Once when writing about marital relations, the Apostle Paul penned these words. “…each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33) While he was zeroing in on marriage at the time, his words carry great meaning far beyond the bounds of marital bliss.
Paul understood that, in order for human beings to survive with each other, it takes a bit of work. There has to be some give and take and at least a skosh of cooperation. He focuses on two words—love and respect.
Love is generally understood to be the preferred basis of all our human relationships (at least from a Biblical perspective). Jesus was as clear on this as on any topic. He left little room for doubt that love is the bottom line. When asked what the greatest commandment happened to be, he answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Then he quickly added, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-38) That pretty much sums it up.
“Respect is earned…”
As far as I can tell, that means we begin with a decision to love one another out of love for our Creator. From there, to form deeper relationships, we learn to respect one another as Paul indicated.
It is often said that respect is earned and cannot simply be demanded. That, of course, is true. It’s also true, however, that respect can be given without being earned. One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in my sixty-seven years inhabiting this planet is to respect people because they are the pinnacle of God’s creation. Regardless of who they are, what they believe, or how they act, they’ve been made in God’s image—just like me, I might add.
Any dictionary will tell us that respect can be as simple as showing deference to someone or something—giving them some esteem in our hierarchy of life. That action is not something we seem to be born into. It’s something we learn along the way. We begin our lives with the attitude that “the world is me.” Hopefully, we graduate at some point to the understanding that we are one of many. Furthermore, the “many” are just like me in multitudinous ways.
“How far we have fallen.”
It is incredible to me (and I’m sure to a lot of you) how far we have fallen. The lack of respect for other human beings in this world is astounding. There seems to be no more meeting of the minds, very little cursory politeness, and certainly no holding back from venomous hostility toward those who disagree with us.
I’m sure I don’t hold much sway with those who don’t hold to a Christian philosophy. If you’re not a follower of Jesus, my words probably mean nothing to you. But if you are such a follower, I implore you to return to a life that respects the humanity of others.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]