In my younger years I played a lot of basketball. I learned the game on the playgrounds of San Diego in grade school, and basketball became my passion as I grew. I played in just about every league and on every team situation you can imagine, from YMCA Saturday leagues to middle school and high school teams, and even on the college level. I also played for many different coaches.
Coaches come in all flavors and styles. Some are fiery and motivating, while others are more passive and even tempered. Some are authoritarian, and others allow input into decisions. Some are fair, and unfortunately, others are unfair.
There are many life lessons I learned from my basketball experiences- most were positive. But a couple were so negative that they still try to inform my life as an adult.
A particular negative experience happened when I was playing in my later years. I had no seniority on my team, and my role was to contribute as a bench player. Our coach was a stickler for team rules, and we lived under the constant threat of punishment if we violated them. After practice one night, several of my teammates, most of them starters, violated team rules. When the coach learned of the infraction, he suspended the players. But two days later, on the day we played our rival team, our coach reinstated the players and allowed them to play as if nothing happened. That incident produced a deep resentment in my heart, and the attitude I came way with was this: I no longer respected my coach, because he no longer earned my respect.
This event took place many years ago, and I’m sure that much of my interpretation of what happened was a product of immaturity, hubris, and probably jealousy. But this also sparked a lingering question that has had wider implications in my later life: is my respect for my superiors to be given freely, or only after it is earned?
This dynamic has relevance in a surprising array of circumstances: a government leader who does not share my own personal convictions, or a boss whose poor leadership skills make my work atmosphere a nightmare, or a law or rule that cuts across my own belief system.
As I was reading the Bible this morning, I rediscovered how my faith in God required me to think about the issue of respect. Here’s what I read:
Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:7)
Based on this verse, I owe my leaders, my bosses, and even my coach respect because of their authority over me. Their decisions might not be right, and I might not agree with them, but they are entitled to my respect due to their office and their position.
Why is this important? Because it keeps me from acting as a judge. When I retain the right to determine who earns my respect and who doesn’t, then I am an acting arbiter of the actions and attitudes of others.
My faith compels me to give respect to those in authority over me. It really is something I owe them.