Regaining the Lost Art of Godly Respect
By LESLIE LUDY
The youth room resounded with clamor as twenty rambunctious teens flopped onto garage-sale couches and tattered beanbags. The youth pastor, Troy, entered the room with his usual magnetic presence. He was in his early twenties, good-looking, and fun-loving, the quintessential “cool youth pastor.” Troy was known for his ability to relate to young people and his creative and funny “devos” — our slang term for a devotional lesson.
After Troy offered a quick and casual prayer, his face became serious. “Okay guys, let’s get real for a minute,” he said, looking intently around at each of us. “I know that not a single one of you in this room actually gets along with your parents. And that’s totally normal. Even though your parents can’t relate to anything you are going through, your youth leaders can. So be sure you come to one of us whenever you are struggling.”
I shifted uncomfortably at his words and stole a glance around the room. Was it possible that I was the only one in the entire group who still had a good relationship with my parents? At thirteen, it had never really occurred to me to pull away from my parents just because I had become a teenager. But more than anything at that age, I wanted to fit in and be “normal.” As I pondered the youth pastor’s words, I realized that distancing myself from my parents was one way I could accomplish that goal.
With a slight pang of remorse, I made the conscious decision to stop confiding in my mom and dad, and start sharing my struggles with my friends and youth leaders instead. I decided I should limit being seen in public with my parents. And that I shouldn’t pay much attention to their opinions or advice. Not if I wanted to fit in and be “normal.”
Within weeks, the strong bond of loyalty I’d always had toward my parents began to disintegrate. I pulled away from the very ones who had poured out their love, time, resources, and prayer into my life since I was a baby. I placed my own selfish desires above the loyalty and respect they deserved.
I PULLED AWAY FROM THE VERY ONES WHO HAD POURED OUT THEIR LOVE, TIME, RESOURCES, AND PRAYER INTO MY LIFE
It was like selling my birthright for a bowl of red stew, just as Esau did when he was hungry after hunting. He was so consumed with satisfying his own fleshly desires that he carelessly disregarded the most sacred gift God had given him. Selfishness overshadowed loyalty and honor. Esau despised his heritage. (See Genesis 25:29-34.)
For several years, I kept my parents at arm’s length. I rolled my eyes when they corrected me. I disregarded their instructions. I said negative things about them to my friends. I placed no value upon their guidance or advice. Selfishness overshadowed loyalty and honor. I despised my heritage.
As I disregarded the authorities God had placed in my life, things began to go downhill. Instead of having loving counselors to protect me and provide godly wisdom when I needed it, I made all my own decisions. And nearly all of them were wrong decisions.
If God hadn’t intervened during that season of my life, I can’t even imagine the long-term outcomes I would have experienced through my decision to disregard and dishonor the authorities He had given me.
When I finally surrendered my life to Christ as a young adult, one of the first areas that He gently corrected was the way I had been treating my parents. I was freshly reminded of God’s words: “‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth’” (Eph. 6:2-3). Honor here means “to place value upon.” In other words, we are to esteem our parents and treat our relationship with them as something of great worth and inestimable value.
Regret and shame overtook me as I realized how far I had strayed from this command. I repented — first to God and then to my parents — for my lack of loyalty and respect. And I welcomed them back into a place of honor in my life. I began to place value upon my relationship with my parents once more — going to them for advice, heeding their instruction, and treating them as my trusted counselors, authorities, and friends.
As an unexpected blessing, my decision to show honor toward my parents became a critical part of my love story with Eric. As God unfolded our relationship, one of the first things we felt led to do was invite our parents to be a part of the process. Eric learned to respect my dad’s position of authority over my life. He received my dad’s blessing before pursuing me. As our love story developed, we invited our parents to be our accountability partners, our counselors, and our advisors. That may sound restrictive, but it was one of the greatest benefits to our relationship. We never felt the insecurity of making decisions on our own. Instead, we gleaned from the wisdom, perspective, and advice of those who cared more about us than anyone else on earth.
