The society in which we live today is one that simply does not hold a lot of respect for authority. Especially within the last few decades has this been true, and more so than at any other time in our nation’s history. Various things and events have contributed to this decline in respect for authority, but it is a decline that is rapidly headed toward the day when there is no respect for authority in any realm. It is common to see signs or clothing today with the statement, “Question Authority.” It is not intended by this statement that one simply question whether or not someone has a right of authority, but that all authority should be challenged. The basic premise is, they do not want to recognize anyone as authoritative but self. What we are seeing is a rise in the mindset that every individual has the sole right of determination of what is right and wrong, and that there is no universal moral code, no universal or absolute standard of right and wrong, and no authority to which we must answer — particularly an authority as high as God to which all men must give account.
But this is not an idea that comes from the Bible. In fact, this mindset of challenging all authority may be traced back to the decline and, now, rejection, of the Bible itself as a source of authority in religious and spiritual matters. Having rejected the Bible as God’s word and the standard for all things spiritual, it was not long before man then saw that all authority could be challenged. If we reject the utmost authority, who is to say anyone has authority, especially when we speak of mere men? If God has no authority over us, could any man have authority over another? God’s word does not teach, nor does it encourage, the rebellious attitudes that have become so widespread in our society and, in fact, it teaches us quite the contrary. God’s word teaches us about respecting authority, not challenging or rebelling against it.
Before we can talk about the need for respecting authority, we must consider whether or not there is even a cause or need for authority. If something has no right or need for existence, then it would be ridiculous to argue that it should be respected. So we begin with the consideration of the basis for authority: From where does it come? Well, there are two possible sources of authority: from God or from men.
Once, Jesus was questioned by the religious leaders of the first century, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?” (Matt. 21:23). The questions were legitimate questions in that they had the charge of the spiritual well-being of the people of Israel and they would not tolerate someone coming in and teaching contrary or different things without a challenge. But in His answer (Matt. 21:24, 25), Jesus gave to us the two possible sources of authority and the basis for all authority that exists: Of heaven or of men. There is no other possible basis; either it comes from God or it comes from men!
But even knowing the two possible sources, the two sources are not equal in authority. The will and authority of men cannot equal that of God. The apostles said it well when they said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). When it comes down to it, we must make a choice of accepting God’s authority or elevating man to an equal standing with God, but we cannot simply say that they are both equally authoritative. We cannot straddle the fence, so to speak, and say we submit to both. Ultimately, one has to be supreme and, in this case, God’s will must reign — His authority is the highest. As Creator, He reigns over all creation and we, as part of that creation, have no right to challenge His authority. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Does not the potter have power over the clay…?” (Rom. 9:21).
Having established the two possible sources for authority and having seen that God’s will must be supreme, it should then be acknowledged that this authority should be respected by all who are subject to it. Whether it is the authority of men or the authority of God, though, all authority is to be respected! As God’s word teaches, all authority ultimately derives from God so the respect offered or withheld is ultimately directed at God. God expected that His people respect the authorities that be, and has always expected such.
Under the Old Law, God commanded, “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people” (Exod. 22:28). In one command, God reminds His people that respect is to be given to Him, as God, and to those who would be their rulers [men of authority]. Under the New Covenant, God’s people are also expected to show respect to those in authority. Paul commanded Titus, “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men” (Titus 3:1). While the application in this particular passage was for the governmental authorities, the principle applies across the board and teaches us that we should respect all authorities. Consider:
Society and the Government. In the widest sense of our earthly life, we are to respect the authorities of our government, whatever it may be. Paul’s instruction was this: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1). Peter added, “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17). In the context, Peter was particularly speaking of the need to submit to government (1 Pet. 2:13), but here he gives the command to do more than obey; we must show honor to those who rule over us. Let us keep in mind the command is not to show honor particularly to those individuals who rule, but to the office. While some rulers may not be honorable or worthy of our honor, the office of ruler is to be honored, and we are instructed to show respect.
The Family. On a smaller scale, we must recognize that within the family, there are certain roles with given authority and they must also be respected. The command to children is, “Honor your father and mother” (Eph. 6:2). Respect is not just something suggested and something that might be a good idea, but something commanded by God. It is not just commanded to the children, but to the wives, too. To them Paul wrote, “let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Eph. 5:33). This tells us that whoever the authority is and whoever else might be in submission must show honor to the one who is the authority. We do not set aside this responsibility because of changing social convention, but abide by the will of God throughout it all and we cannot waver or make arbitrary exceptions.
The Church. And within the church, the issue is no different and certainly no less important. If there is no respect for authority within the church, what kind of disciples would we be? When Jesus told the parable of the wicked vinedressers, we should note that the vineyard owner [God] sent His Son to receive what was rightly His and he did so saying, “They will respect my son” (Matt. 21:37). God expected His Son to be respected when He came to this earth; after all, God gave Him to be “head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18). Since He has all authority (Matt. 28:18), He is deserving of that honor and glory!
Let us distinguish ourselves, as God’s people, by respecting authority. — Steven Harper