We live in a time when respect for others and their property is lacking. It is not uncommon for youths and even adults to show no deference to the aged, those in authority or those who sacrifice and serve in the community. In the Bible the virtue of respect is conveyed in the words "honor" and "esteem" (Romans 13:7; 1 Peter 2:17; Matthew 15:4; 1 Timothy 6:16; Philippians 2:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:15). Christians have the duty to honor those to whom honor is due, and as parents we have an obligation to train our children to render this respect.
The Bible is specific concerning who is worthy of honor, and why. As a matter of fact, the list is pretty long.
The Apostle Peter enjoins upon us the obligation to "honor all men" (I Peter 2:17). This duty is apparent when one recognizes that as there is no respect of persons with God (Romans 2:11), there is to be no partiality demonstrated by His people (James 2:1, 9). We are everyone made in the image of our God and equal before Him and each other (Genesis 1:26). The deference and respect we show our fellows says a lot about the view we have of ourselves, and it will determine God's view of us in the judgment (Romans 12:13; Philippians 2:3; Luke 1:9-14).
We are enjoined to give honor to those who are the representatives of the civil government (Romans 13:7). God asks us to obey government because it is His minister to the saints for their good (Romans 13:4; cf. John 19:11). Thus, disobedience to government is disobedience to God.
There must be mutual respect between husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:33; 1 Peter 3:6-7). This respect is demanded by the nature of the marriage relation (Ephesians 5:29). Intimacy demands respect and trust (Hebrews 13:4). When these begin to wane greater sins are not far behind.
Likewise, there is to be mutual respect between employer and employee (I Timothy 6:1-2; Ephesians 6:5-9). The believer who is a supervisor or business owner must regard his employees as worthy of fair dealing knowing God will hold him to account. By the same token, the servant or employee must render true service because he serves the Lord and not man.
The church is called upon to honor their elders "for their works sake" (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). It is understood that they are men of remarkable character and by such command respect, but they have humbled themselves and become the servants of all (Matthew 20:26-28) and have taken the additional burden of being responsible for the souls of the entire flock (James 3:1; Hebrews 13:17). Such sacrifice and service demands recognition.
Similarly, children are commanded to honor their parents (Ephesians 6:2; Matthew 15:4). This honor is due because parents have sacrificed so much for their children (2 Corinthians 12:14; cf. Hosea 11:3; Hebrews 12:8; Job 1:5). They are the guides, the providers and protectors of their offspring. Their love and sacrifice should command our respect; this is why God says, "It is right."
The aged are worthy of our respect (Leviticus 19:32; Proverbs 20:29). However, it is again assumed that they command that respect by their character (Proverbs 16:31; Job 32:9). The aged have attained wisdom through their experiences and spirituality (Job 12:12). Their lives have been a blessing to their families and communities because of their accomplishments. Their posterity is indebted to them for their accomplishments. We do stand on the shoulders of giants.
Finally, or should I say firstly, the Scriptures enjoin the honor of God (Revelation 7:12). God is surely worthy of being honored because he is the Creator (Revelation 4:11). Without Him we are nothing. Our very existence and our eternal well being are wholly dependent upon Him (Revelation 5:12). We honor God by keeping his commandments (John 14:15).
They learn through observation. They learn how to honor their parents by observing how their parents honor one another (Ephesians 5:28, 29), and by seeing how their parents treat their grandparents (1 Timothy 5:4; Matthew 15:6). They learn how to honor government by observing how their parents respect the law (I Peter 2:13-15; Luke 20:25; I Timothy 2:1-2). They learn how to honor their employers by observing how their parents honor theirs (Ephesians 4:28; 6:6-7; 2 Thessalonians 3:10). And, they learn to honor God by observing their parents do the same (Matthew 6:33).
They learn through instruction. Parents have a duty to God and to their children to instruct them in the reasons for being respectful (Proverbs 1:8; 4:1; 6:20; Ephesians 6:1-4). These principles equip them for success in life and prepare them to assume their place in the kingdom. Parents harm their children by not instructing and re-enforcing these truths (Deuteronomy 6:7-9).
They learn by correction. While it is unfortunate, it is nevertheless often necessary to apply correction. A failure to do this when it is called for encourages further disrespect (Ecclesiastes 8:11). For this reason then, God has allowed for government to punish evildoers (Romans 13:2, 4), the church to correct the unrepentant (Titus 1:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6), and parents to discipline their children (Proverbs 13:24).
We observed earlier that when God commands us to respect certain individuals it is assumed they are respectable. One of the difficult lessons to learn in life is that we are sometimes disappointed by those whom we have come to respect. Parents sin (Colossians 3:21); elders digress (1 Timothy 5:19-20); governments become corrupt (Psalms 9:17); men become wicked (2 Timothy 3:13). In times like these, we remember that the honor we give others, even the undeserving, is a reflection of the esteem with which we hold Christ (Ephesians 6:5-7).
Sometimes the young demand respect for themselves. They are certainly entitled to the same honor which others receive (I Peter 2:17). However, the same assumptions hold for them as well, those honored are honorable and the respected are respectable. Paul admonished Timothy to let no man despise his youth (I Timothy 4:12). In order to accomplish that task Paul urged him to be an example in all areas of life. If we want to be respected we must learn it and earn it.