Should I Respect Someone Who Disrespects Me?

The value of extending undeserved honor

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We know that God is love, and that as Christians, love is our highest calling. Most believers even know the Bible teaches us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us. (Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:28). However, recent events in my life have aroused a further question in my mind; am I called to respect everyone too?

Bob and I have been trying to figure out how to best address the disrespectful talk, tone, and behavior we get at times from Connor. A part of me believes that my son should respect me simply because I am his mother. So, when he is rude or defiant, something within me wants to scream out, “You don’t talk to me like that!” That approach doesn’t work by the way. Believe me; I’ve tried.

Last week I put up a sign on our refrigerator with three core family values: love, respect, and truth. I typed up scriptures under each word and told Connor that we needed to first ask ourselves if what we said (or how we said something) was: loving, respectful, and true. If it did not meet these three criteria, then it should not be said.

The very same day I put up the sign, Connor walks up to me and taps me on the arm. I was talking to Bob so I told Connor to wait and not interrupt me. He kept tapping me on the arm. Finally he interjected, “Mom – remember the sign!” He pointed to it, diligently reminding me of our three questions. I realized then that my tone with Bob was not a kind one. I was disagreeing with him in a manner that did not demonstrate respect. Oh man, I thought, what did I get myself into?

I acknowledged my fault, apologized to Bob, and told Connor it was good we had those three words on the fridge . . . because I needed the constant reminder too (maybe more than I realized). For the most part, I believe Bob and I speak respectfully to each other, but I started to wonder how many times we didn’t . . . and what Connor was watching and learning, and maybe even emulating from us.

When praying about how to best parent Connor through his challenges, God whispered something very simple to my spirit. He said I should parent Connor like He parents me. As I meditated on this thought, I realized a few key things. Though God always deserves my respect, He doesn’t ever demand it. He doesn’t force me to listen and obey by strong-arming me into submission. Rather, He lovingly comes along side me in the midst of my sin and gently points me in the right direction.

Secondly, God disciplines me when needed, but He never tries to control me. (Hebrews 12:7) Even when He corrects me, it is not because He is angry; it is because He wants the best for me.  Everything He does is motivated by love, which is why even His discipline is different from punishment. (1 John 4:18) There is fear in punishment, and when Jesus came, he conquered all fear with His love. So if Jesus came to set us free, and God wants me to parent like Him, I needed to find a way to discipline my son with freedom, not legalism.  We are told in scripture not to exasperate our children (Ephesians 6:4), and I believe there is a big difference between punishment that brings bondage, and life-giving discipline.

Since God made each of us in His image, we all have innate value. Because of this, God honors me as His own, even when I am a mess. He does not treat me like I deserve to be treated, but rather deals with me based on my inherent worth as His own.  Though His love is always constant, we can fall into the trap of thinking God doesn’t "like us" when we make mistakes. In a similar way, Connor knew without a doubt that I always loved him, but I am not sure he believed that I always liked him.  I began to rethink my approach with Connor, wondering if I needed to treat him with more respect, even in the midst of conflict . . . when he least deserved it.  

So, I am in the process of learning how to honor my son in the midst of his disrespect. This does not mean that I will ignore his poor behavior; rather, it means my disposition with him will remain calm and respectful while I enforce the consequences of his choices. I will give no looks of shock or disgust if he acts inappropriately . . . because God does not do this with me. Though I have only just begun to implement this new approach, already Connor is responding more positively to me than before.

As Russell Evans writes in his book “The Honor Key,” “When you give or release honor, you attract honor.” Of course this principle translates into any relationship, not just parent and child. In his book “Culture of Honor,” Danny Silk writes, “Honor creates life-giving and life-promoting relationships. The key here is ‘accurately acknowledging who people are.’ We can only do this when we recognize their God-given identities and roles.” When we focus on someone’s God-given value, instead of their faults, we help stir up their true potential in Christ.

One of the scriptures on our fridge is “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Rom 12:10)  To honor someone is to regard them highly, and treat them with great respect.  Honor is something I have always believed people were supposed to earn. However, when I examine the scriptures, I see something different.

