A Culture of Respect I

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With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness … My brothers, this should not be (James 3:9, 10).

Image of God – Basis for Respect

The Bible teaches us to deeply respect human beings because they are made in the image of God.  No other basis can be found in any religion or philosophy for having such high regard for human beings. Secondly the Bible teaches us to respect all those in offices of authority because they represent God’s authority. The western world historically based its regard for human beings upon the bedrock of these convictions. These convictions have largely been abandoned in the West, and in the United States there is a cultural battle of amazing proportions taking place over them. John Lennon, the famous Beatle songwriter, wrote in “Imagine” that a world with no God and no religious convictions, would be a world at peace. What a delusion! There were horrors in the western world in the days of greater Biblical world view influence, mostly before the 20th century. But they paled in comparison to the terrors from those who have repudiated this God-centered world view (for example, Nazi and Communist philosophies). The loss of the Biblical World View in the West has produced a loss of respect for human beings. Human beings have become subjects of the all-powerful government which becomes god.  People are simply cogs in corporate and national machines.

Culture of Respect in Believing Community

My concern in this article is about how believers treat each other.  In the last 40 years we have seen a pronounced coarsening of culture, part of which is in evidence in the way people speak to each other. I believe I saw this change during my own years as a school boy. All of my buddies and I knew that there were certain ways we did and did not speak if we were “good” boys.  Coarsening is manifest in the way that people treat one another in business, in dealings with government clerks and even in the Church. In Israel, many have sadly succumbed to these trends. One of the great challenges in Israel (and of course in the West) is for followers of Yeshua to create a culture of respect in congregational communities. Our concern is not primarily for the culture of the larger society but for the manifestation of the Kingdom in the Body of Believers. This is a struggle because so many in the West have compromised with the patterns of disrespect. The coarsening of life undercuts our sense of our worth in God. It darkens our perception of the value and beauty of God’s creation and thereby diminishes human happiness.

What are the Keys to Create a Culture of Respect?

1. We are to treat one another by the Biblical standard of: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Yeshua and Judaism well taught that this summarizes our obligations to the Torah with regard to human beings. The standards of Torah are best applied in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Reading Yeshua’s teaching in the light of this command is enlightening. His commandments reveal the nature of how to treat each other as created in God’s image. Therefore we do not murder or hate, or commit adultery or lust in our minds. We do not divorce. We act in kindness and even show love to our enemies. Modesty in dress is another standard of respect with regard to human sexuality.

2. Our speech especially is to sincerely show our deep regard for human beings created in God’s image.  This is first to be manifest in a respectful tone of voice. A harsh and rejecting tone is sometimes due to our own fears and hurts. We must gain the Spirit’s fruit of self control resisting the temptation to speak in an angry and vengeful manner. Scripture reveals this standard when Paul teaches that our speech is to be always with grace, seasoned with salt (Col. 4:6). Indeed, Scripture commands perfect courtesy. This implies the avoidance of coarse speech. Classical speech standards developed from the intuitive sense that we are to call attention to that which elevates our sense of the value of human beings. It also implied that we are to speak about those bodily functions that are unattractive in scientific terms when needed, or that we allude indirectly to such matters, but do not speak in demeaning and coarse ways. Dirty language is not consistent with this standard. We especially need to teach our young people good standards, since their peers teach them that it is cool to use coarse language. Ephesians summaries this as follows, “Do not let any unwholesome word come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29, NIV).

3. The subject of human sexuality is especially to be treated with great respect.  In the Biblical view, human sexuality is a great gift given to us as part of the bonding experience of marriage, and for the privilege of participating with God in creating children. I believe that the joy of sexual bonding is experienced in part because of the joy of God in creating.  God indeed enjoys human sexuality.  The beauty and creativity of human sexuality is enhanced and furthered by speaking about it with respect. Sexual humor and jesting is part of that coarsening disrespect that must be overcome in the community of faith. Paul speaks of this as follows, “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking, which are out of place, but thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:3-4, NIV).  The general practice of using a reference to human sexual intercourse as a four letter adjective that modifies all kinds of nouns is a terrible demeaning of God’s great gift.  Thankfully, believers rarely use such four letter words, but many have slipped into yielding to coarse sexual jokes. May we meditate on God’s standards until our conscience becomes grieved when we hear such language.

These are standards that show our love for one another. To create this kind of counter culture in Israel will be a tremendous challenge. In addition, the challenge of the second issue of respect, that of respect for those in the offices of authority, will also be difficult. We commit ourselves to create a culture of respect in Israel so that the contrast to the world will be clear.  May the light reflected in believing communities bring glory to Yeshua.

 

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