The Use of Authority
The proper understanding of authority not only entails submission to authority but also the proper exercise of authority. Authority can very easily be misused, especially on the mission’s field where one may be so far away from the organizational authority above him or her. It can also be easily misused in any other situation where the authority above us may be so far away (or is perceived to be detached from direct involvement) and unlikely to discipline us. A misunderstanding of authority causes its misuse and abuse, which, in turn, forms an incorrect relationship with the authorities above us. This, in turn, causes rejection by God, the loss of authority and its benefits, and even results in unanswered prayers (I Peter 3 :7).
This is seen in the life of King Saul who did not submit to the authority above him, which was represented by Samuel the prophet and the priests of the LORD in certain matters. God rejected him from being the permanent king over the Israelites. Saul, in turn, began to misuse his authority further for his own benefits and tried to kill some of his subjects (David, Jonathan, and Ahimelech with eighty-four other priests of the LORD) because of his jealousy and rage.
Those involved in leadership should remember never to exercise authority out of jealousy of another’s talents or opportunities or because they are afraid of losing control. This is simply evidence that you do not know how to use authority or are refusing to use it properly.
Saul’s jealousy of David’s greater triumphs is evidence of his lack of understanding of the principle of authority. Our position of authority does not necessarily reflect our superiority over our subjects. We are simply stewards of God’s authority in the matter. Though Saul still remained king for a while, his authority kept weakening. When he needed an answer from God, he could not get through. His prayers would not be answered. This almost drove him crazy.
Finally, he resorted to using the witch of Endor to find out what his plan of action should be. His wrong attitudes toward authority led to his misuse and abuse of authority. This, in turn, led to the ultimate weakening of his authority. The heart of the people continually shifted toward David. In the end, when Saul’s prayers were hindered, he endorsed the ultimate form of rebellion -witchcraft.
Letting God Establish Our Authority
Our authority is not something that we should try to establish or assert right away as soon as it is granted to us. David refrained from killing Saul on two occasions when he had opportunity to do so. He was waiting on God to establish his authority. He refused to force the issue and assert his promised authority. Even when those in authority over you misuse and abuse their authority, you must not transgress by trying to take them down, especially if you are the next in line. You should submit yourself as much as possible until God puts you in place and establishes your authority. This will require both humility and patience. Nee observes:
“David was one who was able to be subject to authority. He never annulled Saul’s authority; he simply waited for God to secure his authority. He would not try to help God do it; he instead would willingly wait for God. Whoever is to be God’s delegated authority must learn not to try to secure authority for himself.” 1
Political Versus Spiritual Authority
It is better for those involved in the work of God not to get involved with politicking for promotions or for greater authority among men. If it is offered to them they should carefully consider it and gratefully accept (unless believed to be contrary to the will of God). J. Oswald Sanders writes, “The true spiritual leader will never canvass for promotion.” 2
What the man of God is seeking is spiritual authority. Political authority is of little importance. To be a true spiritual leader of men is defined by Brengle (as quoted by Sanders) as “a leader whose power is recognized and felt in heaven, on earth and in hell.” 3 He continues, “Religious position can be conferred by bishops and boards, but not spiritual authority, which is the prime essential of Christian leadership.” 4 And spiritual authority is what we are interested in – authority that ultimately can be expressed over sicknesses, diseases, afflictions, infirmities, evil spirits, etc.
To gain authority (especially spiritual authority with God) you must submit to authority. Always submit to and respect authority and you will find that your own authority will be strengthened. When you disrespect authority, you undermine your own authority. For those in the military, if the colonel consistently gave orders that were contrary to the general’s orders, it would not be too long before he would be called in by is superiors and questioned. He will probably be demoted and stripped of his rank (authority), possibly even court-martialed and be dishonorably discharged.
On the job, if a manager began to run the company contrary to the policies and wishes of the owner or board of directors, it would not be long before the owner would demote him or fire him altogether and find a new manager. He or she must exercise their new authority in submission to those who gave them their authority. In politics, things work the same way. No one is able to disobey the law without suffering the consequences, even if they are the ones that helped make the law.
Staying within Your Sphere of Authority
We must also learn to operate within the scope of our own authority. Nebuchadnezzar is one who tried to step out of the bounds of his own authority. He had a problem with pride. First, he built an image and commanded all to bow down and worship it (Daniel 3). This was outside the realm of his authority. Our authority is not to be used to elicit the love, adoration, and worship of those under it, though you will receive love, respect, and admiration if you use your authority correctly. But only God is to be worshipped. Neither is the purpose of authority to gain great riches. Its purpose is not to benefit you personally. The purpose of authority is to serve others according to the will of God.
