What is respect?

I think all of us have said inappropriate things in public, wishing we could have grabbed the words right out of the air before they reached the waiting ears of those around us.  Other times, it is hours or even days before we find out how insensitive or downright hurtful our comments were.  That is unless it was said in front of our spouse or even worse, spoken about our spouse. In that case our correction will be swift and certain!

What is described in Esther, chapter one, the request by the King that his queen display herself before his guests with only her crown as a covering on the final day of festivities, was by anyone’s standards, over the top (v.10, 11).  To make matters worse, this was on the last day of the post party, party, when the public at large was invited to attend.  Whether the king was drunk or not, his request was both an insult to Queen Vashti and his way of telling her, “I have absolutely no respect for you.”

Of course she refused and if the matter had ended there, with the king and his drunken guests simply laughing at her predictable response, there would have probably been no further fuss or repercussions.  After all, he is the king.  Yet Xerxes had to have known what her response would be, but for what ever reason it certainly appears that this was part of a larger plot to remove Vashti from power, while at the same time intended to humiliate her. In verse nine we are told that the Queen “also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace.”  This banquet was most likely only days before the king’s request for her self debasement.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what was whispered and rumored at this exclusive affair?  We can only be left to speculate. The king’s response to Vashti’s refusal to submit to his command is found in verse 12, “Then the king became furious and burned with anger.”  But what was really burning him up, was it her disobedience, or something else?  It’s clear from the story that it was all about respect; in fact it was a battle for respect.  Both of them wanted it, in fact they demanded it, but it was nowhere to be found.

At the center of Paul’s teaching in Ephesians chapter five and Peter’s in 1Peter chapter three, on how wives and husbands are to relate to one another, the word that takes center stage is respect.  Of course love is also an imperative, but it is by showing each other respect that we demonstrate to the world what kind of love we hold for each other. We are reflecting the love that God, in Christ has for us and His love is completely selfless and sacrificial.  That’s easy to say, less easy to do, and oft-times, down right difficult to really mean, regardless of what we might say or do. So how are we to proceed, what’s the secret to showing respect and meaning it, deep down in your heart where only you and God know your true motivations?

The answer is found in Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  Submission begins with humility and ends in complete joy (Philippians 2:2). This is explained to us in Philippians 2:1-5 and although Paul isn’t speaking specifically of the relationship between a husband and wife, it is probably even more applicable to married couples, than any other relationship between two or more people.  Why?  Because marriage is the one relationship that God has uniquely blessed and given privileges and pleasures that no other two people are to share.  Paul makes the contrast, in verse three, between acting out of selfish ambition or vain conceit and considering others better than ourselves, this being the very definition of humility. Paul does make the assumption in verse 4 that we will always act in our own self-interest but that we must add the interests of others and place them before our own. If we do so, the results will be that we will begin to understand, possess, and reflect the same attitude as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (v.5).

The reality is that in the world and culture in which we live, to consider others better than ourselves is an alien concept. Sure, there are times that it enters our vocabulary, like when we see the skills of a professional athlete and say, “Wow, I wish I could do what they do!”  But often what we are really saying is, “I wish I was as good as them or even better so I could get the recognition they do.”  I can’t think of a single occasion when I told my children to think of others as their betters.  In fact, I know I encouraged them to strive to be the best, to excel and to be a winner at whatever they tried to do.  Was I wrong?  Of course not, but the key here is “selfish ambition.”

The reason or purpose to strive for excellence is not for our own glory and benefit but so that we can credit God in Christ for our success and have it be a testimony to Him.  It was Jesus who said, “When as man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me.  When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me (John 12:44, 45).”  We too are to say, “Don’t look at me, but the one who sent me and empowers me.” Your desire for excellence then becomes a demonstration of humility and will encourage others to inquire about and desire that which makes you what you really are.  Again, this is as much a matter of attitude as it is behavior.  Paul says, “consider others better than yourselves.”  This is more a matter of the mind, a self-reflection and is what others will see in us when we speak and act in humility.

So, at the center or core of respect is humility and in order to be truly humble, we must do as Christ did, “Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place… (Philippians 2:6-9).”

Tool #345  Did your words last night or what you did this morning with your spouse reflect an attitude of humility, considering them, better than you?  If not… why not?

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