Mankind has had an authority problem since the Garden.
When Adam and Eve were presented with the temptation to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they had a crisis of authority. God had spoken clearly and asserted his authority to create the rules in His universe. He had forbidden them to eat from that particular tree, and they were expected to obey. But when the serpent came along, he encouraged Adam and Eve to distrust God's authority. He questioned both God's truthfulness and His care for Adam and Eve and held out a seductive and ultimately disastrous alternative: total autonomy.
Well, as we know, Adam and Eve failed to resist temptation. Given the opportunity to throw off the shackles of God's law and follow their own desires, thus installing themselves as their highest authority, they jumped in with both feet. And since that time, men and women have spent their lives perfecting the craft of rebellion. From Cain to the tower of Babel to Sodom to our day, human beings have lived their lives in conscious rebellion against God's authority. As a result, we see flagrant disregard for God and His authority throughout the wider culture and in our private lives.
But there is one particularly subtle, more socially acceptable way that our distrust for God's authority manifests itself. According to the Bible, when we show disrespect for human authority we are actually rejecting the authority of God Himself. The Bible is clear that all human authority is established by God. Therefore, it demands our respect and obedience.
1. God instructs children to obey their parents. In Ephesians 6:1, we read: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
2. God instructs us to obey the government. Romans 13:1 tells us: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.
3. God instructs wives to submit to their husband's authority. Colossians 3:18 says: Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
4. God instructs church members to obey their elders. Hebrews 13:17 instructs us: Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.
All of this is, of course, provisional. We can never obey any human authority if it would cause us to sin against God. So in Acts 5:29, we see that the apostles refused to obey the Jewish leaders. They told them: We must obey God rather than men.
Given that God's Word is clear on this matter, why do we find it so difficult to respect the authority in our lives? And why do we find rebellion against human authority so natural and easy? Two reasons come to mind.
First, human authority is often abused and misused. A huge proportion of the world's governments are corrupt. Many husbands are cruel to their wives. Some parents abuse their children or lack personal and moral character. Church leaders sometimes manipulate and harm the very congregations they are called to shepherd. Because human authority is exercised by fallen men and women, there will always be abuse and incompetence that tempts us to disrespect and rebel.
Second, we are proud. Even when authority is exercised in an appropriate way, we naturally desire to rule ourselves. In our pride, we often think that we know best and, therefore, being required to submit to a government or parent or husband or church leader feels humiliating. And so we bristle against authority.
So what should we do about our natural problem with authority? Again, two things.
First, resolve to honor God by humbling yourself and honoring those in authority over you. God doesn't primarily encourage us to obey human authority because it is worthy of our respect in and of itself. Instead, he roots his commands in His own authority. So we are to obey the government because God has established it. When we show respect to our political leaders (even though we may not be thrilled about their policy decisions), we are showing that we trust God's wisdom and we respect His authority. When church members show respect for their God-given leaders, they show their confidence in God and His decision making process. When children honor their parents, they are showing that they honor the God who gave them these guardians.
Second, learn to trust God's authority. It is good that God runs the universe and you and I don't. We lack the wisdom, power, and knowledge to order the world. God does not. So learn to trust him and honor Him. He has promised that he has instituted authority for our benefit (see Romans 13:4, Proverbs 3:1-2), and so we should trust Him. When we rebel against those in authority over us, we rebel against God.
So let us resolve to be people who honor those in authority over us. Let our comments about our political leaders be seasoned with respect for the authority God has given them. Let us speak respectfully of and to our parents, church leaders, husbands, and all those whom God has established as authority figures in our lives. And in so doing, we will honor God Himself.
Michael McKinley serves as senior pastor of Guilford Baptist Church in Sterling, VA. He is a contributing writer for 9Marks Ministries and the author of Church Planting Is for Wimps (Crossway Books, 2010).
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