What Does the Bible Say About Authority?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, June 18, 2018 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

Authority is one of those things that we all appreciate when it keeps things under control, but we also don’t appreciate when we feel as though it’s oppressing us or keeping us from doing what we want to do. Authority comes in lots of forms, such as teachers at school, your boss at work, those to protect us in law enforcement, and those who rule over us in local and national governments. But what does the Bible say about authority?

First and foremost, we know that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus. Because of that, He gives us the authority and power (and the command) to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

As for human authorities who govern over us, we see in Romans 13:1-7 that Paul urges believers to obey the governing authorities. For more on that, check out this post and this post.

It’s easier to submit to the authorities who govern over us when their rule lines up with God’s Word. But what about when it doesn’t? 1 Peter 2:13-18 says, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.”

Ephesians 6:5-9 says, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.”

While I would guess that most of the readers of this post are not in slavery, that was a common situation in Biblical times so the Bible speaks on it a fair amount. But slavery back then was not the same as we think of slavery today; then, it was generally only for a short time to pay off a debt, and then the slave was freed. Even though we’re not technically enslaved, we can use the principles given in these passages when we are dealing with authorities such as bosses or teachers. Serve them as if we’re serving God; do God’s will by obeying them.

Paul gives us words of encouragement on dealing with authority in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15: “Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.”

The writer of Hebrews echoes this thought in Hebrews 13:17: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” Titus 3:1-2 also encourages us this way: “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.”

In the book of Acts, Peter and the other apostles were often persecuted and thrown in jail for the sake of the Gospel. In one such instance, they are being questioned before the high priest and the Sanhedrin (some of their governing authorities), and they said, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29).

We see from Scripture that it’s important to obey the human authorities that are over us, but when we have to choose between obeying God or mankind, we know that receiving God’s reward in eternity is better than the temporary reward we’d receive for obeying humans and going against God. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

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