Respect is part of cherishing someone. One of the beautiful things about Jesus’ engagement with Mary and Martha was his respect for their boundaries after Lazarus died. You can read more about that story here, but even though he was the Son of God, a recognised teacher with a large following, and a man, he still asked for permission to enter into their emotional world. Even though he hadn’t done anything wrong, he listened to and respected the pain his actions had caused. He asked for consent. In Revelation, when Jesus rebukes, encourages, and corrects the churches, he makes it clear he does so out of love. But even though they are, (mostly), in the wrong, he still does not force his way in. He respects their boundaries, and knocks at the door, waiting for permission to enter.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. 1

 

Even the creator of the universe shows respect for boundaries

Psalm 24 is an enthusiastic description of God’s power, his authority, and his strength in battle. In it, David makes clear God owns the whole earth, and in quoting I’m using “Yahweh” from the Hebrew rather than “the LORD”, because that name, Yahweh, was given by God as a description of his absolute power and freedom from any limitations.

The earth is Yahweh’s, and everything in it,

the world, and all who live in it;

for he founded it on the seas

and established it on the waters.2

God is holy. He has boundaries. There is no question here about his worthiness or his authority.

Who may ascend Yahweh’s mountain?

Who may stand in his holy place?

The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,

who does not trust in an idol

or swear by a false god.3

God loves those who care about good things, and who seek him and his way of living.

They will receive blessing from the Lord

and vindication from God their Savior.

Such is the generation of those who seek him,

who seek your face, God of Jacob.4

 

God asks for our consent

And yet… in this celebration of the infinite, all-powerful, good and holy God, who loves his people, we are invited to let him in. There is no greater power imbalance than that between God and us. He knows better than we do in every situation. Yet he asks for consent. He respects the boundaries of our selves. We can, and do, say “yes” or “no”.

Lift up your heads, you gates;

be lifted up, you ancient doors,

that the King of glory may come in.

Who is this King of glory?

Yahweh strong and mighty,

Yahweh mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, you gates;

lift them up, you ancient doors,

that the King of glory may come in.

Who is he, this King of glory?

Yahweh Almighty—

he is the King of glory.5

This psalm ends with a “Selah”. No one knows what it means, but a common “best guess” is it indicates time to reflect. So let’s do that. This God, the King of Glory, asks for our consent before entering. That’s amazing and completely counter to much of our culture.

 

Respect is part of cherishing someone

Jesus calls us, invites us, to follow him. But he has boundaries. It is not enough to just say we follow him, and so call ourselves Christians. Making acceptable theological statements about our beliefs is not enough either. We need to actively follow, and it needs to be expressed in our behaviour.

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. 6

This has implications for all of our relationships. We cannot say we love and treasure a person if we do not show respect for their boundaries, because implicitly, respect is part of cherishing someone. Respect needs to inform the way we treat our children, our friends, our partners, our work colleagues, and anyone else we meet in our daily lives.

 

Respect can guide us in our relationship choices

Jesus doesn’t expect us to be perfect, but he does call us to behavioural standards and expects us to be noticeably different. He said,

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another 7

It’s often helpful to watch how a person treats those who have less power. Although a narcissist might treat us very well when they want something from us, (that “something” might even be to have someone to abuse in the future), they are unlikely to treat everybody well. It’s a well-known classic question, but such a useful one: how do they treat staff in the service industry or people in similar situations?

It is dangerous to lower the bar of our expectations in relationships because of the assumption that all people of a certain gender, race, age, or station in life behave a certain way. They do not. Disrespect for people and their boundaries is an important red flag, and Jesus, while he doesn’t ask for perfection, expects people to behave better. So can we.

Steve Wade

PS If you have concerns about the safety of your relationships or the welfare of another person, you might find 1800RESPECT a helpful place to call.

Disrespect for people and their boundaries is an important red flag, and Jesus, while he doesn't ask for perfection, expects people to behave better. So can we. Click To Tweet

Footnotes

  1. Revelation 3:19-20
  2. Psalm 24:1-2
  3. Psalm 24:3-4
  4. Psalm 24:5-6
  5. Psalm 24:7-10
  6. John 14:23-24
  7. John 13:35

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