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AUTHORITY AND SUBMISSION
by Philip Owen

            One of the cornerstones that anchored American greatness in the past was the sanctity of individual liberty. The standard maxim expressing this concept was that my liberty to swing my fist ended at the tip of your nose. In other words, I am free to do as I wish so long as it does not harm you and your liberty. We can admit a certain nobility in a society that generally observes that rule. However, it fails if regarded as an absolute standard because, for one thing, it may appear to codify as good our selfish, rebellious nature. One of the tests a believer faces is how he behaves given the large measure of freedom that the Constitution of the United States was designed to protect. Will I insist on the rights guaranteed in that document, or will I live a life of submission as governed by the Word of God? Will I abuse the civil rights that are protected by living as though those liberties abolish my responsibility to submit to the God-ordained authorities in my life, whether they are parents, a husband, a pastor, an employer, or the government?

            A key element affecting whether a believer is blessed or chastened by God is how earnestly he takes the truths that “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves” (Rom. 13:1, 2). Paul, of course, is speaking here of civil governments. But all just authority derives from God. Children are commanded to obey their parents “in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph. 6:1b). Wives are commanded to “be subject” to their own husbands “as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22b). Even slaves were commanded to “be obedient” to their masters “as to Christ” (Eph. 6:5b); the modern application of that command would, of course, have reference to employees and employers. Note that in every case the idea of “in the Lord,” “as to the Lord,” or “as to Christ” is repeated. Similarly, congregants are commanded to “obey” and to “submit to” their leaders, or pastors, because they “will give an account” (Heb. 13:17a). Once again, it is clear that in being required to give an account to the Lord, the underlying reality is that they are ministering with God-ordained authority. The thought being conveyed is not only that we should regard submission to these authorities as service to Christ but also that we must recognize that the authority they wield is God-ordained. They have not usurped our liberty, or stolen our freedom, and robbed us of our independence: they are performing their God-given functions.

            And while it is true that believers are commanded to submit to these various authorities no matter what they require so long as their requirements do not compel us to disobey God, it is especially true if the authority is being exercised by a godly Christian. Neither superior intelligence nor a stronger will excuses rebellion against God’s authority exercised through frail humanity. Sometimes, for example, a wife uses her superior intelligence (or what she believes to be superior) to rebel against the counsel of her husband. Or sometimes a child thinks he is smarter than his parents and can ignore their instructions. But nothing abrogates the authority God places in individuals He calls to lead.

            I recently read a profound observation respecting God-ordered authority. Perhaps it will give you proper pause as it did me. “When God appoints a man to leadership, He can be expected to communicate to him insights He may not care to share with those he leads. A father’s views are not to be considered infallible, but they carry a presumptive legitimacy not guaranteed to the rest of the family.” Listen carefully: no human being is ever always right. But the individual who hastens to reject the counsel of a God-ordained pastor, husband, father, or employer is both a rebel and a fool. Submission should be the default attitude and response toward those in authority. God equips those He calls to represent Him and His righteousness faithfully. Only when we truly submit first and fully are we in a position to charitably question the rightness of some edict. But remember—chances are we are wrong, as we certainly are if we rebel. Christ, a member of the Trinity, fully submitted to His Father. Submission is God’s way for us.

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