Titles of Respect?
NCW 28, Special Edition I (January 1996):
Answering the Third Rebellion
Q. Why does the Church teach the Taphim [children] to call educated people (e.g. teachers) by the title, "Mr.", "Mrs." or "Miss" while they can call an unemployed person, an industrial worker, a shop assistant, or other people without a higher education [by their first name]? Do some people deserve more respect than others? The Bible clearly tells us not to treat people differently. See Rom.2:11 and James 2:1.
You have taken the scriptures you cite out of context. Romans 2:11, and the verses preceding it, are about judgment, not about titles of respect. Indeed, the Lord says he will judge the Jew before the Greek because the former has the Law. Is that partial? The point is we are judged in proportion to our awareness of the truth.
The second scripture reference, James 2:1, has to do with wealth. God looks upon those who are materially wealthy or poor as though there was no difference between them.
The issue you are raising is one of respect and how that should be demonstrated when addressing people. On this subject the Scriptures speak abundantly. I will take it for granted that you acknowledge that we are to address God respectfully, for He is worthy of the greatest honour (Rev.4:11). It is very plain, furthermore, that we are not to repeat the Name of God unnecessarily, but should rather call Him "Lord" or "Father".
A principal taught by the apostle Paul is that we should all honour one another. Since as Christians we know our weaknesses and failings better than fellow believers do, it is only right that we put our brethren and sisters ahead of ourselves, honouring and highly valuing them on account of their faithful work (Phil.2:1-4). This is one reason why we (are supposed to) use the title "brother" or "sister" when addressing fellow believers, for we indicate that we have elevated them into the intimacy of our private family life which would otherwise only be reserved for those brothers and sisters of ours in the flesh.
We are similarly commanded to show honour and respect to civilian rulers in high government positions. The Christian is supposed to do this, not to gain some special kind of favour, but because it is God's will. Personally, these rulers may be corrupt (Luke 18:6-2 cp. Acts 24:24-27) but respect is rendered to them out of regard for the position of responsibility for which their office stands (Rom.13:1-2,7; 1 Pet.2:13-14). In a similar way slaves were to render their owners full honour, doing their assigned work and not giving cause for bringing reproach upon God's Name (1 Tim.6:1).
When others demanded that Christians give a reason for his hope, he was to do so "with a mild temper and deep respect" [literally, 'fear']. Even though Christians might be asked questions in an insulting manner, a Christian would present his reasons with calmness and gentleness, not responding in an irritated, angry, or resentful way. Indeed, he was supposed to manifest deep respect, or a wholesome fear, as if in the presence of GOD HIMSELF or the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Pet.3:14-15).
Similarly, a wife is to manifest this wholesome fear, or deep respect, for her husband as head of the family (Eph.5:33). Sarah is a good example of this, for her deep respect came from her heart, properly referring to her husband as "lord", not merely for others to hear but even "inside herself" (1 Pet.3:1-2,5-6 cp. Gen.18:12).
Where this deep respect is not offered, there is no true Spirit of God. School teachers (amongst others) are called to a position of great responsibility, and they should rightly be addressed with respect. Similarly, if the King visited your house, whilst you would undoubtedly treat him like any other person, you would not call him "Harald", would you? For that would manifest profound disrespect for one who has been given a sacred calling by God to set a moral example to the nation. Even if he were an utter reprobate, you would still have no right to address him by any other way than "Your Majesty" or perhaps "Sir".
The unemployed, industrial workers, shop assistants or other people should likewise be addressed with respect, especially if you do not know them. There is no shame in calling them "sir" or "madam" for that is how God would have us conduct ourselves.
Now children are to be taught to respect and reverence their elders, for this is God's will. They are not, therefore, to address adults by their first names unless they have obtained permission to do so. The fact that addressing people by their first name in our modern society is normal does not make it right. It removes the respect that people have now lost for one another.
To thus address someone in a respectful way, using a title, is not to make a god of them. It is, rather, to show Christian humility and submissiveness, something which is, alas, almost extinct in our modern, arrogant and rude world.
Be careful how you interpret scripture without fully understanding the context. The story of Miriam, and how she complained against Moses, is a good illustration, who, with Aaron, was jealous for more authority because of Moses' prominence as Israel's prophet. So she attacked his first wife, the Cushite woman, and then complained rudely: "Has the Lord indeed only spoken through Moses? Has He not spoken through us too?" (Num.12:3). Notice what follows: "Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all the men that were on the face of the earth.." (v.3). For their arrogance, Miriam and Aaron were struck down with leprosy and not healed until they had repented.
This should serve as a dire warning of what Christians may expect if they show disrespect for their leaders, those in position of responsibility (like kings, presidents, teachers, judges, and others), and to their fellow brethren and sisters in the Covenant. This is not to treat them partially -- it is to lower ourselves, not to elevate them, just as Jesus lowered Himself in order to serve us. Submission and meekness are hallmarks of the true Christian.
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