Honoring our parents and respecting their God-given position of authority in our lives was one of the principles that kept our love story Christ-centered. To my surprise, it was also a key reason why our love story was so beautiful. As Eric and my dad met together on a regular basis to discuss how to handle our relationship in a God-honoring way, I felt treasured and protected. (What girl wouldn’t feel like a princess with the two most important men in her life meeting to talk about how they could best show love and sensitivity to her?)
Authority = Blessing & Protection
In our modern age of independence, many of us overlook the fact that God has placed authorities in our lives — such as parents and other trusted leaders — not to make us miserable, but to bless and protect us.
It is one of the enemy’s greatest agendas to drive a wedge between children and their parents; to bait young people to choose selfishness over loyalty; and to get them to despise their heritage. The results can be devastating.
In an eye-opening documentary film about the abortion industry, Blood Money, a former abortion clinic owner talked about the marketing strategy of money-hungry organizations such as Planned Parenthood, who prey upon the vulnerability and naivety of today’s young women. She said that abortion providers often target young girls with three key goals in mind: “Break down their natural modesty. Separate them from their parents. And become the ‘sex expert’ in their lives.”
When young girls begin to distance themselves from the authority and protection of their parents, they become vulnerable to buying the lies of the culture and making devastating decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives.
No matter our age or season of life, God has placed people above us who are meant to counsel us and help guide our steps. When we are young and living at home under our parents’ authority, we are to submit to their leadership (and even after we are adults living independently, we should still honor them and respect their important position in our lives). When we get married, God asks us to submit to our husband’s authority. And when we are part of a church body, we are to come under the spiritual direction of our pastors and appointed Christian leaders. No matter what stage of life we are in, showing deference to our elders and honor toward those in authority over us is a key way that we honor God and keep our feet on the path of wisdom.
NO MATTER OUR AGE OR SEASON OF LIFE, GOD HAS PLACED PEOPLE ABOVE US WHO ARE MEANT TO COUNSEL US AND HELP GUIDE OUR STEPS.
On the flip side, disregarding the God-given authorities He has placed in our lives is like driving down the interstate without rearview or sideview mirrors. Sooner or later, our blind spots will cause a collision. In one way or another, we are bound to veer off course when we despise our heritage and fail to honor those above us. Just like car mirrors that help us see our blindspots and avoid accidents, God has placed authorities in our lives for our own protection. Choosing to ignore or scorn our God-given authorities is like choosing our own destruction.
The Spirit of the Age
A recent study reveals that today’s young people are the most likely out of any generation in history to betray their mentors — including parents, teachers, and leaders.
Countless parents have gone through the heartache of pouring their lives out for their children, only to be disregarded and even despised as their children become young adults. But parents aren’t the only authority figures who are experiencing this bewildering phenomenon.
Church leaders, pastors, teachers, and godly mentors often find themselves respected one day and hated the next. Older people are being tossed aside once they reach a certain age; their value and position disregarded and scorned by an entire generation. Elected officials and government leaders are often treated with contempt instead of respect.
It’s extremely sad to realize that this breakdown of respect is not just happening in secular circles, but has crept into the Church as well. And it’s not just happening among young people. Whether toward parents, elders, pastors, mentors, or other spiritual leaders — all too many modern Christians feel justified tossing loyalty and honor aside the moment it serves their own interests.
Dishonoring authority has become such a prominent issue — both within secular society and also within the Church — that some have called it “the spirit of the age.”
Scripture is very clear about what happens when authority is overlooked and everyone does what seems right in his or her own eyes:
…they are whisperers, backbiters … proud, boasters … disobedient to parents… (Rom. 1:29b-30).
For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy (2 Tim. 3:2).
What an amazing picture of our world today — even our Christian world. It’s a world where children are ungrateful and unthankful toward the people who have brought them into it; a world in which Christians flippantly disregard and even betray those who have labored for their souls; a world in which it’s politically correct to vehemently despise our elected leaders.
It’s a world that despises its heritage and will quickly sell its sacred birthright for a bowl of red stew. This is the spirit of the age in which we live.
