Posts Tagged ‘authority’

Peter is quite concerned about authority, whether it’s in reaction to his own or it’s the culture in which he lives. In any case, his beloved Jesus submitted to human authority too. Do we?

I Peter 2:17
Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood [family] of believers, fear [reverence] God, honor the king [emperor].

What is the meaning of authority in our lives? What is authority? In some cultures, it’s inherited, in others, it’s traditional, and still others, it’s won through battle.

I’d say respect for authority in Western culture is at an all time low. Certainly, there is little “positional” authority – that is, respect for the position (police, politician, principal, teacher, doctor, judge, or president) and not particularly the person. If anything, people are looking for opportunities to bring down respect. There may be a grudging respect initially, but a wrong statement or misstep of judgment, and the person is dragged through the press or gossip mill.

Some people say “respect should be earned.” I understand this point of view, but I’m wondering if we, and that is cultural we, haven’t taken this doctrine too far. Can we expect others to constantly prove themselves worthy, only to make a mistake and lose all that has gone before.

On the other hand, those who are in positions of authority today seem to have lost something vital to commanding respect. Our society has become so jaded that the tenets of honesty, authenticity, trust, character, and commitment have stretched beyond our grasp.

It must be old-fashioned to want to believe in the vows of marriage, the truth of law, the honesty of leaders, and the greater good. It’s Pollyanna-ish.

Faith has a measure of authority as well and although some can embrace that easily others will not and never will without divine intervention. If God is sovereign, then God has ultimate authority over everything. Face it, that’s not always easy to swallow in a world that challenges the existence of such things: entropy is all around us as well as violence, greed, self-aggrandizement, and disloyalty.

How does one show respect in this day and age? What does it look like? Who deserves it?

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A good portion of Hebrews 7 is devoted to the mysterious Melchizedek, the priest-king to whom Abraham tithed “10% of everything.” One of the great wonders to the believers of that time was his lack of genealogy. Who was this guy? Many theories, but no one really knows. Nevertheless, he had the authority to bless, even the patriarch, Abraham.

Hebrews 7:2b-3
“. . . First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.”

Questions that can send silent shudders up a librarian’s spine are from the amateur genealogists seeking out their family line. They are an enthusiastic bunch and quick to tell of their latest discoveries. The librarian nods her head and smiles while the genealogist explains the depth of his or her line. There is great pride in sleuthing out names and dates and long lost relatives that go back to the American Revolution or even earlier.

But in Jewish history, the genealogical line was even more important. People were rooted in their community or accepted into a new community by the veracity of their genealogical line. In modern times, this is sometimes mirrored in small communities where being “from” there requires the person to be “born there.” And certainly, in the Mormon church, genealogy is critical to leadership. Most of the best genealogical records of modern times have been stored and digitized by that group.

But here is Melchizedek, apparently quite powerful and respected which is reflected in the 10% of all “booty” that Abraham and his men give to him after defeating the kings of Sodom. We know so little of his story that he has become the subject of much speculation, particularly among various teachers and rabbi’s. Some claim he was divine which explains his lack of lineage while others say he was simply an anointed king of the era.

I am captivated by this story because of its mystery. The Bible has many such characters who appear briefly and then are heard of no more. There is usually significance in their appearances, but I’m not sure what it is.

Today, I am simply struck by the idea that there is always someone higher than us. No matter how much fame or fortune or power we attain, there is always someone who has more. God places each of us in that continuum, in some cases, it is we ourselves who are the “higher one,” perhaps by income or status or position at work. We are inside the sandwich of authority.

Melchizedek blessed Abraham first and then the gift was given willingly. Isn’t it important for me to bless those around me who are in a different part of the sandwich. It’s so important to speak blessings to everyone in our circle of influence, but even moreso to those who have less than we do. A blessing calls on God to fill in where human cannot.

The trick is not to envy or become jealous of the blessings, for some will be called to the higher table at the banquet.

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2000 years ago, mediation was advocated and encouraged, particularly among believers. And yet, where are we today? Courts are filled, lawyers plea bargain, guilty people go free, innocent people are executed, and those who should be a light in a dark place are silent and dull.

I Corinthians 6:5b
Can it be that there really is not one man among you who [in action is governed by piety and integrity and] is wise and competent enough to decide [the private grievances, disputes, and quarrels] between members of the brotherhood . . .

