“Respect your elders and betters”

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Hebrews 2:10-13

I commented on this passage yesterday (Too Amazing); it’s a passage in which we see very clearly that in Christ, we are members of God’s family, brothers and sisters of Jesus Himself, co-heirs with Him to everything. Indeed, this is a concept which is amazing indeed.

There is so much to be said about this, I could literally post on nothing else for many weeks and only scratch the surface…

Several days ago, I was in a conversation of comments and replies with paulfg, and he made a remark in a reply that really opened my eyes to an angle on this that I hadn’t seen so clearly before, when he mentioned that as a boy he had been taught to “respect your elders and betters”.  Ever since then, I’ve been struggling with how to write this in a way that would accurately reflect my thinking, and yet remain in way of love in the process. I’m not sure if I’ve solved that little dilemma, but here goes.

When I was young, my parents taught me to respect my elders, and they did so very emphatically; it was that I must respect my elders “or else”.

Yet in my upbringing, there was no concept at all about “betters”; quite the opposite really. I was taught that no one was “better” than me, and that I was not “better” than anyone else, therefore there should always be mutual respect. I would imagine that some of this is simply a result of my parents’ way of thinking, and some was the result of culture, since in the US we really don’t have a tradition of class distinction as such, at least not in the sense that some are born into privileged status. That isn’t to say of course, that there aren’t people who consider themselves “American royalty” but little do they know that the rest of us are laughing at their delusions of grandeur.

Nonetheless there are many people in America and elsewhere, who for whatever reason, don’t always see themselves as the equals of certain others, and this is really where this post is going, for this is also the case in Body of Christ.

As followers of Christ, each of us is His brother or sister, as we saw in the Hebrews text; each of us has a spiritual gift, and each of us is precious in God’s sight; there are no “betters”. The preacher, by whatever name your church calls them, is not “better” than anyone else; preachers are regular people who put their pants one leg at a time. The same is true for any other members of “clergy” no matter how exalted they seek to appear in earthly terms. The institutionalized church makes much of rank and position, constantly re-enforcing this myth that some are “better” than others, doing a great disservice to the Body of Christ in the process.

I will quickly concede that some are better educated than others, and that some have more experience than others, and yes, that some are more mature than others, but that is a far cry from being “better” than others. In the church, those who are more educated, experienced or mature are supposed to be the servants of all, not to lord it over others. If your church encourages such people to exalt themselves, rather than serving more, then I’m sorry to say that you are in the wrong church.

You might think that because of your history, you are somehow less worthy of God’s favor, somehow less valuable in His sight: You must realize that you are not defined by your past. We all have a past, and not a single one of us has ever earned God’s favor, which is precisely why His favor is called “grace”. Grace is “unmerited favor” meaning that it is entirely undeserved, yet even so, it is just as real.

All of us should respect our elders in the faith, for they have endured much and served many, but in the end, just like you and me, they are sinners who have been saved by God’s grace. They have the same Spirit in them that you have in you, they are brothers and sisters in Christ, but they are not “betters”, and we are all running the same race together as His co-heirs to glory.

When all is said and done in this life, the greatest in the Kingdom will be the one who served others in humility and set all else aside for the cause of Christ. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see many celebrity grandees doing that, do you?

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20 thoughts on ““Respect your elders and betters””

  1. “respect your elders and betters”
    Culture! I still find it odd that an expression I use without awareness made an impact on you. But so glad it did.
    This a wonderful post! And highlighting so much “now” from just those five small words (but one HUGELY important mind-set!
    Thank you –
    paulfg

  2. I can so get this Don. Largely based on our thoughts on the local church and the absolute independence of the local church, the idea of rank structure is quite foreign to me. Of course our pastors lead the flock but at the same time they have no “legal” authority other than to preach what God has already said. Ask any Deacon his role and each would say simply “servant”

    A while back I had an issue with what one of our deacons had said in a subject and something he had taught. He was pretty clearly off base. I actually spoke to another Deacon hoping he would take care of it. He quickly pointed out that the other fellow didn’t “out rank” Me and that I could simply deal with it as with any other brother or sister

    I enjoyed this one a lot

  3. The whole concept of humility is such a tough one to grasp. Thanks for these insights–we should all be treating others as better than ourselves. Not easy, but we’ve got the best Example possible to follow.

  4. I’m better for having read this…sorry, couldn’t resist! Great post. I tried to convey this concept to a church and failed miserably. I taught that the “pastor” was a “bell-sheep”, much like the rest of the congregation in dependence upon Jesus, the Good Shepherd. I was “corrected” by someone who considered that a failure on my part to lead the people. The temptation to hit him with the bell was tremendous. From what I could tell, they wanted a “priest”, someone to be righteous on their behalf so they wouldn’t have to be; kind of like some “pocket-god” to represent what they didn’t want to take the time to do, relate to Jesus. Sad really. That church no longer exists as an worshiping entity. Go figure.

    Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks for the comments Matt. Yes, I’d say that congregation isn’t all that uncommon, at least with their approach to things; the concept of servant-leader is counter-intuitive in our culture. It seems we prefer the celebrity-leader more 🙂

  5. I think the phrase “respect your elders and betters” was used in old English literature (think Charles Dickens and Eliza Doolittle). At that time there was a class distinction between middle class and lower class and the term had practical meaning. I think my parents used the phrase out of habit without attaching any real meaning to the term “betters.” I think usage has diminished to the point that only we “ancient” ones have it in our archives. Revival and current usage wouldn’t be politically correct anyway.

  6. Honor is such a good value in God’s family. I can honor the gift in you, and be edified, without seeing myself as inferior in any way. After all, why should I want to be you when I’m me! 🙂 Humility is also so important. This way of living frees us to love each other like God loves, without envy or strife, or without putting ourselves down in the process.

    Great post, Don. A needed reminder of what makes relationships so wonderful. Blessings.

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