Showing Respect

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Last year there was a discussion programme on the BBC called ‘Class and Respect’. It’s purpose was to consider the impact of class divisions on people’s respect for themselves and for each other. Can mutual respect ever be forged across the divide of inequality? The comment was made that the poorer you become, the question of being treated like a real human being becomes more important to you.

A letter was printed in a newspaper under the heading ‘Lack of respect is troubling’. In the letter an elderly man recalls his school days. He says:

The thing I dreaded most was a note from my teacher. There was never any doubt who was right and who was wrong. You treated your teacher and your peers with respect or else! … This is not the case today. The level of disrespect shown by many children to their elders and their peers is mind-boggling.

Someone else comments ‘disrespect of others plagues and saturates today’s society’. And another comments that our culture refuses to respect the contributions of workers in unglamorous jobs.

There is a great deal of talk about respect, and it seems to me it has two themes. One is the widespread loss of respect in our society: ‘Nobody respects anyone any more’. The other is the demand for respect: ‘You should respect me’. And the more the cry for respect goes up, the less respect there seems to be. What can be done? How should we respond?

My title this evening is ‘Showing Respect’. And that’s the theme of verses 1-2 of chapter 6 of Paul’s First Letter to Timothy. Do have a look at that – you’ll find it in the Bibles that are spread around the pews on p 1194. This evening we start a new series asking what God wants to teach us from this final chapter of the letter. We’ll be covering a few verses each week.

This is a letter in which a father is teaching his son. He is teaching him how to teach others, in a situation of great pressure, in which the son doesn’t feel at all sure of himself. This is not, though, a biological father-son relationship. It’s a spiritual one. The letter opens:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy my true son in the faith…

Paul is Timothy’s mentor. He is imparting to Timothy all he can about what it means to believe in Jesus, and what it means to be a Christian leader. Paul has left Timothy in Ephesus to lead the young church there. It’s a tough situation. There are people opposing the truth that Paul has taught and drawing people away from Christ. The believers live in a society that is hostile to their faith. Timothy has to teach them how to handle themselves.

And here at the start of chapter 6 he addresses one narrow issue but what he says has much broader implications for this question of what it means to show respect and how respect can be engendered. He’s talking about the situation of those who have come to faith in Christ who are in slavery.

I want to think through what he’s saying by asking and answering four questions about what the apostle Paul is teaching here. First, who should show respect? Secondly, to whom should we show respect? Thirdly, why show respect? And fourthly, how should we show respect?

To respect someone is to honour them. It is to recognise their worth and their standing, and to behave accordingly. So, to question 1:


Answer: those under authority. Remember Paul is talking here about those in First Century Roman society who were the lowest of the low – the slaves. This is what he says (6.1):

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching many not be slandered..

Slaves should consider their masters worthy of full respect. Now let me ask before we go any further: is Paul endorsing the institution of slavery? No, he is not. Is he recognising a deeply ingrained social reality. Yes. Is he urging political revolution to overthrow the social order? Quite the opposite. Is he naïve about the way slaves could be treated? Certainly not – he has himself suffered terribly and unjustly at the hands of various authorities. Elsewhere Paul urges that slaves should take the legitimate opportunity of their freedom if it arises. And in his little gem of a letter to Philemon Paul persuades a Christian slave owner to liberate his runaway slave. And in 1 Corinthians 7.21 Paul asks:

Were you a slave when you were called? [That is, when you became a Christian?] Don’t let it trouble you – although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price…

In other words every believer is both free and also a slave. If Christ has set you free, you are free indeed. And true freedom is to be a slave of Jesus. He is our master. And there is no greater liberation, and no greater dignity, than that. Jesus bought us at the cost of his life. Even though we were rebels against God, Jesus thought it worth paying that ultimate price for us.

There could be no question, then, that somehow a slaveowner was more valuable as a human being than a slave. The gospel of Christ levels everyone down, and at the same time raises up all believers to the same place of honour, whatever their class or social standing. The cross of Christ humbles us below the level of any earthly slave because it exposes the depth of our sinfulness. But it also raises us higher than any king, because we are adopted into the royal family of God. If you want to know the only solid and lasting foundation for a true self-respect, then you’ll find it in Jesus. Whether you are despised or honoured in our society, Jesus is the place to look for a proper understanding of your worth.

