If you are part of my classroom, you will say these words to me. Why? It could be the increasing amount of grey hairs in my beard (or the decreasing amount of total hairs on my head). It could be I have a couple of degrees hanging on the wall that show I studied something somewhere. It could be the simple fact I'm bigger and stronger than you (well, most sixth graders). Age, education, and strength each are cited as reasons to honor someone, but this isn't why a child says, "yes, sir" to me, or I return a "yes, sir" or "yes, ma'am" back to them. The reason we do this in my classroom is dictated by the etiquette in American South, The Golden Rule, and simplicity of love; it is a sign of respect (1 Cor 13:5).
Sounding respectful can be pretty simple. Litter your language with the above mentioned "ma'am" and "sir", "please", "thank you", and "excuse me", and you are more likely to get what you want and thought of as well-mannered. However, where the waters become a bit more difficult to navigate, and where we might find ourselves drifting in the sea of disrespect is when we disagree with someone's opinion, belief, or actions. Surprisingly, I've had more than one student, parent, fellow teacher, or administrator disagree with me (cue shock). In these disagreements, sometimes I am correct party, but sometimes I could not be more wrong (cue more shock). I have noticed an important truth from both sides of this coin: there is a positive correlation between the amount of respect shown and how well criticism and correction are received, and ultimately, lead to permanent change. Being right is not enough; you can beat your gong and clang your cymbals all day long, but if your course is not charted by an unselfish love, you are useless, interfering noise (1 Cor 13:1-2).
Every single person deserves love and respect. God has stitched and hand-picked a purpose for everyone of us (Psalm 139:13-14; Col 1:16). We are all players in His salvation plan, knowingly, or even unwittingly (Acts 2:23). Therefore, if we are His creation, we are all sucking the same air, and searching for the same truth - although many have yet to find it - (Psalm 19:1-4) doesn't this dictate that we are on the same playing field (Gal 3:28)? That we should "love our neighbors as ourselves?" (Mark 12:31)? And that we are called to replace fear with perfect love (1 John 4:18)? Jesus Christ is our ultimate human example of being "right", consequently putting him in a position of having a bone to pick with a lot of people. Thankfully, the people that disagree with him, the people that walk away from him, or the people that actively persecute Him (see: Saul) are also the same people for which Jesus lived and died, actively pursuing a relationship with them: Pharisees, Gentiles, government officials, political activist, the disreputable, the notorious, and even you and me. So the question is how do we offer respect, love, and correction that looks more like Jesus and less like the growing dissension, discouragement, and disparagement that we see escalating in our social environments today?
1. Make sure you know what you are talking about. It's obnoxious and unproductive when someone offers an opinion without doing their homework, or even worse, offering ironic advice they themselves should take to heart. Jesus speaks to this and offers a starting point when we think we are ready to be the sharers of advice. Check your eyes. If you find there is a plank in your eye, work on that instead of playing doctor for someone else (Matt 7:1-5). The measure of grace we use to offer correction is truly the measure which we are judged, not only by God, but by those around us who know are deeds in full. Here are some specifics examples to get your mind stirring, and I pray are truth spoken in love. Don't roll your eyes at the greed of politicians if you cheat on your taxes (1 Cor 6:7,8). Don't complain about your lackof a raise when you don't fulfill all your work obligations (Matt 25:24,25) . Don't act justified when you gossip because others are talking behind your back (Ps 15:2,3). Don't post about the Bible's stance of sexuality if you aren't respecting the boundaries of biblical marriage (Matt 5:27,28). Don't complain about how much cursing, nudity, violence, etc. ends up in movies if you are still watching them (Jam 4:17). These examples only scratch the surface of how we are to biblically "check yo' self before you reck yo' self". If you don't take the time to honestly examine and criticize yourself beforehand, it is very likely you will still receive an honest criticism, but it will come from the brother or sister you are trying to correct with the addition of disrespect, contempt, and hurt.
2. Run towards the fire, not away from it. Hearing, "FIRE!" in a shared space, our natural instinct is to quickly identify where the alarming event is taking place and to run away from the flames. Conversely, if we knew someone we loved was in the direction of a blazing inferno, our instinct would take us sprinting in the direction of the flames to save him/her without hesitation. This instinctual reaction, "fight or flight", often plays out the same way when we see someone dealing with sin. It is much easier to deal with the dangers of sin by running away from a sinner. It is true we are to "flee from evil" (Amos 5:14-15), but in our pursuit of staying away from evil, we must also run towards what is good. We cannot simply run to safety only to watch those in danger engulfed in the flames. Jesus is our example of a salvation-welding firefighter, reminding me of an exchange from Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, "Is he safe? Of course, he isn't safe! But he's good." This reckless heart of Jesus is shown in the story of Zacchaeus. Jesus could have avoided him, acting like he never saw him in the tree, he could have rebuked Zacchaeus, "Repent, you sinner!" and kept moving forward, waited until Zacchaeus was out of earshot and talked trashed about him, but instead, Jesus stopped and invited himself into the house of this well-known sinner. Zachaeus was most likely a theif, he might have used "F" bombs, women, or drugs, he may not have been to church in a decade, or ever, yet Zacchaeus, and the many people who Christians avoid like him, are actively trying to pursue, although they may not be able to pinpoint, a relationship with Jesus Christ. Our goal is to love them and take the risk of fighting the flames alongside them. In truth, if we aren't willing to love in this way, a different fire may be waiting for us (Matt 25:31-46).
Peace without truth is an illusion. You can love and respect someone through time, encouragement, praise, and even gifts; however, a proposal with the largest diamond can still be received with a "no." For these investments to be valuable, they must be defined by truth which we are often so willing to broker away for the impersonation of peace. If we don't say anything, it will go away, right? Actually, it grows. When we don't speak the truth in love, especially concerning sin, our silence becomes acceptance, then definition, forever changing the norm. In John 4, Jesus stops to rest and to have a drink on his way from Judea to Galilee. He speak to a Samaritan woman at Jacob's well crossing cultural boundaries, delivering the Gospel message, but also, mentioning modification she needs to make in her life. It would have been easier to get the water himself, or possibly, talk about the weather, sports, or tell a joke and be thought of as a "nice Jew"; however, stopping short of this not only would have fatalistically impacted this woman, but also her family and friends group who ask Jesus to stay and share his message because of this encounter (Luke 4:39-42). We too must speak truth as we build relationship, derailing our schedules and having the awkward conversations. What happens when our truth delivered in loved is rejected? We can have peace, although, it doesn't mean everything is settled or there isn't more we can do. Many times, we can continue to respect, love, have a relationship, minister, and pray as others wrestle with the truth and are convicted by its spirit placed upon them. Stopping short to save short-term stress, to have your rest and drink in silence, could result of long-term culture and life-altering consequences.
If we apply principles like these - know what you’re talking about, run towards the fire, and speak truth in love - we will not only be well-mannered, but increase the opportunity for our message to be well-received. Please respect others they way you want to be respected. Thank you for loving others the way you want to be loved. Excuse me for offering correction, but it is in the way I want to be corrected, to ultimately allow us to say, "Yes, Sir" to the Father and to the place He needs us to be to grow our relationship through Christ Jesus.