Spiritual Authority. Some of us have a problem with this. I do. Sometimes. If you are honest with yourself and me, you will admit that you do, too. No one really likes being told what they can or can’t, should or shouldn’t, do.
Many of us resist authority because we have witnessed it being abused. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Yes, I read Lord of the Flies in high school. My Junior English teacher, Joy Deming, had something to say about authority. I remember one day she was telling our class a list of things she expected us to complete to earn our grade in her class. It was quite a list.
Someone whined, “Do we really have to do all that?” To which Mrs. Deming said, “No. You do not.” She had everyone’s attention then. What? We didn’t really have to do all that she just said we did?
“No, you don’t have to do all those things. You don’t have to pass my class either.”
There was a collective sigh of disappointment in the room. No, we didn’t have to do the things she told us we had to do, but if we didn’t, we’d surely suffer the consequences of the authority she had over our grades.
The Bible tells us that we will be placed under authority; the leaders we must follow have been put there by God, himself, to lead us. Good leaders, and not so good ones. Both have something to teach us about ourselves and about authority. (Romans 13:1-7, Hebrews 13:17, Titus 3:1- Need I go on?)
Those in authority can really spoil our fun. I have had to pee on many parades my children dream up. It does not warm my heart to do it, but with authority comes responsibility, and I have to make decisions based on what I believe will bless my children. Having authority is sometimes just as hard as sitting under it. That is, if you manage it correctly.
Some of us resist authority because we have seen someone misuse it. I listened as my son told me a story he saw of spiritual abuse. (Unfortunately, my son understands first hand what that looks like.) Just this week, we sat under some teaching at our church about authority. The speaker was talking about how we must allow ourselves to come under spiritual authority to receive the protection and blessings that come from that. Likely knowing that many more desire to have authority than to sit under it, the speaker said that when we submit ourselves to proper spiritual authority, we will ourselves, be given authority. For a good leader is first, a good follower. Remember Jesus, the ultimate Master, came first as a servant.
As the speaker went on and on about the benefits of proper spiritual authority in our lives, my son watched the dynamics of the family sitting in front of him. The mother was seated on the end of the row, next to her was the grandfather, and then sat the teenaged daughter next to him. During worship, mom and grandfather were very actively involved in singing and worshipping. The daughter was a good bit less enthusiastic about the whole affair.
During the message, my son watched as the mother shot daggers into her daughter with her eyes and poked her shoulder with her finger following each point the speaker made. Apparently the mother didn’t think the daughter accepted authority well, and rather than trusting the Holy Spirit to work, she took the reigns herself. My son pegged this as spiritual abuse of authority. He was right. He so wanted to tell her that she was making a mockery of what the speaker was trying to teach. Then he saw the grandfather lean in and hug the girl, whispering something into her ear. The girl leaned into him and seemed to receive his words well. In my son’s eyes, he saw proper spiritual authority in that exchange.
How can we ensure that spiritual authorities do not ever abuse us? We do have some significant control in that area. We must measure those in authority over us against our Biblical examples.
-Does that person lead by serving?
-Do we see that person allowing themselves to come under the authority of someone else?
-Does that person have only our best interests at heart?
-Does that person seek for us to be all God intended us to be, even if that means we must pass from their authority to another’s to accomplish this?
If you can find no other example to follow, follow Jesus.
Jesus served his disciples. Most notably by washing their feet. (John 13:1-17)
Even Jesus submitted himself to the authority of the Father while he walked among us. In the Garden of Gethsemane- “Not my will Father, but yours.” (Matthew 26:39)
Jesus gave his disciples the opportunity to become the best version of themselves they could be, even if that meant he had to rebuke them. (Luke 9:54-55)
When it came time for Jesus to leave earth, he passed his disciples to the authority of the Holy Spirit. (John 14:26)
In seeking spiritual authority in our lives, we need to ask the above questions. We may not always like what those in authority have to tell us, but if they are modeling the Biblical example of spiritual authority in our lives, we would be wise to listen.