I read about David, who refused to dishonor Saul under any circumstance. David believed that since Saul was chosen by God to be king, that no one should come against him. Though I can understand David respecting Saul’s position as king, certainly Saul hunting down David’s life would be an exception to the rule! Yet David still refused to kill him, even when it “appeared” God had delivered Saul into his hands. David believed that it was God’s place alone to judge Saul, and that David should not avenge himself. He honored Saul by approaching him with humility and respect, even in his dire circumstances.

Many of us have had situations in our life when our employers were unfair, unkind, or they went back on their word. It is an awful thing to go through, but 1 Peter 2:18-19 teaches us how we are to respond; “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” Those are some hard words to swallow, but the Bible teaches us to always honor the authorities in our lives (Romans 13:1), not just when they are right or fair. The only exception to this is if they violate scripture (Acts 5:29). However, this scriptural directive of “being subject with respect” does not mean we have to agree with these authority figures, nor does it mean we have to keep quiet without offering input (though He may ask us to do this). Rather, it means we are to have an attitude of respect and submission no matter how we are treated – it has to do with the spirit behind our words and behavior. When we honor the authorities in our lives, we are also honoring God (Colossians 3:23-24). Scripture says that rebellion is like witchcraft, so if our hearts are set against the authority figures in our life, we will not bear good fruit. The fruits of the Spirit are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the things we will foster in our relationships when we extend respect and honor.

There was a season in my life when I faced repeated conflict with an authority figure. This woman would falsely accuse me of things, berate me behind closed doors, and take away my privileges when she could. It was miserable. When praying about the situation, I felt God direct me to speak to this individual with gentleness and respect, no matter what she said to me. Instead of taking a defensive posture, I started to remain calm on the outside. I still felt like I was about to explode in anger on the inside, but I remember hearing the Lord say, “Fake it till you make it.” I thought that was strange, because I don’t want anything fake or superficial in my relationships. I want to be genuinely patient, loving, and kind. However, I later realized what this meant. I was going to have to PRACTICE renewing my mind with God’s truth and walking that out. I would have to continually choose it each day . . . and though it would not feel natural at first, over time, the kind words and gentle responses would become my norm.

Learning to honor others while they disrespect us is not easy, but thankfully God does not leave us to our own devices - He sent us the Holy Spirit as our helper. I learned from my experiences that no one had the power to make me angry; I made the choice whether to be angry or not. I discovered that when I treated others with respect, they no longer had the ability to “trigger me” into a place of frustration.  Treating others with honor (even when being disrespected) severed their control over my peace.  This meant that no matter what happened, I got to keep my joy. (Philippians 4:12-13)

I have learned that honor is not about what anyone deserves. As Bill Johnson says, “This (honor) culture is never built around ‘what I need.’ It is built around ‘what I can give.’ And if I don’t learn to give it to those who deserve it the least, I will continue to live in an environment without honor.”  Without honor, our relationships and lives will never become what God intended them to be, and we will be the ones who suffer.

When we honor others as God’s valuable creation, we call forth their true identity within. This is the way we were designed to battle disrespect, by treating people with honor. In doing so, we strengthen the treasure that lies within them, and may even help them discover their God-given DNA in the process. As they say at Bethel Church, "Life flows through honor." So, let's start sowing more seeds of life by honoring all who cross our path, even the difficult ones. Especially the difficult ones.

Further Reading:

"Culture of Honor: Sustaining a Supernatural Environment" by Danny Silk

"The Honor Key" by Russell Evans

"Culture of Honor" podcast by Danny Silk

Carey McNamara

I am a wife to Bob, a mom to Connor, and a physician assistant who is passionate about beating heart disease. As a devoted lover of Jesus, I am on an unending quest for more truth, love, and wholeness through Him. I have come to a place in my life where I realize God is not afraid of my questions, and I have learned the joy of pursuing Him until I discover His heart. As a result, I created a blog to encourage others in their own journey towards Life, Liberty, and Love in Christ. I am passionate about doing life authentically in community, and am thrilled to share a bit of that with you here.

*Please comment respectfully. I welcome honesty as you share your thoughts and feelings. However, since many of these subjects are controversial, I ask that you take care to honor others in the process. I reserve the right to delete any inappropriate comments.