As leaders, Eric and I know all too well the pain of tirelessly investing ourselves into a soul — only to have that person eventually turn against us, despise us, and even betray us. This has happened to us more than once, and we can fully relate to Amy Carmichael’s description of this kind of heart-rending experience:
“We have toiled for someone dear to us, but never knew it as toil. We have poured out stores of health never to be recovered, but did not know it, nor would we have cared if we had known it, so dearly did we love. And all our hope was that the one so cherished would become a minister to others. But it was not so. And then unwillingly we become aware of a strange unresponsiveness in the one for whom nothing had seemed too much to do, of a coldness that chilled, a hardness that pushed away as with hard hands the heart that had almost broken to save that life from destruction. Then (but only those who have gone through such a bereft hour will understand) a fear worse than any pain has us in its grip: is the love of the years slipping from us?”
How many parents and godly leaders today have felt this same kind of grief? It is a very small glimpse into what Jesus must have felt when He was cheered and worshiped with palm leaves as He entered Jerusalem — only to be rejected and crucified by those same people just days later.
But among true believers, it ought not to be this way.
God’s Word is very clear about how we as Christians are to treat our authorities — not with casual disregard, but with the utmost honor and respect (emphasis added):
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine (1 Tim. 5:17).
You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God… (Lev. 19:32).
Listen to your father who begot you, And do not despise your mother when she is old (Prov. 23:22).
Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you (Heb. 13:17).
“Unprofitable” in this verse means “hurtful.” God is making it clear that when we dishonor and disregard our parents and other authorities, we are doing so to our own hurt and destruction. As this verse explains, the authorities He has placed in our lives watch out for our souls — they have been placed there for our blessing, benefit, and protection. We may not always understand why our parents and leaders do what they do or have the cautions they have — but we must remember that God has anointed them for this task. As much as we may not want to accept it, heeding the counsel of our parental and spiritual authorities is one of the key ways that God speaks to us and directs our steps.
We like to bypass this principle — rushing ahead with our own plans and desires, without taking the time to seek counsel and guidance from those in authority over us. But when we do this, we are choosing the way of foolishness rather than the way of wisdom:
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise (Prov. 12:15).
Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him (Prov. 26:12).
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, And prudent in their own sight (Isa. 5:21)!
To avoid the many pitfalls that come from being wise in our own eyes and adopting the “spirit of the age,” we must be willing to go against the tide when it comes to honoring our authorities. Others may sell their birthright for a bowl of red stew, but God has called us to put aside our fleshly desires and value the heritage He has given us.
Of course, this doesn’t mean blind loyalty toward parents or leaders and having no mind of our own, or letting ourselves be led into ungodly behavior. But it does mean a purposeful decision to honor and respect those in a position of authority over us, even if we don’t always like or agree with their decisions or perspective.
How do we live this out practically? Let’s look at three important principles.
1. Guard Against Self-Justification
When we find ourselves becoming angry or resentful toward a parent or leader’s correction or guidance in our lives, it is often because we are living in self-justification.
I vividly remember a situation in my young adult years when I fell into this trap. A trusted mentor gently challenged me about a movie that I liked and had recommended to others. It was not a godly or edifying movie, but it was artistic and funny, which is why I had chosen to overlook its impure elements. When she questioned me about it, I bristled inwardly. Who does she think she is? I thought to myself. She’s just trying to be ‘holier than thou’ and remove all the fun and freedom from life! I convinced myself that this mentor was enslaved to legalism and pride, rather than genuinely concerned for my soul. But later on, when God began to convict me of my too-low standards in regard to pop-culture entertainment, I realized that she had been right. The movie was not something I should have been watching, let alone recommending to others. And I had rejected her perspective and concern because of self-justification.
When parents or other leaders speak into your life, be watchful against backing into a corner of self-justification. If you find yourself becoming angry or defensive, don’t immediately assume that your authority figure is in the wrong. Ask Him to show you the root cause of your defensiveness. Is it because you are allowing sin into your life, but don’t want to admit it? Are you rejecting the gentle conviction that God might be wanting to bring into your life through the faithful words of your leader? Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”
We often want our authority figures to simply smile and approve everything about our lives, rather than ask difficult questions or speak truth that can prick our conscience. But we must remember that God has commissioned our authorities to cause “faithful wounds” when needed, by challenging us when they sense we are veering off-track. The godly response is to receive their correction with humility rather than anger and self-justification.
