Though Christians are free in the Lord Jesus Christ, they must not act irresponsibly in the societies which God has placed them in. The apostle Peter cautions Christians, “As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16). Then, in order to guide Christians in their proper conduct as God’s servants in their respective communities, Peter gives them four rules of conduct on their behaviour in society – “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king” (1 Peter 2:17).
Firstly, Peter commands Christians to “honour all men”. Believers must treat every person with dignity and respect. Respect and honour must be accorded to even unbelievers as human beings. We must recognize the worth of all human beings in God’s sight and live so as to attract them to faith in Christ. A contemptuous disposition will not help us in our efforts to win them for Christ. The poor and the afflicted in society must not be despised. Proverbs 17:5 says, “Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker: and he that is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished.”
Secondly, Christians are commanded to “love the brotherhood”. All human beings should be respected, but there is a special bond among fellow believers. Christians are not only brethren, but a brotherhood, i.e. one body in Christ. Christians are a fraternity united in Christ. We gather in the church as members of one family with a special fraternal affection for one another. Loving the brotherhood of believers is our duty and privilege. Loving and being loved fortify every Christian as he lives in a world of many temptations and trials. A sympathetic demeanour towards fellow Christians is crucial to Christian camaraderie and advancement.
Thirdly, Christians are taught to “fear God”. The highest reverence and total submission must be due unto our God at all times. If this be found wanting, none of the other three duties can be performed rightly. As Ecclesiastes 12:13 tells us, “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”
Fourthly, Christians are commanded to “honour the king”. Early Christians were commanded to respect the Roman emperor Nero’s authority though they could not but loathe his crimes. Christians must give due honour to those who rule the country. We may not agree with their beliefs and practices, but we must honour them for their office’s sake.
Courtesy must also pervade our interactions in the church. After all, “charity begins at home”. Among other things, the apostle Peter requires the younger believers to submit unto “the elder” – “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder” (1 Peter 5:5a). Apparently, such submission to “the elder” is with respect to the latter’s age as well as office in the church.
It is not uncommon to hear of young men viewing older folks as outdated and outworn. Young people tend to spurn the ideas and suggestions of older men. They show frustration with older men’s cautious and patient approach to matters; they even judge the latter to be slothful or obstructive. To add insult to injury, some young people seem to have lost all proper manners, behaving rudely and crudely towards elder Christians. Such uncouth, impudent conduct runs counter to the divine counsels.
Scripture demands that young men must show respect unto the elder. “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:32). Reverence for the elderly must be inculcated as being part of the fear of God. If we fear God and keep His commandments, then we must also show respect and submission to the elder.
Young people must realise that years of learning and experience will have added greater wisdom and understanding to a godly elder. Indeed, “the hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31). So, there is much wisdom in submitting to a godly elder. Respect for age is not only good manners; it also constitutes a wise and godly conduct as taught in God’s Word.
Godly and pious aged men can be a great source of wise counsels and guidance. Having accumulated years of experience, they are qualified to be young people’s advisers and guides. Their biblical instructions should not be rejected. In fact, it is to the young people’s advantage that God has provided them with godly elders in the church. They should not only show respect, but should also diligently seek and follow their wise counsels.
What if an elder is wrong? What if he has spoken or acted unwisely? 1 Timothy 5:1 advises us to “rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father”. We must not adopt a harsh, crude manner when we correct him. Rather, we must with meekness persuade him. We must appeal to his mind, showing politeness and respect due unto a father.