“For I also am a man under authority, having under myself soldiers: and I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goeth; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he cometh; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he doeth it” (Matthew 8:9).
Throughout its existence the American experiment has been predicated on at least skepticism towards, if not hostility to, inherited authority. Rarely do Americans appreciate having anyone tell them what they should or should not do; agents of governmental authority are seen with suspicion. Respect and understanding of authority has diminished significantly as America and the world in general has become more democratic.
If the Christian would be pleasing to God, he or she must develop a healthy appreciation for authority and its purposes. Our current culture and society might intend to turn in a more democratic direction; what God has made known in Scripture tells a different story.
According to the Scriptures God has all authority and power (Romans 13:1). All things exist and subsist in Him; by His will all things were created and are continually sustained (Acts 17:28-29, Colossians 1:15-18, Hebrews 1:3). Thus, all things which have been and are exist or take place because He either allowed it or specifically willed it to take place. For this reason alone God would be worthy of all glory, honor, and praise (cf. Revelation 4:8, 11).
Since God has all authority, God can choose to delegate His authority to His representative agents according to His will and purpose (Romans 13:1). Jesus of Nazareth was declared the Son of God in the resurrection (Romans 1:4); He ascended to the Father as the Son of Man, and the Father granted Him a kingdom and a dominion which would never end (Daniel 7:13-14, Matthew 28:18). Since God the Father has delegated His authority to Jesus His Son, we do well to serve Jesus as our Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36, 1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
God has declared His will and purpose for mankind by means of His Spirit through His chosen agents (Hebrews 1:1-3, 2 Peter 1:21). The word of God which they spoke carried God’s authority and was binding upon the people to whom it was given. God spoke to Israel through Moses and the prophets; the records of what they proclaimed are preserved in the Old Testament and maintain authority and profitability as sacred Scripture (2 Timothy 3:14-16). Jesus gave a specific dispensation of authority to the twelve Apostles to bind and loose on earth what had been bound and loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:19, 18:18); they would receive the Holy Spirit and thus establish Jesus’ Kingdom on earth (Acts 1:1-14, 2:1-36). The words of the prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles represent the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20-22); they are the only ones who were thus granted the authority to decree and bind what is right from wrong, good from evil, profitable from unprofitable, and we must depend on what they have revealed as recorded in the New Testament to that end.
Many relationships, sacred and secular, are mediated in terms of authority. Paul spoke of delegated authority from God in Romans 13:1 to establish that secular authorities were given their power by God, and Christians were to submit to them, respect them, and give appropriate honor and tax (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-18). The church universal may not have any earthly authority ruling over it at this time, but local churches are to be shepherded by qualified elders, and members of local congregations are to submit to their rule (1 Peter 5:1-5). Parents have authority over their children; children are to obey their parents in the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-4). Husbands are to rule over their family in sacrificial love; wives are to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ in all things (Ephesians 5:22-33). All of this is right and good in the sight of God our Father and Jesus our Lord and Savior.
Christians therefore find themselves in a predicament not unlike the centurion who appealed to Jesus in Matthew 8:5-13. Centurions served as a type of middle management in the Roman army, and the Roman army gained its success in battle and international renown on the basis of its discipline and control and command structure. This Roman centurion understood authority, for he was a man who was both under authority and one over other men (Matthew 8:9). He understood that when one in authority says something is to be done, it must be done; the consequences of disobedience were too severe to even contemplate. In this way the Roman centurion manifests great faith in Jesus, greater faith than was found among the Israelites: since the centurion believed that Jesus is Lord, he did not believe himself worthy to have Jesus come into his house, and he was confident that as long as the Lord Jesus declared that his servant would be healed, the servant would be healed (Matthew 8:8, 10).
In a similar way Christians are under the authority of, if nothing else, God, Jesus, the Apostles, and the governing authorities; most Christians also have a position of authority over some others. We do well to honor God in Christ by living appropriately under authority: we are called upon to submit to those in authority over us, to serve them, and to do what we are told (cf. Colossians 3:18, Hebrews 13:17). It is not given for us to judge those in authority; God will hold them accountable for the authority which He granted them (Romans 14:10-12). Christians are to live as free men in order to serve as slaves of Jesus, not to use their freedom to cover up evil or rebellion (1 Peter 2:16)! In those relationships in which Christians are to exercise authority over others, they do well to exercise their authority as God has exercised His authority over them: to love and serve, to lead by example, to manifest the fruit of the Spirit and not the works of the flesh, and to remember always that God will judge them for how effectively they managed all over which they were made stewards (Galatians 5:19-23, Ephesians 5:22-33, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:1-6). May we serve God in Christ, honor all those whom God has given authority, and exercise authority in ways which glorifies Him and advances His purposes!
Ethan R. Longhenry