Some people may disagree with my position on this, but I believe that respect, in most circumstances should be an automatic thing and not something that has to be “earned.” I’m talking especially about those whom God has put over you in authority. Your boss at work should have your respect from day one on the job. Your children should have your respect immediately and it should grow as they mature. Pastors that God has placed over a particular congregation should be respected from the moment you begin fellowshipping and calling him “your pastor.” So, for me, respect in cases of authority figures in your life, should be automatic and not “earned.”
Now, of course, there will be times when respect may be lost due to some failure on the part of the one in authority over you, and then, in those situations, as the person repents, and begins to right the wrongs and mend relationships, respect can be “earned.” But respect should be earned only once it was lost. Of course, for something to have been lost, it had to exist in the first place. So, again, my position for this article is that respect, with regards to authority figures over us, is automatic until such time when it should be reevaluated.
Now my big pet peeve when it comes to respect is the pastor. We try to teach our children to respect authority, even the pastor, but does it ever happen that parents talk down about the pastor in their homes and maybe not talk about him in the best light, all while in front of their children. I would think so. In fact, I’m sure it does, because God’s Word gives us a keen insight into the types of people in the church who don’t respect their pastor. Of course, not respecting your pastor can be destructive, especially as you become less and less able to keep your opinions to yourself and begin sharing them with others. Now you become the cause of a schism in the church that will disrupt unity, challenge the authority of the pastor, and make it difficult for people to buy into the vision God has laid on his heart.
So this schism, of which I speak, is comprised of three distinct groups of people. One the one hand you have the people who will openly challenge the authority of the pastor and show little respect for him as a God-appointed leader and as a fellow man. These people will go to him directly with their complaints and dissatisfaction at the end of services, on the phone, or in drop-by visits to his office. At least the preacher has knowledge of the existence of such a person and where they stand with each other. This person, though he has little respect for the pastor’s authority, at least allows the pastor a chance for rebuttal. There can be dialogue, though it is usually futile.
The second group of people is a bit more sinister in their disrespecting of the pastor’s authority over them. These people will keep quiet in the church, at meetings, or at functions, but from the safety of their own homes, when the pastor can’t be present to challenge them, they will air their complaints to anyone who will listen privately. This includes spouses, family, extended family, and even their own children. I call these people the “cowards.” I mean really…if you have something to say, at least give the pastor the common courtesy to know an issue even exists and give him a chance to work with you!
Now the third group consists of “innocent” bystanders. These are the people who sit back and not take sides. I use the word “innocent” because they’re not really innocent. If you see people rising up and being a bad example to others about how to treat your pastor, and you don’t do anything about it…if you’re able…then you’re guilty in a way. But be that as it may, this group of neutral bystanders is the third distinct group of people in the church. They’re not necessarily a hindrance to the work of the church, but they’re not a whole lot of help at the same time.
Now, if you think this is not an accurate scenario, it actually happened exactly the way I described, complete with the three groups of people I revealed above. If you look at the account God gave us in the Bible in Numbers 16 and 17, it’s all there, and it’s so interesting to see not only the people rise up against the authority of Aaron, but it’s remarkable to see how much it angered God to the point where he began ending the lives of thousands of the Israelites because of their uprising. Another remarkable thing is the love Aaron and Moses show for these individuals who are disrespecting their God-given authority. And the last incredible lesson learned here is that you’ll see at the end, the old adage holds true, “What goes around comes around.” I’m excited about this study…so let’s get started.
One day, Aaron and Moses are greeted by a man named Khora, and an entourage of 250 men who sided with him against the priestly authority of Aaron. Basically their complaint was, in effect, that they all should be considered equal, thus undermining the place of authority into which God placed Aaron. They didn’t like the fact that Aaron had special duties of which they were not allowed to do. Maybe it was pride, but they wanted in on whatever Aaron was doing. Remember, the pastor has specific things that God has ordained that he and only he, and his chosen delegates can do. You are not the pastor, but there are many jobs that a pastor would love to give someone with a spirit of humility…just ask and be open to anything. So what Moses did in this case was to allow the 250 men, along with Korah, to bring incense holders and burn incense. This was an act reserved for Aaron, and anyone not of the proper lineage to offer up incense would bring the ire of God. So Moses allowed God to handle the uprising.
Now, at the same time, I don’t know how Moses knew, but the two “cowards” I spoke of earlier were Datham and Abiram. They remained back in their tents at this time. They did not confront Moses and Aaron directly like Korah did. No, they stayed home and told all who would listen that Moses was to blame for all their troubles. These two men believed their lives in Egypt (bondage and sin) were more pleasurable than what Moses had brought to them in the desert. Not only did these cowards stay a safe distance, but when confronted by Moses, who asked them to come to see him, they flat out refused. They were defiant. These two men are like many today who speak volumes to the audience of their choice, but really have no substance to their convictions when confronted by the pastor to resolve issues.
