Treat people the way you want to be treated. Respect is earned, not given.When this recently popped up on my Facebook news feed, it had almost 1,000 “likes.” It’s an easy-to-like saying that sounds wise, and I’m sure the intent is to discourage people from demanding respect, which almost always backfires.

But my first thought was that, for Christians, the character of a rich life is never about earning, it’s about the ability to give freely without the need for payback and without feeling cheated.

First, the command to love our neighbors as ourselves is really about respect rather than affection. Thank goodness, we don’t have to like people to respect them. Second, respect is a form of love, and love never demands; yet it never earns, either. Respect is also a form of grace; and grace is always given, never earned.

Common Wages

When it comes to giving and receiving, I think we tend to see it as obligation on the one hand, entitlement on the other. We live in a world where everybody owes and everyone pays. I call it wages mentality—in a word, earning.

The problem with my earning your respect is that I become dependent on you paying me what I’ve earned, what I’m entitled to. If you don’t pay, I’ll quickly see you as the “problem” and will become angry or frustrated. Then you’re in control of me rather than me being in control of myself.

When my satisfaction depends on you, I’ll go after you to collect what you owe, be it respect, an apology, whatever. And once I’m in that frame of mind, any love, grace, or respect evaporates like raindrops on hot summer pavement.

This is where the great lessons on grace come in.

The Workings of Grace

When Paul teaches grace apart from works in Romans 4:4-9, he’s denouncing wages mentality by separating free grace from earned grace, not grace from work or practice. (His other instructions on training in righteousness, being equipped for every good work, to not be idle, and continuing to work out your salvation confirm this distinction.)

Wages mentality understands debt and payback, but has a hard time understanding the workings of grace because grace is always given as a gift rather than owed as an obligation or collected as an entitlement. Grace is the opposite of wages .

This is why it always applies to those who don’t earn it and why it’s about the giver, not the receiver. If I’m giving love or respect only when people earn it, by definition, it isn’t grace. It’s a form of payback.

The constant sense of owing and/or entitlement sabotages joyful living, healthy relationships, and freedom in Christ because it produces a payback mind-set, exactly what’s at work in popular sayings like the one we’re talking about.

A New Mind

As disciples of Christ, we don’t just receive God’s grace, then say, “Thank you, Jesus,” and instantly become full of grace and love. We have to un-learn common habits to learn and practice new ones—it’s what disciples do. God gives us grace to teach us how to give it away ourselves; and respect is part of a new, grace-oriented life-style we can have.

If I respect people because it’s who I am rather than what anyone earns, I’m free of wages mentality. I’m not as easily upset and don’t depend on collecting payback. Neither am I as quick to inflict payback on others. I’m more in control of myself and can give freely without feeling cheated.

The way I see it, it may not be all that popular, but it’s one joy I can take to the bank.

Any other thoughts or perspectives?