In the 10 years I spent in the workforce, I was blessed with an entourage of amazing bosses. They were the best an employee could ask for: flexible, understanding, supportive people who inspired me to do my best work. All except for one.
In reality, she wasn’t my boss at all. But I was low enough on the workplace totem pole to do some of her grunt work, and she was more than happy to send it my way. Not only was she demanding, but she was also rude, condescending and downright mean. As the youngest member of the staff, I was completely terrified of her, and the clack of her stilettos was enough to send me into the knee hole of my desk. The only thing stronger than my fear of her was the resentment I harbored in my heart. Her authority required my respect—which was the last thing I wanted to give her.
How do we respect authority when the person doesn’t deserve it? Sooner or later we all must operate under the leadership of someone with whom we don’t agree—or worse, someone whose behavior doesn’t merit the title of “leader” at all. Do we give respect to people like this? The Bible gives us an answer.
The Example of Jesus
Jesus—son of God, heir to the heavenly throne—submitted to earthly authority during His ministry (Philippians 2:6-8). The fact that He set aside His deity to operate under an earthly structure of family and government is truly astonishing. It illustrates His profound humility, which is an essential factor in giving respect. Jesus never overthrew the government—regardless of its corruption—and in this sense, He was a disappointment to many of His followers. They wanted a radical savior, one who would rescue them from evil leaders! But Jesus didn’t come for that purpose.
Jesus’ most explicit command concerning authority was regarding government, which He discussed in Mark 12. Here Jesus explained that submission to God was not mutually exclusive with submission to earthly authorities:
They brought one. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” And they said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed at Him. (Mark 12:16-17)
Although Jesus didn’t come to overthrow earthly kingdoms (even evil ones), He never ceased from speaking the truth to them and about them. Jesus confronted the Pharisees about their hypocrisy (Luke 11:37-54). He stood His ground in the face of Pilate and Herod (Luke 23). But He was never disrespectful to them—even when they condemned Him to death.
The Advice of Paul
As an apostle of God, empowered by His Spirit, Paul took Jesus’ teachings and brought them home for the early church. His writings—and the works of the other New Testament authors—teach us how to live out the attitudes Christ exemplified in the practical problems of life. One such issue is respecting authority, and Paul talked often on the subject.
In his letter to Rome, Paul said, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1)
The authorities in our homes, jobs and government have been allowed to operate in those positions for a specific time. God is aware of these people and their actions; He “changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others.” (Daniel 2:21) This is a comfort to those of us with difficult leaders. When we wonder how to respect people who don’t deserve it, we can look to Jesus’ example and remember: “It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.” (Psalm 75:7)
Jesus said to Pilate: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” (John 19:11). If God allowed an earthly man to wield power over Jesus in order to accomplish His divine purpose, we can rest in the knowledge that even the most unrespectable leaders are part of God’s purpose for us. Sometimes difficulty—and difficult people—can allow us to accomplish more for God than we ever imagined.
So follow Jesus’ example and Paul’s advice. Choose respect—and allow God to be your justice and your defense.