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Authority: What Christians
Should Know

By Dale A. Robbins

The subject of “authority” is one of those sensitive issues that is often viewed with controversy or cynicism in today’s society. The nonconformist revolution of the 1960’s, together with the widely publicized scandals in government, helped to promote a trendy, stylish disregard toward ethics, laws and authority figures. However, despite these popular secular attitudes, authority remains as a very important institution to God, one which is critical for Christians to understand in order to properly relate to Him and His system of values.

To begin with, God places a high value on authority because He is the one who created it. The Bible says that all authority comes from and originates with God. He is the absolute source of authority in the universe, and has delegated His principle of authority to mankind to maintain order in the world. “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves” (Rom. 13:1-2).

God’s Word says that followers of Christ should be obedient to secular laws and government, because according to scripture, secular authority is intended to be a “minister of God for our good” (Rom. 13:4), and serves His purpose of keeping law and order on the earth (1 Pet. 2:14-15). The Apostle Paul wrote, “...submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good” (1 Pet. 2:13-14).

The Concern with Authority

Authority must be understood by every Christian since it is the entire basis of our relationship with Christ. “Authority” means “the right to command and enforce obedience.” When we accept Jesus Christ as our “Lord,” this means that He is supposed to become our “boss” or “authority” over our whole life (Luke 6:46). In addition, the Bible becomes the source of authoritative instruction for our Christian Life (2 Tim. 3:16).

Since submission to authority is basic to Christian Life, it is important that we understand that all authority is a God-given institution, and all types of authority are related. The Lordship of Christ is the highest source of authority that we must answer to (Matt. 28:18), but God has also ordained at least three other categories of subordinate authority in the world that we must also submit to:

(1) The Family - Children are to obey their parents (Eph. 6:10). The wife is to cooperate with her husband, which is the head of the family (Eph. 5:22-24, 1 Tim. 2:12), and the husband is to submit to Christ and love his wife (Eph. 5:23,25).

(2) The State - We are to cooperate with those authority figures and obey the local and federal laws of the land, within the boundaries of God’s laws (1 Pet. 2:13-14).

(3) The Church - Christians are to submit to the headship of Christ which is exercised through His Spirit (Rom. 8:14), His Word (2 Tim. 3:16), and Church leadership (Matt. 18:17-20, Heb. 13:17).

God has established these authorities as the “delegated” extensions of His authority. If we resist cooperation, we are in effect, resisting God’s own authority and Lordship. This is why Paul told wives to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22).

Rebellion Disrespects all Authority

Just as all authority is related to other authority, all rebellion is also interrelated. It does not regard any class of authority. Rebellion is “the unwillingness to be ruled by any source other than self.” It is an indiscriminate contempt toward all authority.

Our attitude toward Christ as our Lord, is directly associated with our attitude toward other authority. Jesus Christ cannot be fully “Lord” over the person who harbors rebellion toward authority figures. The Bible says, “Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves” (Rom. 13:2).

Just as God is the source of all authority, Satan is author of all rebellion. We may recall that the Devil (Lucifer), a former archangel, was originally cast out of Heaven because he led an insurrection against God (Isa. 14:12-15). Rebellion is the very spirit of Satan’s attitude (Eph. 2:2), and if we permit it to dominate us it will infect and taint our attitude toward all authority, including God and His Word.

The prophet Samuel said, “...rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Sam. 15:23). The Apostle Peter said that those who are corrupt “despise authority” (2 Pet. 2:10), and the Proverbs say, “An evil man seeks only rebellion...” (Prov. 17:11).

What About Corrupt Authority?

Obviously, in the absence of Godly and moral values, there can be abuses of authority and perversions in government. Such was the case when Peter and John were forbidden to preach the Gospel by the Jewish Sanhedrin. They replied, "Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20 NLT).

Obviously, the Apostles believed that man's laws were trumped by the laws and desires of God, and weren't going to cease preaching the Gospel at their demand... however this doesn't invalidate all of man's other laws. Generally speaking, believers are to cooperate with whatever earthly laws or authority, "until" they conflict with the laws of God. Christians should generally be law abiding people, except in those situations where laws depart from the basic moral and righteous principles of God’s Word.

This goes also for cooperating with persons in leadership or authority. Even if some in authority appear corrupt, or if we disagree with their politics or decisions, we should still demonstrate a similar cooperation and respect toward their authority... as long as their demands don't exceed the boundaries of God's laws.

Fortunately in America, we have enjoyed a historic privilege of voting for our leaders, or voting them out if we see them become corrupt or incompetent. However, democracy hasn't always worked perfectly, especially as society has become more and more corrupt, and methods of manipulation such as the media have been used to manipulate popular opinion.

