If I were to present you with the following question, how would you respond: “Do you have problems with authority?” Now, you may react angrily—and that in itself would be an answer to the question! The reality is that we all battle with authority in some way. Let me explain.
I have six ideas I want us to consider together briefly as we take cognisance of the widespread reality concerning authority problems.
Some people battle to recognise authority. By saying this, I am drawing attention to the fact that it does require a little bit of social savvy to recognise the reality of structure and hierarchy in society.
Young men new to the military struggle to come to terms with this reality regarding rank—a young corporal can send you packing because he is more senior in the system than you are, private! In the workplace or at school, there are issues of seniority and hierarchy. It is not easy to exercise authority and it is not always easy to submit to authority.
In marriage there are often authority issues, as there are in parenting. Social fabrics differ as to how age contributes to this hierarchical structure.
Are you always clear in your own mind, as a believer, when it comes to this issue of who wields authority over me, and over whom do I have authority?
Following on from recognising authority come problems of submitting to authority.
I know that he or she is above me in the pecking order, in rank, in status, but I am battling to live out that realisation practically. On the outside I’m playing along, but on the inside I’m fighting!
I know the Bible says that I ought to submit to my parents, or to my husband, but I don’t want to!
Rebellion against authority, ‘bucking the system’, often has painful consequences—by God’s design. All authority derives from God. God exercises His authority in the world through means, through agents; He delegates His authority for others to exercise. We submit to God by submitting to His ambassadors who exercise His delegated authority over us for our good.
Exercising authority is not always easy—let’s face it! Sometimes (most times), it is actually easier (less demanding) to be a softy when it comes to our role as parent, employer, office-bearer, or school prefect. It is not pleasant to confront issues of behaviour. It is easier to turn the proverbial blind eye to things. Conflict is painful and stressful at the best of times.
In marriage, parenting, in the work arena, and even in the church, it is tempting just to let things slide and remain unaddressed, unresolved, unattended to. But eventually reality kicks in and bites.
Oh for fathers who are willing to address issues of modesty with their daughters! Oh for mothers who are willing to firmly and consistently insist that their toddler obeys them!
Another aspect that causes us some difficulty is appreciating authority.
Theoretically, we would all agree that the God of the Bible is a God of hierarchy, a God of leaders and followers, a God of kings and subjects, a God of teachers and learners. But practically, how often—having been confronted, having been corrected, having been questioned, having been taught—do we appreciate that these things are all God-designed by-products of authority? That police officer may look as if he is enjoying hiding behind his badge and his uniform, but for all you know, the last thing he felt like doing was stopping you and asking for your driver’s license, knowing that his question may call for further authoritative action on his part.
The existence and orderly influence of authority ought to be appreciated as expressions of God’s common grace.
Suspicion towards authority figures is often the result of racism and cynicism, or the result of past abuse. Society depends for its health on some kind of trust being expressed towards those in authority.
Happiness in the workplace means that bosses must be trusted, or at least given the benefit of the doubt. Harmony and peace in the local church requires that elders and deacons be trusted rather than being viewed with suspicion.
Uncertainty in personally providing leadership or expecting cooperation from others, especially in situations where the hierarchy is not clear, is also a complex factor related to authority.
Leadership gifting means that people take initiative to provide leadership where they feel it is required. Participation in a small group, exercising a ministry toward others, serving people—these all are more often than not expressions of authority; not authority over people, but taking responsibility for people!
Jesus said that all authority on earth and in heaven had been given to Him by His Father (Matthew 28:18). Surely then, for those who claim to love Christ, and who are depending upon Him specifically and exclusively for eternal happiness and security, there would be a willingness to constantly wrestle with these issues pertaining to authority—whether they affect gender identity, parenting style, marital harmony, acceptance of leadership, or whatever.
May God give you an increasing moral and spiritual authority as you increasingly appreciate the reality and existence of authority and model before others your submission to authority and your faithful exercise of authority.