Where is the accumulated wisdom of the years? Why are believers of today seemingly less capable to handle disputes?

Part of the problem is that we are in too many silos (a business and information management term that refers to systems that cannot speak to each other). Our churches are silos. We are primarily divided by our denominational preferences. It is next to impossible to cross these arbitrary boundaries to create a trusted body of authority. Our efforts to date include organizations like the World Council of Churches which is disdained by most conservatives. In fact, as soon as the word “ecumenical” is brought up in conservative circles, the eyes glaze over. In many minds, ecumenical might as well be another word for “non-believer.” I know, I’ve been in that circle for your years (but no longer feeling quite so comfortable there).

Oh, there’s the National Council of Churches USA. While American churches don’t participate much in the World Council, denominationally, they are well represented at the NCC. Here they work in broad strokes: advocacy, resource building, communication, education initiatives, and academic research.

But nothing is really here for the resolution of disputes and grievances, nothing for mediation. That kind of authority would have to be given by the people. That kind of authority would require trust.

In our contemporary church, the doling out of “justice” has been handed over to Pilate. We are no different from the Jews of Jesus’s time.

Mediation is becoming more popular in the secular world. People are being trained in this process. Believers have a real opportunity to step up and embrace this trend and use it within the body. This is not necessarily a role for pastors, although it could be. More importantly, it’s a role for the faithful, those committed to truth, to God, to the Christ, to prayer, and to the Holy Spirit: these could build a forum for justice.

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The Amplified Bible translates “power” as the “moral power and excellence of soul.” But I am more inclined to think of power as authority because, from where I sit, authority trumps everything.

I Corinthians 4:19b-20
. . . I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

A person (or government) can acquire authority in a wide variety of ways such as inheritance or violence or even a gift.

When I accepted Christ the Redeemer, I gave the Holy Spirit full authority over me (of course, I keep trying to take back that gift when circumstances are not to my liking). Nonetheless, God does not take over human beings. God must be invited into the heart. That was part of the covenant, the original deal.

Evil, on the other hand, will take any and every opportunity to gain a foothold within. Evil wants to “take over the land,” and rule. Evil is like a cancer that destroys everything in its path, consuming all that is healthy, while removing strength and hope for healing or recovery.

I look around and consider the people who have authority in my life. There are the supervisors and managers at my work, be that a limited authority, because it’s within the confines of employment. I agreed to work there.

Some would say, as a married woman, my husband has authority over me [Ephesians 5:23 & I Corinthians 11:3]. I’ve never been particularly comfortable with this teaching based on position alone. However, like giving authority to Christ, it would be up to me to “give” authority to my husband for any power to have value. And if, like Christ, my husband sacrifices his life/desires for the family, undoubtedly the gift is easier to give. [Ephesians 5:28-29]

In our society, I agree to allow certain servants of the state to have authority over me: police, elected officials, etc. By living in a land of laws, I agree to give those laws the power to classify right from wrong, with consequences. When I vote, I agree to give authority to the winner of an election process.

In some countries, authority is wrenched from the people by violence and maintained through fear. When it is stripped from a person in this way, it is very difficult to believe in a loving invitation from God who desires control of the inner life while the despots control the outer life. I am grateful I do not live in such an environment. I am free to choose in both inner and outer arenas.

But what about my own authority? Do I allow others to choose to be under my authority or am I using “control” to lasso followers? Are my children under my authority willingly? My pets? My staff?

Jesus offered himself and his power draped in love: a truly benevolent dictator who can command the heavens as well as the heart. But without love, this kind of power doesn’t work. Love is the fuel. Jesus spent his lifetime teaching this message by example, by teaching, by humility.

The flow of power manifests as miracles and healings but it must be preceded by love. Only as we offer sacrificial love to others will there be true power or true authority to wield.

Why would I trust you with power if I don’t believe you love me?

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But what if, what if? Isn’t that the first thing that goes through our minds? What if the authorities are BAD. . . evil . . . self-aggrandizing? What if the leader is arrogant or narcissistic or egotistical? So much can go wrong! When was the last time you trusted, much less respected, a leader?

Romans 13:1
LET EVERY person be loyally subject to the governing (civil) authorities. For there is no authority except from God [by His permission, His sanction], and those that exist do so by God’s appointment.
Proverbs 8:15
By me [God], kings reign and rulers decree justice.