Despite these imperfections, citizens should always continue to exercise their right to vote, but Paul tells us that there is also another better way of dealing with those in authority when they become oppressive or ineffective... and that's by praying for them. For those who don't understand the power of prayer, this only seems foolish or useless, but persons of faith understand that God can use prayers of faith to influence a leader in a variety of ways... perhaps to change their heart, or to provide wisdom to make better decisions, or to orchestrate their removal from power entirely.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “ I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). This was an amazing admonition, considering that at the time, Paul was being held in a Roman dungeon by the wicked Emperor, Nero, who was notorious for his brutal and hideous persecution of Christians. The historian Tacitus wrote that Nero made the murder of Christians into a form of amusement or sport, who were "killed by dogs by having the hides of beasts attached to them, or they were nailed to crosses or set aflame, and, when the daylight passed away, they were used as nighttime lamps."1

Paul realized that God is the ultimate authority in dealing with our issues with other authorities, since He views them as His servants, delegated to maintain law, order and to administer justice (Rom. 14:4, 1 Chron. 16:21-22). And although Nero was among history's most wicked rulers, who (after releasing Paul, jailed him again) ultimately ordered Paul's execution... God orchestrated the removal of Nero about a year later, by his own suicide in A.D. 68.

Authority in the Church

Considering how our attitude toward all authority relates to our submission to the “Lordship” of Christ, we should especially be sensitive to the authority of the Church and spiritual leaders, who have specifically been assigned as representatives of Christ. The Bible says, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17).

Even more important than secular authorities, Christians must be cooperative with their spiritual leaders, who are charged with the responsibility to “watch for their souls.” An important point revealed from this passage in Hebrews is that it appears that all Christians are supposed to be under the authority of a spiritual leader. This would also mean that all believers should be a part of a local Church which has spiritual supervision by a pastor and elders.

Accountability is Essential

We cannot genuinely be under the authority of spiritual leadership without being committed to a Church (Heb. 10:25). How can we be accountable to spiritual supervision if we excuse ourself from Church fellowship, or just sit at home and watch TV ministries, or merely drift from one Church to another, week after week? Being accountable to a continuity of ministry and leadership is vital to God’s plan of providing the necessary “checks and balances” to produce solid spiritual growth.

One of the common reasons that some Christians “hop” from Church to Church, or detach themselves entirely from Church participation, is that inwardly they foster an “independent spirit” which resists authority. They don’t wish to be corrected or to confront truths they would prefer to avoid. Without accountability to authority, a believer will often develop “itching ears” (2 Tim. 4:3), which seeks after teachings that validate self-conceived opinions, instead of “objective” teaching which compels us to face truths that may conflict with our self-willed inclinations and desires.

Every believer has the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit to guide them (1 John 2:27), but this does not discharge them from the Biblical counsel and ministry of the Church (Heb. 13:7,17). The Church is Christ’s plan for His followers. He is the head (Eph. 5:23), and commissioned it to represent Him and His authority in the world (2 Cor. 5:20, Matt. 18:17-20, John 14:12). He ordained elders, deacons, and pastors to supervise and manage the affairs of His Church (Acts 14:23, 1 Tim. 3:10-13), and additional ministries to teach, train, and spiritually equip the saints for service (Eph. 4:11-16). Ministers are also accountable to the authority of overseers, who may offer counsel, reproof, or discipline when necessary (Acts 21:18-24).

Criteria for Spiritual Leadership

All believers should be committed to a Spirit-filled, Bible believing, Christ-centered Church. They should be accountable to a Pastor and Spiritual leaders, on the condition that leadership meets basic qualifications of (1) a moral and Godly lifestyle (Matt. 7:15-16, 1 Tim. 3:1-7), and (2) that they proclaim the uncompromised Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16).

Don’t rebel at the man of God whose life exhibits these Biblical qualities. The Bible warns that contempt toward God’s obedient servant is equal to contempt toward God (Exodus 16:2,8). Don’t do anything that would hinder Godly, spiritual leaders... don’t even bad-mouth them, as God considers it an act of rebellion. We must remember, that even if such authority over us makes their share of mistakes, as all humans will do, the Lord still demands our respect and restraint toward His anointed. They are His servants, and the Lord will correct them (Psalms 105:15).

Just as we should for all authority, pray for your spiritual leaders... that God will help them, or that He and His authorities over them will correct them as needed... and if necessary, to remove or reassign them as He see's fit in His perfect will.

1 Account of Tacitus


This article (VL-102) is copyrighted © by Dr. Dale A. Robbins, 1990-2023 and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA - Nashville, TN. Unless otherwise stated, scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. In some references to real persons, pseudonyms may have been used to preserve their privacy. You may download this article for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple use permission form. Many of our writings are also available as free pdf tri-fold pamphlets, which can be downloaded for reproduction from our Online Catalog. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain quantities of this title in other formats, email us. If you have appreciated these online materials, help us reach the world with the Gospel by considering a monthly or one-time tax-deductable donation.