Who says we have to respect authority?

Feb 14, 2017 by

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I walked the halls of my high school, dreading (yet hoping) that my teacher would be there. Used to be my teacher, that is.

It had been a few years since I’d graduated, and the hallways seemed smaller than I remembered. Yet the place, the sounds and the smells were still the same.

I found him, back in his classroom at the end of the day when all the students had gone home.

It was the moment I dreaded.

“I came to talk to you about something that happened when I was your student,” I explained. “I doubt if you were aware of it, but I did not have an attitude of respect toward you as my teacher,” I said.

“Oh, I knew.” He smiled. “I surely knew.”

OUCH. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

How could he have known?! I wondered.

But then, how could he not?!

Certainly, I had never spoken in disrespect to him. That I knew. I had followed his classroom rules, done my homework, helped other students and cooperated in class. For all practical purposes, I was probably one of his most model students.

Yet underlying my outward demeanor, I had a dislike for this man — partly because of some of his in-classroom and out-of-the-classroom antics. I had this philosophy that, since I didn’t respect him as a person, I didn’t have to respect him as my instructor. My philosophy was wrong. While I didn’t need to like the man he was, I had a responsibility — since I professed to be a follower of Jesus — to show respect for his position as the teacher in my class. It didn’t mean that what he did wasn’t wrong. It just meant that I was.

I failed. Utterly, totally failed.

For that, I had come to ask his forgiveness. He granted it, and I walked out of that building a grateful, wiser person.

Respect for authority

Then there was the time, many years later when I got pulled over for speeding in our small town of Halifax. The officer (young enough to be my son) who gave me that yellow piece of paper was rude and flippant with me. A few days later, driving through town, he passed me while on duty, and I knew he was going over the speed limit. Proved it, because I pulled in line behind him to see how fast I had to go to keep up. You can be sure I was shaking my head.

It’s good I didn’t have an encounter with him soon after that, especially if he was in uniform, for I fear I would have struggled with my attitude toward him. As it was, I dropped back to the proper speed and never saw him again.

His uniform and position called for my respect even though he did exactly what he had reprimanded me for doing. That’s where the struggle lies. He was wrong, but my concern needed to be to make sure that I wasn’t (wrong, that is.)

We expect those in authority to fill the shoes they are wearing.

They should. When they fail, we offer disdain and lack of cooperation instead of respecting the title and the position. It doesn’t mean they aren’t wrong. It just means that we are.

It doesn’t surprise me when those who deny the name of Jesus refuse to cooperate or respect those in authority. I’m not surprised when folks who don’t belong to the body of Christ refuse to accept those in authority over them.

What surprises (and saddens me) is when those of us who claim to know Jesus as Savior follow the footsteps of those who deny Jesus.

Refusing to show and allow respect for those in authority, they justify their actions on the basis of a lack of character. It doesn’t mean that those in authority aren’t wrong. It just means that we are.

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. (Rom. 13:1-3)

Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus ask us to contribute to those who do wrong, to justify them, to excuse their actions or to applaud what they do. Nowhere are we told to look the other way when an injustice is done to others. Nowhere. Yet we are called to honor and respect the position and the title. For the followers of Jesus, it’s not a choice.

As citizens of the kingdom, we are also called to prayers and intercessions for “kings and all in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). It’s not a choice. It’s a command to pray for those who are in any authority over us. It is a way we respect authority.

I don’t expect those who deny Jesus to follow this command in the Bible. I don’t expect them to respect authority like I am called to do because they are not following the same standard.

For those of us who are followers of Christ, we have no other option — whether it is in response to local, state or national officials. Whether it’s in response to a teacher, a principal, a youth leader, a committee chairperson, a supervisor, administrator, the town mayor, the governor or the president, we are to show respect for the position.

Gert Slabach is a member of Faith Mennonite Church in South Boston, Va., which is part of Mountain Valley Mennonite Churches. She blogs at My Windowsill, where this post first appeared.


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  • Matt Landis

    A good encouragement to “honor all men” (1Peter 2:17), especially in times when

    A question that I’ve been rolling around in my mind recently, and what seems to be the crux of the Christian issue of “honoring” in light of the fact that most Christians are familiar with Romans 13, is what precisely “honor” looks like. I think the below sentences in the article are getting at this issue:

    “Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus ask us to contribute to those who do wrong, to justify them, to excuse their actions or to applaud what they do. Nowhere are we told to look the other way when an injustice is done to others. Nowhere.”

    Does “honor” include calling a ruler “that fox”? (Luke 13:32) Does calling rulers murderers fall inside the realm of “honor”? (Acts 7:52) Is it honoring to use “kings acting as kings” as an example how *not* to act? “Expressly *don’t* act like Gentile kings!” (Luke 22:25)

    Thanks for the challenge to honor all men.

  • Rainer Moeller

    I have always struggled with the same problem.

    But I suppose that my solution is somewhat different. I don’t really “respect” authorities. I try to like them as persons. They are under a stress to keep other people under their influence; they are under stress to keep a good opinion about themselves – all things I happily don’t need. And I try to make their lives no more difficult than necessary.

  • Craigory Frantz

    Menno Simons said “transgressing the commandments of men cannot lead to eternal death.”
    In the 16th century, a time of tyranny and state-churchism, the anabaptists stood up and accepted death and exile for their outspoken rejection of authority. They did so because through their faith, through their direct reading of the gospels (itself an act of defiance), they knew that those in authority were wrong.
    Simons could have been talking about today when he said:
    “If I hope to find authorities that fear God, rightly perform the office to which they have been called and rightly use their sword, I find indeed mostly a Lucifer, Antiochus and Nero. For they place themselves in Christ’s stead in such a way that their decrees must have authority above the word of God.”
    The Anabaptists followed in the path of Jesus when they rejected tyranny at the expense of their lives and their freedom. The opinions of Paul, and of Luther- those are the commandments of men.

  • Harvey Yoder

    A good word.