WE MUST REMEMBER THAT GOD HAS COMMISSIONED OUR AUTHORITIES TO CAUSE “FAITHFUL WOUNDS”
Remember Jesus’ sobering words to the Pharisees, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts” (Lk. 16:15). Even though we might come up with convincing arguments for why we are right and our authorities are wrong, God sees our hearts. He knows when sin and self-justification are ruling our lives, and He isn’t fooled by our impressive-sounding reasons and excuses.
So ask Him for the grace to humbly receive the “faithful wounds” of your authorities, and let them speak truth into your life with joy and not with grief. Proverbs 9:8-9 presents a clear distinction between handling correction foolishly or wisely: “Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.” By God’s grace, may we receive correction as a wise person, and not as a fool.
2. Handle Disagreements with Honor
You may find yourself in a situation where you believe your parents or leaders are not acting in accordance with God’s Word or representing Christ’s nature — or maybe you just find yourself disagreeing with their perspective. This presents a challenge — to handle your disagreement in an honorable way and still respect their position of authority in your life. All too often, I’ve seen Christians throw honor, loyalty, and respect out the window the moment they feel they have a justifiable reason for doing so. If they feel their authority figure is in the wrong, they believe that they now have a valid reason to become caustic, critical, dishonoring, and disrespectful in return. But Scripture makes it clear that, “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:20). No matter how wrong you believe your parents or leaders are, there is never an excuse to revile or dishonor them. Paul gives us clear instructions for how to make a loving, godly appeal to someone who is older or in authority: “Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would to your own father” (1 Tim. 5:1 NLT). And in the book of Philemon he showcases a specific example in which he respectfully appealed to a slave-owner on behalf of his slave: “Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you…” (Phm. 1:8-9).
I’ve known many young Christians who, rather than making loving appeals to their parents, elders, or spiritual leaders, choose to go on a rampage against them: spreading gossip and venom against them, posting nasty things about them on social media, and behaving in a very un-Christlike way whenever they interact with them (such as giving them a cold shoulder or spewing angry words at them). Often they even convince themselves that they are spiritually justified in doing so, because they think that the parent or leader is so wrong that they are only worthy of being treated with contempt. But when we allow fleshly anger to take over, we can be sure that we are not honoring God or standing for righteousness. James tells us clearly, “where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work” (Jas. 3:16 KJV). And Jesus gives us the sobering warning, “…whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matt. 5:22).
If you find yourself disagreeing with your authority figure, be watchful of letting anger and pride take over and dictate your response. The godly approach is to continue to show love and honor in your actions and words toward your leaders, no matter how much you may disagree with them. If you are truly yielded to God’s Spirit, He may lead you to make a respectful appeal to your parent or leader about the issue in question — usually after diligent prayer and heart preparation, and not in the heat of the moment.
Remember, it is impossible to make a godly, respectful appeal when you are angry and full of pride. So be sure that your heart and attitude are right before you even consider an appeal. You are not the one who can truly change anyone at the soul level — only the Spirit of God can accomplish that. Walk in step with Him as you navigate disagreements with your leaders, and be sure you handle every conversation in a truly Christ-honoring way. Freshly read 1 Corinthians 13, and be sure that your actions and attitudes line up with God’s pattern for Christlike love and not the world’s pattern of fleshly pride.
BE SURE THAT YOUR HEART AND ATTITUDE ARE RIGHT
Of course, if your authority figures are attempting to pull you into ungodly behavior, more than a simple appeal might be needed. Depending on the specific situation, there are times when you may need to walk away from harmful relationships and ungodly behavior, or seek help from other trusted leaders who can intervene. (Important Note: If there is any sexual or physical abuse involved, you certainly need to seek help from the proper authorities immediately.)
