As a child, there were times during the summer when my brother, sister and I were all out of school and we would be at home by ourselves while both of our parents were at work. Normally, mom would leave us a list of chores that had to be done by the time she got home. Over the first couple weeks of the summer, we would get in trouble a lot for neglecting those chores. When grilled about why we weren't doing our chores, it was not uncommon to hear, "Well, they weren't doing their chores!" Somehow, especially as kids, we get the idea that we should only have to do what's right if everyone else is doing what's right. After all, if we are the only ones following the rules, well…that's just not fair.
I think most of us, as adults, know that we are supposed to do what's right regardless of whether someone else is doing it or not, but there are always exceptions. In fact, through the years, there are two particular passage of scripture that I often hear people excuse themselves from obeying because other people are not doing what they are supposed to do. Those passages? Colossians 3:18-25 and Ephesians 5:20-6:9. They both basically same the same things.
"Wives respect your husbands."
"Husbands, love your wives."
"Children, obey your parents."
"Parents, don't exasperate your children."
"Slaves/servants, obey your masters and work for them like your are working for the Lord."
"Masters, treat your slaves/servants fairly and pay them what they deserve."
When there are problems in these three different relational areas, almost always, people are not abiding by these instructions. Wives excuse themselves by saying that their husbands aren't being the men they need to be and loving them the right way. Husbands excuse themselves by saying that they aren't getting the respect they deserve from their wives. Children excuse themselves by saying that their parents just don't understand and expect too much from them. Parents excuse themselves by saying that their children just don't listen. Employees say that their bosses simply don't pay them enough and bosses say that they have to be harsh with their employees because they are just lazy and it's the only way to get anything out of them. All the way around the circle, we all excuse ourselves from following these instructions, and it is always the other party's fault.
But these instructions were not given with the caveat that we only have to obey if everybody else is acting like they should. And, logically, if we all wait for everybody else to start acting right, we never will. But sometimes, when we treat people like we should, we set off a chain-reaction of right living. When wives respect their husbands, whether they deserve it or not, husbands often respond by demonstrating love for their wives in more palpable ways. Bosses who treat their employees with respect, even when administering necessary discipline eventually end up receiving respect. Parents who stop exasperating their children begin finding their children more cooperative. And, the reverse of these is typically true as well.
The way we live is contagious, for good or for ill. If we treat people the way we should, people respond to that. And when they don't, we get to stand before God with a clear conscience that we have done everything we could. Let's not cop out of treating people right by waiting for the other person to go first or no one ever will.