Respect For Authority
Introduction. One of the challenges that Christians face is determining what characteristics of the culture in which they find themselves in can co-exist with Christian character and which must be put away. If my culture teaches that being an American, Canadian, a Mexican or a Philippino means that I violate the teachings of Jesus it is more important that I am a Christian, than it is that I am a good citizen.
We look to (and honor) the challenge to the authority the king of England, which was formalized in the Declaration of Independence as a great moment in our national identity. This has taught us to be cautious in our attitudes towards authority.
Unlike many Catholic countries, the strong Protestant background of many of our citizens has led us in matters of religion to reject the idea that there is a “pope” that holds relgious authority over man. This is clear even today in the fact that many Catholics may honor the pope but reject some of his teachings.
Since the 1960’s there has been an ever growing push to resist authority. The anti-war counter-culture of the 60’s has taught the generation trained by them that older people are “out of touch” - it is OK to speak to them with contempt and disrespect. From this thinking (directly or indirectly) has been born children that with curse their parents and teachers, teenagers that lie and defy instruction, leading to young adults that think breaking laws they don’t like is fine (if you don’t get caught)!
One characteristic of current American culture that presents us with such a challenge has to do with attitudes towards authority. Some of this is a part of our American heritage.
Tonight I’d like for us to think about this and consider what the Bible teaches us about respect for authority. Should Christians demonstrate respect for authority? Does this respect depend upon the authority demonstrating admirable character (or not)? Should Christians demonstrate a clear and distinct attitude towards authority than the culture around us advocates?
I. God Has Established Positions of Authority.
- The Family.
- Husbands & Wives. Ephesians 5:22-23 - “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.”
- Parents & Children. Ephesians 6:1,2 - “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise:”
- The Church.
- Elders. I Peter 5:5 (after talking about appointed elders) - “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.’”
- Men & Women. I Timothy 2:12 - “...I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.”
- Civil Government.
- Civil authority. Romans 13:1 - “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.”
- Daily Affairs.
- Masters & Servants (I Peter 2:18-20). This sets a general principle regarding situations where others are over us for the purpose of business, education or social custom. This would apply to other kinds of relationships.
- Employers & employees. You can choose a job - but while in employ you must behave respectful and honorable. I have known of cases where someone claimed to be a Christian but was such a poor worker no one cared about their faith!
- Teachers & students. Same idea.
II. Principles Regulating Authority.
- We must obey God rather than man.
- When authority tries to compel us to disobey God man must disobey authority (Acts 5:26-29).
- This doesn’t sanction disobedience to change the policies of authority. The Bible does not teach us, children -Êif your parents make poor rules, break them! If your teacher is hard to get along with, disobey him! Or talk back! (Romans 13:2). We must do right to set the example.
- Christians can try to effect authority towards what is right e.g. Wife can try to effect the faith of their non-Christian husband (I Peter 3:1).
- We should value those in authority for the “work’s sake.” (I Thessalonians 5:12-13).
- We should make their work pleasant not a burden (Hebrews 13:17).
- Paul & Onesimus (Philemon 10-14). Paul doesn’t say, set him free! Nor, don’t go back! He is teaching two Christians in positions of submission and authority how to make each other’s tasks bearable, because that’s what Christians do!
- Authority does not equal perfection.
- We don’t obey or respect authority because those over us are better, smarter, wiser or more valuable than we are. (I Timothy 5:19) - Perhaps many “accusations” Gr. katagoreo (Eng. “catagory”) - kata - “against” - agoreo - “before the assembly.” This is a public accusation. Not evey fault will count as a charge worthy of public consideration. Obvious implication--not flawless.
- Example of Paul & Felix (Acts 24:10; 24-25). Felix was (according to history) and wicked and ruthless man, but Paul treats him with the respect due his office.
- Example of David & Saul. ( I Samuel 24:3-7).
- Example of Jesus & Centurion. (Matthew 8:5-10).
- Jesus & Parents (Luke 2:51,52).
Conclusion. I had a friend a number of years ago who was in the military for a few years. He was not an officer, and communicated some of the frustration that the enlisted men often felt towards their officers. He was in communications, and he told me that there were cases in which the officers that had authority over him might not know as much as their underlings about the equipment or how it was used--but they were still in charge!
As Christians there will be times when...
- We must respect our parents, even if we don’t understand the reasons for their instructions.
- We must use a respectful tone with our teachers, even if they are rude to us.
- We must be good employees even if our bosses don’t deserve our respect.
- We must be submissive to our husbands even when they disappoint us.
- We must follow the elders, even when we disagree with their judgment.
- We must honor our political officials “for the work’s sake.”
We do all these things, not because the people are worthy of our respect, but because when we do so, we are displaying the honor and respect that we feel for God. We serve as others as a way of serving God (Colossians 3:22-25).