Exploring Authority

Authority.

What is it really?
How does it work?
What purpose does it serve?
How does one receive it?
How are we to relate to it properly?

I have developed a real interest in challenging the definitions of words. I have found that if I keep my mind open that new insights can be discovered more easily and interconnections suddenly come alive as I read the Bible with new understandings.

Something came to my attention a few minutes ago that got me to thinking about this again. I remembered the words of Jesus to Pilate explaining to him that he would have no authority over Jesus if it had not been given to him by the Father in heaven. That statement has rather baffled me for most of my life. But as I begin understanding the true meaning of authority it begins to make much more sense.

What if authority is one of God's designated channels by which He sends me provisions for my various needs? What if people are assigned to be responsible for some area of life for those around them by God's assignment, whether they are even aware of it or not?

I haven't flushed all of this out very much yet so while I am writing this down I am also pondering and meditating about how this might fit together and make more sense.

I remember the parable of the servants who were given authority over cities after passing a test of how they would handle certain amounts of money. For a person put in authority over a city, what would likely be their responsibility? Likely they would be assigned to make sure the people of that city had many of their important needs met, had their problems addressed and had their differences resolved as quickly as possible.

The one in authority might also be in charge of protecting the people of that city from outside threat. This might also include some responsibility as far as offering guidance and wisdom when needed from a vantage point of maturity or to solicit others with maturity to deal with issues outside of their own ability.

One placed in authority would be expected to be a person assigned to be the representative of the master or king and would be expected to treat the people under their authority in a way similar to how the king would treat them. They might need at times to turn to the king for necessary resources or counsel when it was needed. Being in authority would make them responsible for answering to the king as far as to how they were fulfilling their role just as they had answered to Him regarding the talents.

After my new perceptions on what might be implied by the first two commandments about gods that I have considered recently, from that perspective a person in authority might also be considered a lesser god in a way. I have come to realize that a god is any source from which we expect to receive things necessary for our existence as well as for pleasure and protection. So if a person is assigned a position of authority under the authority of God, those under his care would be expected to cooperate with the ones in authority while cognizant that the authority and provisions of that person really were all coming from the higher authority beyond them. That is why God says to not have any other gods before Him or more important than Him. He actually might assign lesser gods in the form of people to reflect His authority and carry out responsibilities to care for our needs. But we are never to consider lesser gods or authorities as more important to us than the One who commissioned them to that role originally.

What happens when a person in a position of authority begins to act out of character with the assignment given him? What if a person in authority abuses their position and begins to exploit those under their care?

Jesus mentioned that scenario as well which I find rather interesting in relation to this investigation.

Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, 'My master is staying away a long time,' and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:45-51 NIV)

This passage seems to be clear that the purpose of the master's assignment to the servant was to be a provider for the other servants on behalf of the master. This seems to be inherent in the very essence of authority. The second scenario is an illustration of what happens when people with assigned authority decide to ignore their real purpose and begin to exploit and abuse their advantages over those they are supposed to be serving. In both cases Jesus' words seem clear: the master is the one who is ultimately responsible to deal with their disobedience or their abuse, not the servants under their control.

Jesus had something to say about authority that we often like to quote. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." (Matthew 28:18) We like this idea because we like to postulate on how Jesus has passed His authority on to His believers and how that empowers us to use His authority to challenge demons and defy other obstacles in our lives. But is that really what God had in mind about authority?

Jesus had some things to say to His disciples about this when they came back from a big evangelistic campaign in which they had experienced what they thought were amazing successes.

And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing. (Luke 9:1-2)
Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come.
The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name." And He said to them, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven." (Luke 10:1, 17-20)

It is so easy to divert our focus on the wrong thing when we are given authority. We can too easily become intoxicated with the power we are given and can slip into abusing that power if we lose sight of the responsibility we have in the execution of our assignments. As Jesus told His disciples when they were getting excited about the wrong things, their success or failure in their use of heaven's power was not what was really important about them, that was not what gave them value. Their true value and the real reason to get excited and rejoice was the awareness of the love and value that heaven places on humans, especially those who are willing to join themselves with Jesus and become agents of God to the world.

My value must be received from what God says about me and His desire for my companionship, not the results of the power or authority that He may have invested in me. It is true that there will be consequences that will result from how I carry out the responsibilities He has assigned to me, but my value is not based on my external successes or failures but on my relationship to Jesus as a sinner engaged in salvation and living under His authority.

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