When Daniel prophesied of the coming judgment of God on Nebuchadnezzar in the next chapter, he warned him to repent and mend his ways (Daniel 4:27). Since he did not repent, in a moment of pride, his kingdom (sphere of authority) was taken from him. He even lost his sanity for seven years. God wanted him to know that there was a higher power and authority to which Nebuchadnezzar still had to be subject. We never become so big that we no longer need God. We never become so big that we do not need to submit to God’s authority.
Limited Use of Authority
A person in authority can only effectively and properly use that authority to the extent that he knows the will of God. This is seen in the relationship of an ambassador or delegate with the nation that sent him. An ambassador is one who is sent from a king or nation to another nation to represent that first king or nation and their concerns. Barnes notes, “He is sent to do what the sovereign would himself do were he present.” 5
He is not to perform his own will but to perform the will of those who sent him. He is not to look for what pleases himself or benefits himself. He is not there to make new laws or make new terms without word (authority) from home to do so. If the ambassador does not know what is required of him he will not be able to effectively use his authority. But when he knows what is the will of those who sent him, he can work towards the accomplishments of that goal.
“An ambassador has no independent position, no independent authority. What he is, he is because he represents the king or nation that has commissioned him to bear their message. Instructions are given him, and he must not exceed them…. He is the mouthpiece of others.” 6
To go beyond what he has been commissioned to do is to misuse his authority. As ambassadors of Christ (II Corinthians 5:20) the church has all the authority of our Lord, to represent Him in this world. We can only use that authority effectively to the extent we know His will. Individually (for ourselves and for our church or organization), we must learn where the lines of authority are found and how it is to be used.
In the church, if we go beyond that which we have been commissioned to do by Jesus Christ, we have misused or abused our authority. A missionary who seeks to establish something other than the work of God in his area is stepping over the bounds of his authority. Even a secular leader can only properly use his or her authority to the extent they understand the will of God. Their authority must be used to advance the cause of righteousness. If they do not understand God’s will or refuse to work His will, they are misusing or abusing their authority.
We must understand what kind of authority we possess, the extent of that authority, and where it ends. As long as you operate within this circle in obedience to God and submission to all delegated authority, you are safe and your authority will increase. On the other hand, if you overstep your authority, you will open yourself to failures, embarrassment, the loss of authority, and even personal hurt and ruin. We must recognize that a little authority that we may possess in one area does not open the whole world to our authority. We must know when to speak and when not to speak, when to act and when to be still.
The missionary (whether at home or abroad) must be careful not to overstep his authority. He or she must not fall into the trap of believing that because he or she is a “big shot” with some authority from God and, perhaps, his or her organization, that they have a right to disobey the local authorities. He or she must careful not to think that they can treat their congregation or the nationals as their servants.
This applies to all those in Christian ‘leadership. A father and husband must not use his authority to treat his family as his slaves or “loyal subjects.” He must not provoke his children to wrath. A pastor must not use his authority to manipulate his congregation for selfish purposes. In every case, there is a responsibility that accompanies our authority. We have a responsibility to use our authority in a way to do the will of God: to help, build up, make strong, and edify those under our authority. We are not to take the world’s concept of authority and bring it into the church. We are not to use authority for selfish purposes.
A Servant’s Heart
“In the realm of politics and commerce, humility is a quality neither coveted or required. There the leader needs and seeks prominence and publicity. But in God’s scale of values, humility stands very high.” 7 In fact, I Peter 5:1-4 reminds us not to be lords or masters over those placed beneath our authority. We must have a servant’s heart or mode of thinking, looking to serve, to help. We are to lead by example, not by force. Authority will carry its own force. We need not let our emotions run away with it. Sanders notes that “only once did Jesus say that He was leaving His disciples an example, and that was when He washed their feet (John 13:15) – an example of servanthood.” 8
Dawson uses the principle of a building to remind those of us in positions of authority to be humble. The roof is held up by the walls, which is on the foundation of the building. So authority is also held up by those underneath it who support it. 9 A pastor’s authority over the local congregation and the foreign missionary’s authority over the nationals are supported by those underneath the umbrella of their authority.
“Lord, help us to have a right attitude towards the authority figures you have placed in our lives. Help us to use the authority that we have been granted in a way that will honor you and cause people to love you, to draw near to you, and to commit to you. In Jesus’ name.”
This article “The Use of Authority” by David Sanzo was excerpted from the book Power to Tread on Serpents. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
1 Ibid., 161.
2 J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago: Moody Press, 1967 & 1980), 19.
3 38 Ibid., 26.
4 Ibid., 25-26.
5 Albert Barnes, Barnes Notes (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1884), 131.
6 James Hastings, ed., The Great Texts of the Bible, vol. 16 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmann’s Publishing Company, n.d.), 211.
7 J. Oswald Sanders, 80.
8 Ibid., 32.
9 John Dawson, 108.