In the Bible, disrespect is always a bad thing, and respect is universally a good thing. Respect is admiration for a person because of his or her position, abilities, qualities, or achievements. Respect is associated with esteem, regard, high opinion, admiration, reverence, deference, and honor. In the Bible, respect is more specifically the act of acknowledging another person’s worth, especially because of position, honor, or age. Disrespect is the opposite of respect: it is failing to acknowledge another’s worth, withholding the honor that should be given, or actively demeaning someone.
Respect should be given to those who are owed respect (Romans 13:7). The Bible mentions four categories of people to whom respect should be given: elders, authority figures, Jesus Christ, and mankind in general. First, elders are owed respect because of their age and experience. The Law includes a mandate to honor the face of an old man (Leviticus 19:32), and nations or people who disrespect their elders are called “hard-faced” (Deuteronomy 28:50, ESV). Paul exhorts Timothy not to rebuke older men in the same way he would rebuke young men, but to be gentle and encouraging and respectful, as to a father (1 Timothy 5:1). Since the experience that comes with old age is a key element in wisdom, to respect one’s elders is to respect the wisdom they can give.
Authority figures are another group in the Bible who are owed respect, including political leaders (1 Peter 2:17), councilmen (Mark 15:43), church overseers (1 Timothy 3:2), spiritual leaders (1 Thessalonians 5:12), good fathers who discipline their children (Hebrews 12:9), parents in general (Exodus 20:12; Matthew 15:4), husbands (Ephesians 5:33), and the masters of servants or slaves. Interestingly, slaves are told to respect their masters not only when their masters are good and gentle, but also when they are harsh and unjust (1 Peter 2:18).
Jesus Christ deserves the honor and respect of man, but He was given much disrespect when He came to save. This was especially true in Jesus’ home region of Galilee (John 4:44). Jesus told a parable once about a landowner (God) who sent his beloved son (Jesus) to a group of tenant vinedressers to check on the state of his vineyards. The landowner believed that his tenants would respect his son, but they did not. Instead, they showed him the ultimate disrespect, throwing him out of his own family’s vineyard and putting him to death (Matthew 21:33–40). The warning at the end of this parable is sobering: what do you think the owner of the vineyard will do to those servants, in payment for their violence and disrespect, when he arrives?
Finally, respect is something that is owed to humanity in general, from one person to another, simply on the basis of our humanity. We each bear the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Another parable is told about a wicked judge who did not fear God or respect man (Luke 18:2). The judge’s disrespect for people is a feature of his wickedness in the story. Christians are not only to honor their fellow believers (Romans 12:10), but also to respect those who do not believe. As we witness to the truth, and the hope that we have in Christ, we should do it with gentleness and not show disrespect (1 Peter 3:15).
First Peter 2:17 sums up the virtue of respect nicely: “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”