But understanding the love of God for us in Jesus must not become an excuse for a lack of respect for others. Who should show respect? ‘All who are under the yoke of slavery.’ And if slaves should show respect – with all that meant in the Roman world – then how much more should we, whether as employees, or citizens, or children or students. We are all under authority in some way. We are all slaves of Jesus. We should all show respect.


Answer: we should show respect to those in authority over us.

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect…

Christian slaves, says Paul, should show respect to their masters. So if that’s true for slaves, it is not less true but more true for us in relation to the different people who have authority in our lives. Employees should show respect to their employers. Citizens should show respect to their politicians. Students should show respect to their teachers. Children should show respect to their parents.

And remember that not only are we all slaves, but we’re all employees, and citizens, and students and children. Why? Because Jesus is our master, and our boss, and our ruler, and our teacher, and God is our Father.

And remember, too, that we should show respect even though those in authority over us treat us badly. Paul doesn’t say that these slaves should consider their masters worthy of respect if they treat them well. There is no such condition here. Indeed, Peter is quite explicit on this point in his First Letter (2.18) where he says:

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.

And again, if that is true for Roman slaves, regarded as mere possessions and often brutally treated as they were, how much more true is it of us in relation to those who have authority in our lives – our employers, politicians, teachers and parents.

But that raises the question, why? If these people don’t earn our respect, why should they get any? And that’s the third question. Firstly, who should show respect? Those under authority. Secondly, to whom should we show respect? To those in authority over us.


I recently read a piece called ‘How to earn the respect of others’. It said:

To build a long-term good reputation, you must focus on your character, not your image. Respect must be earned.

And the article lists six character qualities found in people who are respected by others: integrity, humility, dependability, having priorities, generosity and putting God first.

And of course all those are good things and we should pray and work to develop them. But Paul comes at this from quite a different direction. The reason we should show respect to people is not because they’ve earned it. In fact when we consider those who have authority in our lives, there may be any number of reasons why they have not earned our respect. There are all kinds of pressures not to show respect.

So, for instance, if you’re a slave, the very fact that someone considers you a commodity to be bought and sold is not exactly going to earn your respect, is it? If they treat you harshly to boot, that’s going to put an end to any possibility that they deserve your respect.

And the same will be true if, for instance, your employer’s attitude towards you is that you are simply there for him to make money out of you; or if our politicians are self-important liars; or if our teachers are weak characters with no authority in the classroom; or if our parents are just downright irritating on all fronts. Why show respect to them then?

And what is more, when you become a Christian, you discover, very wonderfully, that everyone is equally made by God, everyone is equally a sinner, and that you have been made a child of God by grace. In Christ you find true freedom. Maybe you used to think of yourself as somehow inferior. But not any longer. So you know that those who regard themselves as superior beings are barking up the wrong tree. And that, too, could easily lead you to lose respect for them. So why show respect?

Paul gives five reasons why we should show respect. Four of them are in these verses, and one from another letter that I want to mention. Not one of these reasons has to do with the character or the qualities of those we should respect. Every one of these reasons still applies even when people have utterly failed to deserve our respect.

We should show respect: for the sake of God; for the sake of the gospel; for the sake of those we serve; out of love; and for the reward that we get. Let me explain .

First, we should show respect for the sake of God. Slaves should consider their masters worthy of respect (v 1):

so that God’s name … may not be slandered.

These early Christians lived in a pagan world in which their beliefs were despised. People would have been suspicious that they were subversive of the good ordering of society. An increase in disrespectful behaviour from Christian slaves would confirm them in their view and drag the name of God through the mud.

Likewise, secondly, we should show respect for the sake of the gospel. What is true of God’s name is also true of God’s message. Slaves should consider their masters worthy of respect (v 1 again):

so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.

What is Paul’s teaching (and the teaching that Timothy has learned from him)? It is the good news of Jesus Christ. It is God’s gospel. If our employer sees in us a new arrogance and contempt for his authority, he will be hardened in his own contempt for the Christian faith. But if he sees a new respect coming from us, he will be brought up short and made to wonder what power could have brought about such a change.

Thirdly, we should show respect for the sake of those we serve. The masters of slaves benefit from their service, says verse 2, if it is respectful. And that too should be a motivation for us – that we want the good of those in authority over us, so we’re glad to see them benefit.

