What should be our response towards those in authority

We are to submit to those in authority
Why we need to submit to human authority
The Bible tells us to

(1 Pet 2:13-14 NIV)  Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, {14} or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

Rebelling against human authority is rebelling against God

(Rom 13:1-2 NIV)  Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. {2} Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

The people in the military do not dare to disobey their superiors. Why? Because punishment is swift and severe. Likewise, in a profit organization, we will not dare to disobey our bosses because we want to keep our job. We know what the punishment is.

However, in a church setting we frequently dare to disobey our leaders. We think we are doing volunteer work and there is nothing they can do if we disobey. We forget that disobeying our church leaders can bring about God’s judgment on us as well, the same way disobedience to a military commander or secular boss would have adverse consequences. Only when we understand the negative consequences will we have the motivation to want to obey our leaders.

We want to have a good account on Judgment Day

(Heb 13:17 NIV)  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.

The kingdom of God is just that – a kingdom.

Jesus frequently used the concept of an earthly kingdom to describe the kingdom of God.

(Mat 18:23 NIV)  “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.

(Mat 22:2 NIV)  “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.

Even while Jesus was on earth, He was described as a King.

(Mat 21:5 NIV)  “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'”

(Mat 27:11 NIV)  Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.

The kingdom of God is not a democracy. It is ruled by a King, and there are ranks, order and authority. The laws of the kingdom are not subject to popular vote.

Church leaders have special designated authority

While it is true that every believer has spiritual authority, it is also true that there are different degrees of authority.

(James 5:14 NIV)  Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.

We are told to ask the church elders to pray for us when we are sick. Notice it does not say we are to go to teachers or evangelists or even those with a healing ministry. Obviously the church elders carry with them a special dose of God-given authority.

God even used a fleshly, insensitive priest to speak forth His promise with authority. Eli was used by God to bring forth His promise of a descendant through Hannah, who was barren.

(1 Sam 1:17-20 NIV)  Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” {18} She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. {19} Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the LORD and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. {20} So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the LORD for him.”

The early church operated with ranks and authority

James was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Once when circumcision was in question among the believers (Acts 15) Paul, Barnabas, Peter, John and all the rest of the apostles came together to discuss the issue. After they had discussed, James stood up and gave his judgment on the issue and everyone submitted to his decision.

(Acts 15:13-20 NIV)  When they finished, James spoke up: “Brothers, listen to me…. {19} “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. {20} Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.

The church’s mission will not be accomplished unless the members understand church authority

In every organization, there is a need for its members to submit to authority before the organization’s goals can be accomplished. If a military commander is given a mission and he does not have the submission of his subordinates, that mission is as good as a failure. This is also true for a profit organization. If the CEO says on thing and the employees do another, the organization will probably not last very long in the market place.

Similarly if the church leader says we should do this thing for God and he gets no submission from the members, he cannot accomplish it. The Bible uses the analogy of the human body to depict the church. With that analogy, if the head wants to move north but the legs want to move south, where would the body be heading?

We have to submit out of a willing heart

(Isa 1:19-20 NIV)  If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; {20} but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

It is not enough to be obedient; we have to obey willingly. In other words, our attitude has to be right.

Under what circumstances do we not submit to authority
We have to use discretion

(Col 3:22 NIV)  Slaves, 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.

This verse has been used to encourage unconditional submission even in the area of church authority. I don’t agree.

We know that we cannot submit to human authority if we are asked to sin. That means that the “everything” in that verse is already not conditional. We have to use discretion.

(Acts 17:11 NIV)  Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

Paul was instructing them in Scriptures. That means he was instructing them in matters of “God is asking you to do this. Here it is in Scripture!” Yet the Bereans did not follow blindly but used their discretion. Of course we have to note that their attitude was right. They really wanted to obey if they found Paul to be right.

How much more we have to use discretion if our church leader is not quoting from Scripture but just saying “I want you to do this” or “I believe God wants you to do this.”

When leaders contradict the will of God

(Acts 5:28-29 NIV)  “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” {29} Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!

(Titus 3:1 NIV)  Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient; to be ready to do whatever is good,

We don’t have to submit if we are very sure that the one in authority is not moving with the will of God.

(1 Cor 5:9-11 NIV)  I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– {10} not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. {11} But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

When we choose not to submit to church authority because that leader is not moving in accordance with God’s will, we have to be very sure.

(1 Tim 5:19 NIV)  Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.

What happens if our church leader tells us to do something that is not outright sin but what we feel is not in accordance with God’s will for our lives?

I believe that we should not do it. Because sinning is not just lying, murder, sexual immorality; it is also failure to do God’s will for our lives. Jonah was someone who sinned against God not because of those obvious sins but because he ran away from God’s will for his life.

Likewise if God has called us to be in a certain area of ministry and we have confirmation from other Christians, we should not let our church leader derail us unless we are sure that he has received a new word from the Lord, who wants to change the direction in our life.

When we are asked to submit beyond the jurisdiction of the leader

God does not require us to obey delegated authorities outside the legitimate sphere of their authority. This is why wives are urged to “be submissive to your own husbands” – not to all men (1 Peter 3:1; Ephesians 5:22).

This principle is in operation even today. A policeman carries a lot of authority in his area of jurisdiction. Step beyond that and he carries no authority at all.

A church leader should not be allowed to dictate things in a person’s life that is not in the area of his jurisdiction. For example, we should not have to submit in such areas as how we should spend our leisure time, what choice of holiday destination, etc unless his advise is clearly for our spiritual good.

