From the office to the family to the government, there is a lot of discussion today on authority. Does anyone really have the right to be in authority over someone else? If so, when and how? It is critical to understand how authority properly functions in families, churches, businesses and government. Fuzzy thinking in this area can lead to a lot of trouble.
All Authority Begins With God
Before we can rightly think about relationships in the horizontal between people, we need to consider first our relationship to God. I know that not everyone believes that God exists. The Biblical book of Romans makes clear there is evidence of God both in the scope and order of creation (Romans 1:18-21) and in the implanted human conscience (Romans 2:14-15). Despite these reasons, many profess Atheism because we by nature want to be our own authority. This is not a problem with other people, but rather a problem with God. We do not want to be told what to do. However, Scripture gently reminds us:
‘You are not your own, you were bought with a price’ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
God fashioned us in His image. When we fell into sin He ransomed us by the costly blood of His Son. The good news is that the One we belong to is good and does what is good (Psalm 119:68).
Because authority is given by God, we can make several key applications in our lives.
- All human authority is given by God and subject to His final authority.
There is a hierarchy of authority, with God always at the end of it. On the night of His Crucifixion, Jesus faced a powerful Roman official, Pontus Pilate. Pilate threatened Jesus, saying that he had the power to have Jesus executed. Jesus did not disagree, but further added, ‘You would have no authority over me if it were not given to you from above (John 19:11).’ Jesus did not fear Pilate, & He recognized Pilate would give an account for how he exercised his authority.
- Legitimate authority should be obeyed.
Because all legitimate authorities derive their responsibilities and power from God, therefore we should patiently submit to authority, knowing that when we obey them, we obey God. As the Apostle Paul counsels, ‘Work hard, not only when your master’s eye is on you, knowing that you are working for the Lord and not men’(Colossians 3:22-23). In Romans 13:1, Paul urges again, ‘Obey the governing authorities’. He says the government does not bear the sword in vain, but uses it to punish evil. The level of submission to imperfect leadership in this is remarkable. We should likewise be willing to submit to leadership which makes decisions with which we do not fully agree, even as we pray for them and pray for them to make wise decisions (1 Timothy 2:1). Paul said this even of a corrupt Roman Empire, which in a few short years would execute him.
- If human authorities directly contradict God’s commands, we must respectfully refuse to obey men.
When Peter and John were dragged before the Jewish court for teaching the people that Jesus was the resurrected messiah, they were threatened and told not to preach about Jesus. The court’s command directly contradicted the commands of Jesus to be His witnesses in Jerusalem and beyond (Acts 1:8). Peter and John answered directly, saying ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right to obey men rather than God’ (Acts 4:19). They were respectful and accommodating as much as possible, but they knew that God’s Word could not be overturned by a lower court. We likewise in those rare instances where we are commanded by a lawful authority to remain silent about Jesus or to otherwise violate His commands on our life, we must respectfully refuse, whatever the consequences. Like Daniel’s friends in the fiery furnace, we trust God can deliver us, or not, as pleases Him, but we will not bow down to those who presume upon God’s authority (Daniel 3:16-18).
Authority and oversight are gifts from God. May we continue to pray that He will give us wise leaders, to whom may we joyfully submit as emissaries of His manifold grace!