That said, even when we need to pull back from someone, we can still show honor, love, and respect every step of the way. There was a time when Eric and I were connected with a pastor, and we eventually discovered that he had some serious sinful strongholds in his life of which he was unrepentant. It was not a sin that would endanger other people, but a sin that we knew we could not stand with. We saw clearly that we needed to break our connection with him, but we also felt that we were to do so in a discreet and loving way so as not to expose him to “public disgrace” — just as Joseph intended to do with Mary. (See Matthew 1:19.)
We stepped away from our association with this man as quietly as we could. When people asked us about our decision to separate from him, we explained it in a delicate and honorable way with as few details as possible. In this way, we were able to be true to our own conscience and to God’s leading, without being fleshly and dishonoring to a fellow leader in the process.
Every situation is different, but the bottom line is this: Ungodly behavior on someone else’s part does not justify ungodly behavior on our part. No matter what steps you take in response to a leader or authority figure that you disagree with, be sure that your actions are always marked by grace, discretion, and love.
3. Choose Prayer Over Criticism
I love what Oswald Chambers says: “God never gives us discernment so that we may criticize; but so that we may intercede.” It can be tempting to constantly nitpick your parents, husband, or leaders and become critical of their actions and decisions. For some reason, we tend to expect anyone in authority to be perfect instead of human. But rather than being nitpicky and critical, God asks us to extend grace to them, and pray diligently about the things that may concern us. Remember, our authorities will never be perfect this side of heaven. We honor them not because of their perfection, but because of the position that God has given them in our lives.
I can say from personal experience that being a parent is no easy task. Being a spiritual leader and teacher is even more daunting and challenging. James’ words ring very true for me, “let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (Jas. 3:1). I have found that this is not only true of the coming Judgment, but also in the here-and-now. As a leader, I sometimes feel that I receive far more strict criticism and judgment from fellow Christians than I do encouragement and appreciation. This can become extremely demoralizing, and I have sometimes wrestled with the temptation to give up my calling and ministry because of it.
But in contrast, what an amazing blessing it is when I interact with believers who offer grace, love, and prayer instead of nitpicking and criticism. It is truly refreshing and encouraging at the deepest level to find Christians who really apply the principle “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) toward their leaders and authorities. Most parents and leaders I’ve met struggle with feeling like failures, and they are far more aware of their own faults than those who observe them. So take time to walk a mile in their shoes once in a while. Don’t expect perfection from them, but diligently pray for them to be made more and more into the likeness of Christ. Extend grace for their shortcomings. And remember that being in a position of authority is not easy. Next time you are tempted to criticize — pray for them instead. And above all — treat them exactly the way you want to be treated if and when God places you in a position of authority in someone else’s life. Jesus reminds us that treating others as we want to be treated sums up the entire law and prophets — so let’s not overlook it! (See Matthew 7:12.)
. . .
The way we respond to our earthly authorities often defines how we respond to our ultimate authority — God. So this is not an area to take lightly. If you have been treating your parents, husband, elders, or leaders in a dishonoring way, ask God to forgive you and teach you how to walk in the opposite manner. If you have hurt those in authority over you through a rebellious or prideful attitude, take time to make things right with those people.
THIS IS NOT AN AREA TO TAKE LIGHTLY
Maybe you simply need to express your appreciation and gratitude to those who have invested into your life. Or God may be asking you to show deference and respect for the older generations, rather than dismissing them as old-fashioned and out of touch. Whatever practical steps God places on your heart, be willing to swallow your pride, get out of your comfort zone, and go against the tide of what is normal to our culture in this area of your life. Honoring authority may at first seem like a dismal responsibility. But if you embrace it joyfully and walk this narrow path by the grace of God, you will soon discover the unmatched strength and blessing that begins to flow into your life as a result — not to mention a closer walk with Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:13-14 says, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors…” (emphasis added). And Colossians 3:22-23 states, “Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men…” (emphasis added).
All throughout Scripture we are reminded of the One we are truly submitting to when we honor our authorities — Jesus Christ. Let’s remember how much He humbled Himself for our sakes. Are we willing to humble ourselves for His?