So, here’s the only thing that helps me get through this section of Romans: the story of Nebuchadnezzar [Daniel 3 and 4]. He ruled for 50 years and did all kinds of great things for Babylon. But he was also cruel and dictatorial and ultimately, quite power hungry. Toward the end of his reign, he went mad for seven years. He thought he was all powerful but God ultimately showed this king how small he was in the eyes of God.

Evil authorities do gain and abuse power and for us, as we live through such times, it seems like forever. But my faith is strong enough to find security in knowing that truth is still more powerful than evil. Sometimes evil is allowed to rise to bring forth the consciousness of a sleepy people.

In the face of evil leaders, it is our job to call forth the judgment and justice of God who can see the greater picture. We must not grow weary; we must not grow discouraged.

For years, throughout the sixties, seventies, and eighties… honestly, for 30 years, my mother talked about the wall coming down in Germany. She went on and on about the fall . . . someday. Oh, my brother and I would just poo-poo her. I mean, communism and its leaders were powerful beyond all measure. They used equal amounts of force, fear, and financial control over the people. It was here to stay.

But, we all know the end to this story. The Berlin wall did fall. Communism lost its grip on many countries and freedoms were returned. It’s not all goodness and light, I know that. Nor do all of these countries have the best leaders now, but there is always hope and change. We must never believe that situations are hopeless. Things can change in a day or an hour.

God is sovereign. And that’s the authority I respect above all.

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. [Romans 12:19]

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Acts 3:16a
“…And His name, through and by faith in His name, has made this man, whom you see and recognize, well and strong.” [Peter to the crowd] {Amplified}

This is quite specific: faith in the name of Jesus. One must believe in this name and that the name itself carries authority.

Authority is achieved in many ways. It can be inherited, it can be given by another in higher authority, or it can be earned. Jesus met all three of these requirements. First, as the only Son of God, he inherited the right to act on behalf of God. Secondly, his Father pronounced Jesus’ sonship when John baptized Him and then again, on the mount of transfiguration. And finally, Jesus’ ministry of healing and helping, followed by his sacrifice on the cross, earned him the right to wield authority.

But authority is downright unpopular in the 21st century. We hear more about “teamwork,” “equality,” and the benefits of a “flat” vs. hierarchical organization. People prefer the idea of authority being shared. Absolute authority is to be questioned. In our era, we assume that most authority will be abused. Generally, the more authority a person has, the more corruption is possible (or expected). Rebellion to authority is encouraged or at the very least, anticipated. There is no such thing as a “benevolent dictator.”

The paradox is that Jesus, a true “servant leader,” also has total authority. By saying we have “faith in the name of Jesus,” we are confessing that we have faith in his authority… we are voluntarily submitting ourselves to the Name. It’s a trust issue. Something that does not come easily to many people.

How can we successfully pray for others if we don’t trust Jesus to care for us? Without authority, the name of Jesus has less power in our lives. Accepting the way of Jesus is accepting His authority over the path itself. Selah.

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John 15:10
“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”

Want to get someone’s hackles up? Just tell them to obey. This is a word/idea that is no longer popular in today’s culture, particularly in the West. Too bad, I think we’re missing the point.

Why do we balk? What does it take to obey? First of all, it takes a certain humility. To obey a person, we must have respect for that person. We must believe in that person’s authority to command. We must trust in the commander to command wisely.

In a family, we expect children to obey their parents… these elements would still apply: respect, authority, and trust. Once any one of these elements is missing, natural obedience breaks down. Then parents try to demand obedience. But what do we get: obedience from fear. It’s a type of obedience but it is layered with rebellion. In other words, there will be hedging whenever possible.

In fact, hedging is counter to obedience. Whether we want to hear this or not, obedience is pretty much black or white. We complain about our kids, but truthfully, we adults are doing this all the time… we break the speed limit, we make photocopies at work, we cheat (just a little) on our taxes, we abuse our bodies with too much food, drink, you name it, we tell only part of the story, and we listen to only part of the command. Basically, we analyze the commands in relation to what we personally want to do or not do.

In the end, obedience is a choice. Here’s the sad part of this story: the primary command that Jesus is laying out here is to “love others as he loved us.” Why are we still hedging on that one? We have to be commanded to love? Think about it.

I’m guessing, if we were to obey this one foundational command, a lot of other things (relationships, needs, desires, for example) would just fall into place. In the next sentence Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” It’s a command with a promise. I could use a little joy today. I can love today. I can choose to love.

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