What if we disagree with the judgment of leaders?

It is clear that we are not to obey leaders when they ask us to do something that is sinful. What if it is not sinful but we think it is poor judgment? Do we have to right not to obey?

The answer is no and the example we draw from is the Israelites’ rebellion of Moses’ judgment and decision-making. This was tantamount to questioning God.

(Exo 5:19-21 NIV)  The Israelite foremen realized they were in trouble when they were told, “You are not to reduce the number of bricks required of you for each day.” {20} When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, {21} and they said, “May the LORD look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

(Exo 16:2-3 NIV)  In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. {3} The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

This was Moses’ reply to a people who complained about his leadership not in the sense that he had sinned, but in his poor judgment and decision-making.

(Exo 16:8 NIV)  Moses also said, “… Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD.”

If we really disagree with authority, we should ask God to change our leader’s heart. Authority is instilled by God and He is responsible for them.

(Prov 21:1 NIV)  The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.

We are to respect and honor those in authority

(1 Pet 2:17 NIV)  Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.

To honor means to treat with respect.

We have an example of that in the life of Hannah. Hannah was miserable because she could not conceive. When she cried out to God at the temple, the priest Eli thought that she was drunk and rebuked her.

Hannah may have known about the misconduct of Eli at that time. It would have been natural to respond in anger to a prophet of God who had been so insensitive in her time of greatest pain. Yet she did not respond with disrespect. This can be seen in her reply to Eli.

(1 Sam 1:15-16 NIV)  “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. {16} Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”

David is another example of proper conduct towards authority. Even after being driven from the presence of a king who had fallen from God, he continued to honor Saul until the day of his death. David understood that Saul was the Lord’s anointed servant.

(1 Sam 24:10 NIV)  This day you have seen with your own eyes how the LORD delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lift my hand against my master, because he is the Lord’s anointed.’

(1 Tim 5:17 NIV)  The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

We are not only to honor our church leaders; we are to honor them with a double portion. How rarely we do this! We speak to our secular bosses with a certain measure of respect but we usually approach our church leaders with much less respect because we are doing volunteer work in church. This arises because we do not see that we are doing work for the Lord. We think we are doing our church leaders a favor. When we have a proper perspective that we are actually working for the Lord when we obey our leaders, then can we treat them with the proper respect.

If we are tempted to speak to our church leaders in a certain way, let’s ask ourselves how we would have said the same thing to say, our bosses, or the President of our country, or someone you truly respect. Would you have said it in the same manner?

We are to honor them financially

(1 Tim 5:17-18 NIV)  The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. {18} For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”

The above verses that talk about honoring our elders are actually in the context of honoring them financially (“the worker deserves his wages”.

Churches are blessed when the congregation honors their ministers by adequately providing for them financially.

We are to honor those designated by the leader

(John 13:20 NIV)  I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”

If we want to receive the leader we have to receive the ones he has sent.

This is illustrated in the story of Naaman, commander of the Syrian army. He had contracted leprosy and went to Elisha the prophet to be healed. He had expected Elisha to come out personally to heal him and was furious when Elisha merely sent his servant to ask him to bathe seven times in the river Jordan.

(2 Ki 5:10-11 NIV)  Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” {11} But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.

Fortunately he was convinced by the servant to bathe in the river and as a result he was healed. As a commander of the army he should have understood that Elisha’s servant had designated authority and should be honored as well.

We are to pray for those in authority

(1 Tim 2:1-3 NIV)  I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– {2} for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. {3} This is good, and pleases God our Savior,

We need to affirm those in authority

Affirmation of God’s leadership is important to let them know that you are with them. The Israelites affirmed their allegiance to Joshua after Moses died.

(Josh 1:17 NIV)  Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the LORD your God be with you as he was with Moses.

We are not to speak evil about those in authority

(Acts 23:2-5 NIV)  At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. {3} Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!” {4} Those who were standing near Paul said, “You dare to insult God’s high priest?” {5} Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.'”

Paul changed his attitude when he realized that the person he was insulting was the high priest.

We have an example of Michal the daughter of Saul speaking evil against King David and suffering the consequences.

(2 Sam 6:16-23 NIV)  As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart… {20} When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” {21} David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel–I will celebrate before the LORD. {22} I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” {23} And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.

We are not to speak against leadership in a tone of contempt. This does not mean that we cannot point out the faults of those in authority with the loving intention to correct their wrong ways. Of course we have to do so in respect.

Instead of speaking against our leaders, let’s use the opportunity to pray for them.

Rewards for those who respond appropriately to authority
We will receive their ministry

Jesus’ authority was not received in His hometown. As a result, the people could not receive His ministry.

(Mark 6:4-5 NIV)  Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” {5} He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.

This explains why a missionary can go to a foreign land and see a lot of miracles done through him, more than what he has done in his own country. This is because the missionary was more honored as sent by God in a foreign land and therefore the people who honored him could receive his ministry abundantly.

(Mat 10:41 NIV)  Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward.

Warning against those who despise authority

(2 Pet 2:9-10 NIV)  if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. {10} This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings;

Are evil authorities also appointed by God?

An example of an evil ruler in the Bible is Pharaoh. He enslaved and impoverished people, physically and mentally abusing, even killing them. Yet the Bible says that it was God who raised him up.

(Exo 9:16 NIV)  But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.