Casa Phillips. ("I do not get this guy.") At that point, Frank was running off of my respect for Phil, that Phil must have had some reason for choosing this wild, charging, bull-in-a-china-shop of a man to write on his blog.
But it wasn't long at all before I began to see how right Phil was, and what a cornucopia of pleasant surprises Frank was. He earned, and has, my respect.
So here's where respect does and does not come to play.
Respect does not work when you already know, understand, and approve of everything someone is doing. That's just a tricky form of self-respect and self-love. It's, "Ah, good, you're doing what I want you to do. I approve!"
Respect works when one of those elements is missing. It comes to play when I don't know what someone is about to do, or I don't understand everything about it, or I don't initially approve.
Now, understand: I would have been free to write Frank and say, "Oh, wait, dude, are you sure about this?" In fact, Frank would have welcomed my doing so, which feeds my respect of him. In fact, he'll probably be peeved with me for not voicing my initial brr-r-r-r. But in this case, for me, just remembering who it was who was about to do this thing that rubbed me the wrong way was sufficient.
Suppose I'd ended up hating the post? First, I'd've had myself to blame for not saying something beforehand. I wouldn't have been a very good friend, if even remembering my respect for Frank, I'd still had serious misgivings. And second, I would have been free to talk to him — but not as to a clueless jerk who'd just gone and done it again as I knew he would, but as a basically really good guy who at worst had made a misstep — and then, unless it was a Biblically-defined sin, only in my opinion.
Which brings me to just about my last point. Giving another respect requires humility. Do you see that? Once again, I write as a theoretician and piker, not as an expert. But saying in effect "I relinquish the demand for prior inspection, assessment, and approval, because I don't know everything and my approval is not essential" takes a degree of humility. By contrast, it is the height of arrogance to assume that X dare not act without my sign-off.
And that's where we fall short. If the Bible said "Respect yourself!" our culture would be right there. It would be a Bible-believing culture! If the Bible said "Love yourself first above all," we'd be right in the groove. But the Bible doesn't say any of those things, and the fact that the world isn't dancing to God's tune shouldn't surprise us. What is surprising, and shocking, and shameful, is that professed Christians continue to dance to the world's tune and feel just fine about it.
If you're not consciously seeking God's grace to cultivate humility, then forget respect. You can't do it. You can't get there from here, if we define "here" as unmortified pride.
Having said that, I'm pretty much done. I'm not going to try to get preachy, or preachier. If you read all that and don't see applications for your relationship(s), I'm probably not going to be able to help you. So let me close with a few pointed thoughts for application. Think of those whom God calls you to respect.
- Do they have to do everything your way in order for you to respect them? Good luck with that. That isn't respect.
- Do you have to approve of everything they do, have done, or are going to do, in order for you to respect them? Good luck with that. That isn't respect.
- Do they have to do everything the way you think you'd do it if you were they, in order for you to respect them? Good luck with that. That isn't respect.
- Do they have to do accept and obey your criticisms, in order for you to respect them? Good luck with that. That isn't respect.
Post-postscript: I developed this at length in a marital context here.