Should We Respect Even Difficult Leaders?

David is a major figure of the Old Testament. His kingship followed that of King Saul who was anointed by the prophet Samuel as Israel’s first king.

King Saul was insanely jealous of David in spite of David’s sworn allegiance. The king and his army of 3000 were hunting David to kill him.

David had gathered around him a ragtag band of 600 men and whipped them into an effective fighting force simply to survive.

On one occasion, the two forces came dangerously near to one another. One night, Saul’s army was bedded down in a valley at the base of a hill and David was surveilling Saul’s sleeping soldiers from above.

In the dead of the night David and a brave soldier eased their way down into Saul’s camp, creeping to where Saul lay sleeping.

There, David’s soldier whispered, “Here’s our chance; let me run him through with my sword.” David rebuked him. “It’s not my right to kill the Lord’s anointed,” he said.

Instead, David instructed his soldier to take Saul’s spear, which was stuck into the ground near his head, and his water supply, as proof that the two had been there without harming him. The two escaped safely.

Why would David pass up such an opportunity? After all, if he had taken Saul’s life he would no longer be hunted like a wild animal. Was his decision simply eccentric?

Or, had David learned as a child from a godly mother the wisdom of showing respect for properly assigned authority, as elsewhere may be suggested (Psalm 86:16; 116:16)?

Showing regard for constituted authority as David did does not match the moods of our times. In growing numbers, voices against authority are becoming more raucous and even violent.

Those in authority are not always right, but the wholesale rejection and disrespect of authority is also very hurtful. Teachers may be endangered in unruly classrooms, parents are silenced by disrespectful children, policemen may be taunted and threatened for their lives, leaders are insulted vulgarly, and public property is wantonly destroyed.

The Bible has much to say about respect for authority. For example, at the core of the Ten Commandments is the divine law: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).

This word is more than a suggestion. It is a law left to parents to administer, and if enforced nationally promises national health and longevity.

Widening the scope of that commandment to respect parents, the Apostle Peter instructs the members of the church scattered by persecution, “Show proper respect to everyone: love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17).

The holiness code of Leviticus commands: “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:32). No one is left out when respect is involved.

In our unsettled environment, it is time for Christians to shine by taking a grace-directed approach to authority and respecting it! Taking our lead from David’s wisdom we can say all human relationships are to feature respect, making them relationally health-giving and life-restoring.

That is not to commend silence in the presence of evil. We should always speak up clearly, forcefully, even directly when authorities do wrong, standing for truth in the presence of falsehood — but always from a foundation of grace and respect.

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Photo credit: Thomas Haynie (via flickr.com)

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