So, group number one is made up of those who will openly challenge the pastor. Group two are those who will challenge the pastor when he’s not around to hear, but will refuse to constructively work with the pastor to resolve problems when asked. The third group in the church is the same group we see present here among the nation of Israelites. The next morning, just as Moses commanded, the rebels brought their incense burners. Gathered with the rebels were many in the congregation. These people did not choose sides. They were the “innocent” bystanders. But they weren’t so innocent in God’s eyes because He was about to slaughter them all, until Moses prayed to God on their behalf, and God spared those “innocent” people. God doesn’t want neutral people. Take one side or the other. God knows He can use you, or He can’t. A neutral person will just wax and wane in their efforts. Be one thing or the other (Revelation 3:16).
Well, just as Moses believed would happen, God judged those who rebelled against Aaron’s authority. He vindicated Aaron’s role among the people and gave credibility to Moses authority as well. Korah, Abiram, and Datham all perished along with the 250 people who sided with them in open rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Now for most, severe judgment would be enough to melt even the hardest of hearts back in to submission to God’s authority figure. That’s what happened in Acts 5 when Ananias and Sapphira were dealt with immediately for the disrespecting of their pastor, God, and the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11), but not stubborn Israel…at least not yet.
This difficult group rose up yet again and accused Moses and Aaron of killing the 250 members of the rebellion, plus their three leaders. Even after Moses and Aaron pleaded for God to spare the “innocent” among the congregation, they rise up yet again and blame them for what took place. Before you go blaming your pastor and bad-mouthing him, consider that he may have been doing what God had instructed him to do. If you feel it’s the pastor’s fault for exercising proper church discipline according to Matthew 18, and someone is cut off from the church, and you don’t like it…take it up with God. The pastor is just doing what he is commanded to do by God in the Scriptures. Ultimately God dealt with that individual through your pastor.
Well, by now God is not pleased with the Israelites. He just dealt with the first uprising and now has to deal with a second, less coordinated and more diffuse, but a potentially damaging one none the less. Here’s the amazing thing that you should appreciate and love your pastor for. Even as the people were about to rise up again, Moses and Aaron pleaded with God to spare the congregation. Aaron went out amongst the group of ungrateful Israelites and offered up atonements for them. These people rose up against Aaron’s authority and it was his priestly duties that preserved the lives of many that day. It didn’t save the lives of all, as God destroyed 14,700 people that day. Now, back to Aaron for a moment. Do you realize that the same pastor you criticize and blame has been the one God used to lead you to the Lord in some cases, or he’s been responsible for preserving your marriage and family through sharing with you life-saving truths from the Bible? Many were given a second chance that day because of the love demonstrated to them by Aaron. How many of you were given a second chance at a new life through the ministry of your pastor who loves you?
After God had destroyed 253 people in an organized rebellion, and after God had destroyed 14,700 Israelites on another day, still people rose up to challenge Aaron’s authority yet again. So in Numbers 17, God told everyone to bring their rods denoting the tribe from which they came and, overnight, God made only Aarons rod from the tribe of Levi bloom. Now, finally, fear came upon the people who ceased to rise up and murmur against the authority of Aaron. God finally broke their heart into respecting the authority of their priest. What will it take for God to break your heart into respecting the authority of your pastor? Because there’s an even bigger lesson to be learned here.
I’ve shown you the three types of people present in the church. I’ve shown you that despite the challenges and back-biting a pastor endures, he loves his people and will go to bat for them with God at a moment’s notice. And we’ve seen that God won’t tolerate disrespect of a pastor which He Himself has placed over you. And yes, there will be casualties in the process, but eventually God and the pastor will be left with the people whose hearts are broken into submission through a healthy fear of the Lord. But watch this…because I was just floored when I learned this…
Numbers 16 and 17 are mainly focused on the people’s problem with respecting the authority Aaron had over the Israelites. I think it focused on Aaron for a particular reason. Remember I said the old adage proved itself, “What goes around comes around?” Read the account in Numbers 12…it’s amazing…Aaron actually rose up against Moses’ authority. He and Moses’ sister Miriam were jealous and wanted to share the responsibilities with Moses. Does that sound familiar? Korah wanted to be on level par with Aaron and wanted to share in his responsibilities and duties several chapters later. God called Aaron and Miriam for a little chat and rebuked them both. God struck Miriam with leprosy. Aaron eventually confesses his sin of rebellion to Moses and Moses, in turn, goes to bat for Aaron and intercedes for Miriam. God honors Moses and heals Miriam.
Don’t miss this important truth. If you disrespect the authority of your pastor today, down the road someday, you’ll be in a position to have the respect of others, and they may just rise up against you in a similar fashion: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Our actions may one day be turned on us to experience the same frustration we put another person through. Aaron disrespected Moses’ authority and rose up in jealousy and experienced the same thing in reverse at the hands of a jealous Korah et al. I wonder if he remembered it at the time. Can you imagine disrespecting the authority of your pastor and one day having your own children disrespect your authority? After all, these are the same children who may hear you challenging the preacher’s authority in your home. Unless God shows you mercy, it will come back to visit you the way it was visited on Aaron several chapters later.