We live in a society where there is a crisis of authority. Those in positions of authority such as policemen and teachers were in the past treated with honour and respect. Nowadays such is so often not the case and many authority figures find themselves mocked and scorned. Such a development has significant implications for the society we live in. In fact we can say that it is one sign of a society which is fragmenting and becoming increasingly chaotic.
Amidst all this we need to remember that our God is not a God of disorder (1 Cor 14:33a). A society which is in chaos is a society which has fallen under the judgment of God. We might long for an easier society in which to live. However, such is not the case and God has appointed us for this time. We need then to think about how we, as Christians, can honour God ordained authority in this rebellious age.
We need to start by making sure that God is honoured for who He is and recognized as the one who occupies the throne of the universe. It is not a case of us placing Him in such a position because Jesus Christ is LORD of all (see Acts 10:36). Rather, we should be living with God’s sovereign rule as a permanent conscious reality in our lives. God is the ultimate authority figure and needs to be treated as such. All breakdown in society is derived from a failure to acknowledge God as having authority over our lives.
Flowing on from having God in the right place is the desire to have a right attitude towards Him. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10a). We begin to operate wisely when we begin to fear the LORD. What is at the heart of fearing the LORD? Embedded within the word “fear” are thoughts of reverence, of deep respect and of acting so as not to displease. The eternal God is worthy of all respect. If we are truly disciples of the LORD then a healthy fear of the LORD should pervade our lives.
In recognizing God’s authority we have learnt that there are two key issues. Firstly, we need to recognize his position of authority and secondly, we need to have full respect for Him in that position. Our perception of God and His authority is the starting point for appreciating all other aspects of authority because all true authority is given by God. As Paul puts it there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God (Rom 13:1b). The primary reason why we have such disrespect for all authority in the UK today is because people have rejected the ultimate authority figure; God Himself.
However, in the world in which we live God has established authority structures which we do well to honour. This is because when we honour /respect God-established authority there is a sense in which we honour God Himself because He set these structures in place. Let us consider four which we might suggest are the key ones.
In society Paul says in Romans 13:1a that everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities. Peter underlines this truth when he exhorts his dispersed Christian readers to Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. (1 Peter 2:1 Let us therefore be careful how we speak about and how we act towards those in government and all in authority positions such as judges, policemen, teachers and referees / umpires on the sports field. Let us be clear that we do not necessarily respect each authority figure for their lifestyle, policies or decisions, but we give God honour when we respect them for the positions they hold.
In the workplace In New Testament times the working environment was structured around the master / slave relationship. Such is not the case today, but the principles involved in how the slave acted towards the master are the same as those which the employee should show towards their employer. So Paul in Col 3:22 urges the Colossian Christians slaves to obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. We notice here again how the honouring of our workplace masters is a reflection of us honouring the Master in heaven.
In the Family Parents are given authority over their children. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—”that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth” (Eph. 6:1-3). That is Paul’s exhortation to the children connected with the Ephesian congregation.
In the church Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you (Heb.13:17). How much pain and schism would have been prevented among God’s people if this exhortation had been heeded in the Lord’s churches. We may not always agree with the elders of the church in the decisions they reach on certain issues. However, we must show how we honour God by honouring the leadership He has instituted in the church.
Ultimate authority then is with God. However, He has instituted authority in various realms and these authorities should be honoured by ourselves. In fact, in many ways, we show how much we respect our God by how much we respect the authority he has instituted. Moreover we should support authority. For example if a parent is disciplining their child we should reinforce the position of the parent and not undermine it.
So we conclude that authority structures are so important because without them chaos soon starts to be seen. This is all too visible in the society in which we live. So let us be those who fear God and show this by respecting authority as given by Him.
(Taken from Feltham Evangelical Church Newsletter of June 2008)