When Respect Fails

bowing I (Nathan) grew up in Japan where respect and even reverence affect relationships, overtly. In Japan, people bow to show their respect. A nod of the head provides casual acknowledgment of another person. When meeting someone of a higher social status, the lower status person commonly bows up to 90 degrees at the waist. The longer one holds the bow, the more one shows respect. A greeting that takes place on a traditional tatami (rice straw) mat, involves getting on one’s knees and bowing all the way to the floor. Failure to show proper respect disgraces the offender and his or her family. When a person loses too much respect in Japan, suicide offers the only honorable other choice.

First Chronicles 13:9-10 describes the concept of respect and reverence at the time of King David. David wanted to move the Ark of the Covenant from Kiriath Jearim to Jerusalem. Along the way, “Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God.”

The Ark was not simply another object that King David wanted to move from one location to another. The Ark represented God’s holiness— 2 Samuel 6:2 says that God is enthroned between the two cherubim on the Ark. Possibly, God killed Uzzah because he failed to respect what the Ark represented (God’s presence and holiness). A proper respect of God and His holiness would recognize that God did not need Uzzah’s help to protect His Ark, or to protect Himself. That is, Uzzah seemed to value the security of the Ark (an object) above his reverence/respect of God and His holiness. Like Uzzah, some Christians fail to develop a biblical concept of respect; instead, they value security, power, recognition, acceptance, or earthly possessions more than a respect for God. Like modern secular people who value objects more than a relationship, Uzzah honored/revered the Ark more than God. When we place these other values above respect (or fear) of God, we risk the same fate as Uzzah.

However, a New Testament concept of respect amplifies the Old Testament respect demanded of Uzzah. Jesus directs me not only to love (respect) God, but He expands the definition of loving my neighbor, and myself. So I am also directed to respect all humans, highly, even above myself. Compared to Christians in other cultures, North Americans may struggle to understand the broad concept of respect. North American culture promotes the axiom that “all humans are created equal.” Because of this belief system, some tend to respect others no more than they respect themselves. But Romans 12:10 directs believers, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Because some North American Christians merely value others equally, they may neglect to notice the phrase, “above yourselves.” When we see others as our equal, not deserving honor/respect above ourselves, we neglect to act as a servant. The New Testament concept of respect invites me to act as a servant not only to God, but to all of humankind. In Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan demonstrated much more than equality, he served (acted as a servant).

The story of Uzzah is a picture of how God values respect and honor toward Him. The story of the Good Samaritan amplifies the picture to show how God values respect and honor between humankind.

In January 2017, a report from Oxfam showed that eight people in the world possess between them more wealth than one half the world population. Jim Willis, editor of Sojourner’s magazine explains:

Let’s make it clear. Eight people own more wealth than 3.6 billion people. That is simply grotesque. And it is this type of fact that needs to break through the complacency and routine of our daily lives…to spur us to demand effective collective action to change course.

It is easy to point a finger at these eight people. However, I encourage you to avoid using judgment. The Good Samaritan story shows us that what we do with our time and money is more important than our financial worth. Take a few moments to identify some ways in which a lack of respect affects yourself and the Christians in your culture? The following are some examples:

  • I lack respect for others when I judge someone.
  • I lack respect for others when I fail to seek their input.
  • I lack respect for others when I fail to listen.
  • I lack respect for others when I promote myself more than others.
  • I lack respect for others when I…(insert something relevant to yourself)

The following equation expresses the relationship between the factors of respect:

Respect = A times B times C**

A = how much I esteem the differences in others

B = how much I trust someone else

C = how much I value the relationship more than either tangible or intangible possessions

**Note: This is not an actual equation, but it helps to understand the likelihood of respect. If any of the factors A, B or C = 0 (Zero), then respect probably equals zero.

Uzzah failed to esteem God’s holiness and to trust that He could take care of the Ark. It also appears that he valued the Ark more than his relationship with God. In contrast, the Good Samaritan esteemed a man considered unclean, trusted him, and valued him over time and possessions.

Factors A and C are a choice. That is, I can choose to esteem the differences in others and I can choose to value a relationship with them. Unlike A and C, however, factor B (trust) is earned. God has earned our trust by demonstrating His faithfulness in Scripture and in our lives. When we meet a complete stranger, however, we may feel unable to trust him or her until trustworthiness is demonstrated to us personally, or to someone else whom we trust. So our ability to feel respect may require time for him or her to demonstrate trustworthiness. For instance, when a spouse fails morally, those affected may feel unable to respect the offender until he or she has earned trustworthiness again. This equation works equally well for family members, church members, clergy, and political candidates alike.

Consider the ministers and politicians who you fail to respect. Which of the factors: A, B, or C keep you from respecting them? If they violated your trust, you may never regain the ability to respect them unless you let them know that they violated your trust. More importantly, consider those who may no longer trust you. If you fail to demonstrate trustworthiness in a way that they can recognize, you may never again earn their respect. Develop a plan to earn their trust through tangible actions and deeds.

Respect is further discussed in our book, Transforming Conflict: Relationship Skills for Ministers, available at www.amazon.com/dp/153004989X/