And to push that one step further, fourthly, we should show respect out of love, Paul says that if a Christian slave’s master is himself a believer, then they are ‘brothers’ and the believing master will be ‘dear’ to the slave because of their shared faith. We will want to be a blessing to those over us because, if they’re believers, then we’re in the same family. And even if they’re not believers, remember what Jesus said:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.

So remember this isn’t a matter of those in authority deserving love, any more than we deserved the love of Jesus while we were still his enemies. And yet he laid down his life for us.

But let me just add one more, fifth, reason why we should show respect. It’s not mentioned here but Paul talks about it in another letter where he discusses the same topic. In Colossians 3.24 he says:

you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.

When we think and act toward others in the way that Jesus wants, then it’s not just others who get on the receiving end of blessing. It’s us too. And it’s not short-term and short-lived either. It’s for keeps. The Lord rewards us when we treat others in a Christlike way.

So there’s a whole raft of reasons why we should show respect to those in authority over us: for God’s sake; for the gospel; for those we serve; out of love; and for the eternal reward that comes our way. None of it has to do with whether or not the one we need to respect is deserving of it at all. These are all Christ-centred reasons.

But if we decide, for all these reasons, that we do want to show respect to someone who’s over us at work or whereever, how do we go about it? What should our behaviour actually be like? That’s my last question:


Here are some pointers that Paul gives as to what respectful behaviour is like.

One: we should show respect by considering others worthy of respect. In other words, it all begins with attitude. Verse 1 again:

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect…

Respect begins with how we think about people before it’s a matter of how we treat them. But what if those over us show themselves by their behaviour not to be worthy of respect? That misses the point. We’re not worthy of the love of God and yet he gave his Son to die for us. We’re not worthy even to be the slaves of God and yet he adopts us into his family and treats us as his children and his heirs.

If we are seething with resentment towards that employer, or parent, or teacher, or official, we’ll never treat them with the respect that they don’t deserve. But if we keep continually in mind how God treats us, then considering other unworthy people as worthy of respect will come naturally to us.

Two: we should show respect by being wholehearted with our respect.

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect…

Not grudging respect. Not half-hearted respect. Not a modicum of respect while still despising them in a large corner of our hearts. Full respect.

Three: we should show respect by not taking advantage of others. The example Paul gives here is of the slave’s situation when his master is himself a Christian. If a slave master was converted to Christ it’s highly likely that his whole approach would become more gentle. The ruthlessness and the cruelty would begin to fade away. And it would be easy for the slave to ease up on his service, secure in the knowledge that he’d get away with it. No, says Paul. Verse 2:

Those who have believing masters are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers. Instead they are to serve them even better…

In Christian businesses and homes and schools the standard of service shouldn’t be lower than in the unbelieving world. It should be higher. There should be no taking advantage just because we could get away with it.

Four: we should show respect by working for the benefit of others. Respect begins with attitude but it doesn’t end there. It is demonstrated by the way we work for those over us. In the First Century, says Paul, Christians should make good, hardworking, reliable slaves. How much more should Christians be good, hardworking, reliable employees – or students or children or citizens.

But then there is one other mark of how we should show respect: by serving Christ. This too comes from Paul’s teaching on this in Colossians 3, where he says:

Whatever you do [he is speaking to slaves], work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men… It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

As we show our respect for those over us by working for them, we should think of ourselves as working for Jesus. Because that is in fact what we are doing. He is our master. He has put us where we are for now. Let that be our attitude to those over us, and nothing but respect will be possible. And we’ll never get to the end of our serving. We’ll never say ‘That’s it, I’ve had enough. My respect has run out.’ Because Jesus never drew the line with us. He served us to the end.

Do you hear the voices all around crying ‘Nobody respects anyone any more,’ and ‘You must respect me’. Are you tempted to despair as you look around you at a society saturated with lack of respect? There’s only one way we’re going to change that. And that’s to begin with ourselves. Those under authority (and that’s all of us in one way or another) should show respect to those over them. Why? For the sake of God; for the sake of the gospel; for the sake of those we serve; out of love; and knowing that we will find an eternal reward. And how should we show respect? By our attitude; by being wholehearted with our respect; by not taking advantage when we could; by working for the benefit of others. And above all, by serving Christ, who himself came to serve us, unworthy though we are.

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