Whatever our position in society there is always someone or some organisation in authority over us. God calls on us to respect and honour those in authority.
We live in a culture that bucks against authority. Those in authority are often despised for their weakness and failures. When we stand before God, those who have been given authority will be required to answer for their use of it. This leads to a question for us – how do we as God’s servants show love by helping those in authority to come to a good place before God?
Paul extends this respect for authorities to the government. We see this in Romans 13:1-7. This is significant because at that time the authorities were not sympathetic with the Christian faith. Paul spent considerable time in prison and was ultimately executed due to abuse of their power.
Romans 13:1-7 1 Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.3 For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honour you.4 The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.5 So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. 6 Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do.7 Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honour to those who are in authority.
- What does the Bible say is the source of authority?
- What is the purpose of authority?
- How should authorities be treated?
Pray for the Authorities
It may well be that we are at odds with someone who is in authority over us, as indeed Paul was. Here is his counsel. 1 Timothy 2:1-5
1 Timothy 2:1-5 1 I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.3 This is good and pleases God our Saviour, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.5 For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.
- What is the position of God and Jesus over each person?
- What are we asked to pray for?
- What should our motivation be for prayer in each of the situations?
- How does God value the different people and ourselves? How does this reflect on the call to prayer?
The Lord gives instructions both to those in spiritual authority and those who are led. There is a clear difference here in the exercise of spiritual authority from that exercised through human institutions, though often the two become muddled. 1 Peter 5:1-6
1 Peter 5:1 And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: 2 Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God.3 Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.4 And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honour. 5 In the same way, you younger men must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, serve each other in humility, for “God opposes the proud but favours the humble.”* 6 So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.
- What attitude does God ask of those entrusted with leadership?
- What attitude does God ask of those being led?
- Is any right given to enforce these positions?
- What does God promise to those who walk with Him in humility?
Jesus washed his disciple’s feet. Part of the reason was as an example about the style of leadership he looks for. Look at John 13:12-17
John 13:12-17 12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am.14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.16 I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message.17 Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.
- What elements of explanation does Jesus give for washing the disciple’s feet?
- What does it mean for Jesus’ disciples to wash people’s feet today?
- How might learning to respect the different groups of people mentioned so far help us to learn to respect and honour God?