In 1966 Aretha Franklin sang an iconic song about Respect, (R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find out what it means to me!) and it was something all of us can relate to.
Everybody wants to be treated fairly. Paul talked about it, too:
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13:1-7, NIV)
This is a pretty controversial passage, isn’t it? Paul’s words would not be very popular today, I’m afraid. On one hand, some would say that THEIR president didn’t get elected, so they don’t have to respect the current officeholder. They use their freedom of speech to express negativity in personal attacks and mean-spirited rants. The Press prints opinions and innuendoes as if they were fact, and the lack of respect for leaders is perhaps at an all-time high. Lest we think that it is only a modern phenomenon, People have refused to respect Presidents since George Washington. Lyndon Baines Johnson lamented that if he somehow walked across the Potomac River, the media would say, “LBJ can’t swim.”
But It’s Gotten Worse
Headlines today have abandoned all pretense of respect. Trump is castigated perhaps more than any president ever. He’s earned some of it, but I have never seen a public figure in any arena hated and criticized so relentlessly by the media. Barack Obama, although smoother and more popular, had very low approval ratings among conservatives and evangelicals. Even Christians threw stones while the world watched to see how well we love our enemies. Today, the celebrities whose party lost the election are belligerent and profane, filled with righteous indignation; but they’re not alone: the party that won is not any better. Haters gonna hate, and nobody gives anybody respect.
Today’s headlines are driven by accusations and offenses. There are people who fight representatives of law enforcement at every step, who refuse to offer them cooperation or respect. They lie to them, resist them, make it incredibly difficult to do their job, hurl obscenities at them, and in extreme cases, target them for violence. And then they wonder why those representatives lose their composure or overreact. At the same time, some folks in law enforcement abuse their power or use it unfairly. Nobody gives anybody respect no matter which side they are on…
Is Anybody Willing to Try this Approach?
Paul’s counsel is pretty simple: Offer Respect. Treat governing authorities as if God elected them. Don’t rebel against them. All of Paul’s advice goes against our grain; we are indignant at such antiquated advice. It raises hard questions. Should we follow along like sheep even when governing authorities are evil? What if a law enforcement official steps over the line? Can’t we fight back? Politically, do we not have the right to protest, to express our opposition to incumbents? I don’t think that Paul is telling us we have no political rights, no freedoms, or that followers of Christ can’t express themselves. He invoked his rights as a Roman citizen on several occasions, so he wasn’t politically ignorant. But he does say a couple of important things:
One, Obey the law and respect authorities as you would respect the Lord. I see a huge lack of respect in our society, and it seems like it’s getting worse every day. Respecting and honoring our fellow citizens might change our dialog and our opportunities to find solutions. Disagree but don’t be disagreeable. Treat others the way you would wish to be treated.
Two, Paul says that if you don’t break the law, you have nothing to fear. “Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.” This doesn’t account for every single situation, and statistically we know that you are FAR more likely to be wrongfully detained or questioned in America if you are a young male with darker skin. But Paul’s advice to EVERY young man, regardless of color, is simple: Do what is right. Wouldn’t life be simpler if you never gave anyone a reason to detain or arrest you? And to leaders, he would say: God has put you where you are. Act like it.
Three, follow Aretha’s advice and give each other (whether government officials or not) honor and respect. If all human transactions in our country were conducted with honor and respect, what would change? Would checking out at the store be different? How about driving? What would change on social media? On your newsfeed? In our politics? Today’s verse probably has something for everyone, regardless of race, color, creed, or political party: if you are being selfish, mean-spirited, a perpetual victim, a self-righteous judge, or a disrespectful thug, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG. Start doing it right. Yeah, you. Listen to the Bible. And to Aretha.
RESPECT (written by Otis Redding, sung by Aretha Franklin)
What you want (oo) Baby, I got it
What you need (oo) Do you know I got it
All I’m askin’ for is a little respect when you come home (just a little bit)
Hey baby (just a little bit) when you get home
(just a little bit) mister (just a little bit)
I ain’t gonna do you wrong while you’re gone
Ain’t gonna do you wrong (oo) ’cause I don’t wanna (oo)
All I’m askin’
Is for a little respect when you come home (just a little bit)
All I'm Asking For Hey America, yeah we've got some liberties to protect, And each of us stands on our rights the way you would expect; But hatred only leads to hate (at least the last time I checked), So maybe we should offer one another more RESPECT. Take what Aretha sang, and what Paul wrote, and be direct: All I'm askin' for, America, is a little more respect!
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