Authority: Exceptions to the Rule

I have heard it said, “We love God by obeying everyone in authority because their authority is from God.” The caveat is then made that if someone tells you to sin, you shouldn’t. But what does that mean? Is that the only God-given exception? Does unjust suffering under authority always glorify God?

Perhaps it’s fear that motivates blanket statements about authority, fear of what could happen if people (specifically women and children) are given “permission” to disobey. However, teaching people to respond to exceptions does not actually promote anarchy. It promotes righteousness.

Perhaps some teach absolute authority from ignorance: “Authority it good and right. No one with authority–especially in the church–asks anyone to steal a car or murder someone.”

Absolute authority could be taught from a desire for power and control. They see giving people “a way out” a loss of privilege and personal benefit. If their cover is blown, and they are seen for what they truly are, they risk great loss.

Jesus is the One who has all authority (Matthew 28:18). His motivation always was, and always will be, love. He is good. Perfect. Holy. He cannot and will not sin against you, me, or in any of His doings.

The reality is that humans are sinful. And sinful beings use authority sinfully. Fact. We cannot apply a blanket statement of absolute authority because the sinful exception is actually the rule.

God redeems and works in a small number of individuals (i.e. the gate versus the road to destruction), and God is changing us, so we agree that there are those who use their authority and power for the benefit of others.

However, there are many individuals in authority (yes, women, too), who use authority sinfully–and it rarely comes in the form of stealing or outright murder. It’s the subtle, “worship me” whisper of Satan. It’s the “I am god in your life.” It’s the use of punishment, withholding approval, resources, and reward for infractions of disobedience. It’s the destructive use of others for their own gratification and enjoyment.

And this is where blanket statements are so very dangerous. They make way for fathers to sin heinously against little girls, wives, children, teenagers. They prepare the way for depraved pastors and church leaders to gain compliance. They put a weapon of destruction in the hands of boys growing into men, leaving a path of carnage in their wake. Think, “grooming,” and you’ll get the picture. Unfortunately, this is exactly what some churches and church leaders teach–absolute compliance “unless” it’s sin. But who has time or opportunity to consider and refuse such a request when you’ve been trained and taught the opposite?

So what’s the answer? How do we honor sinful authority, suffer injustice, and glorify God in the process?

  1. Put God first. Desire to please Him in response to authority, realizing that compliance with authority is not equal to pleasing God. The desire to comply is.
  2. Love others. I am not loving those I minister to when I tell them to blindly submit. And I am not loving sinful authorities by promoting their agenda without accountability.
  3. Recognize that authority is a limited resource. Like time and money, it is intended to be used according to God’s design. There will be an account for how we use Jesus’ authority.
  4. When we experience ungodly authority, our allegiance is to God. No person, organization or government has absolute authority.
  5. Because of this, is it good and right to look for help above, or outside of, ungodly authority in our families, church, and government. The Bible teaches this, but we often overlook this “rule” for the exception.
  6. Yes, Jesus did obey His Father to the point of death, but that was for the glory of God, not the glory of man. Glorifying men at the cost of one’s life is exchanging God’s glory for another. Jesus Himself left or watched others leave 41 times. He gave His life once.

Moral of the story: when you are asked to do something that seems wrong, demeaning, or questionable, think, “Show me the money” and ask, “Who is benefitting from my obedience?” Biblically, the person under authority should be the primary beneficiary. This glorifies God–people using authority the way Jesus does, with the intent and purpose of serving others and doing good (Romans 13:1-4).

Questioning or disagreeing with authority does not give us license to disobey or use our liberty as a covering for evil (1 Peter 2), but it does calibrate our heart to pray and look for opportunities to address injustice. God’s Word is clear that He is opposed to the proud who take His place at the cost of others’ lives and freedom. The proud wrongfully accuse anyone who resists and convince others to promote their sin-filled use of position and privilege.

If you are trapped, cry out to God, seek help, be wise, safe and smart. The all-powerful, all-seeing God cares for the downtrodden and exposes evil, lavishing wisdom on all who look to Him. So ask away–not only for your benefit, but for the good of others and the glory of God.

Protect me, God, for I take refuge in You.
I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have nothing good besides You.”
As for the saints who are on the earth,
They are the majestic ones; all my delight is in them.
The pains of those who have acquired another god will be multiplied;
I will not pour out their drink offerings of blood,
Nor will I take their names upon my lips.

The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You support my lot.
The measuring lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
Indeed, my inheritance is beautiful to me.

I will bless the Lord who has advised me;
Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.
I have set the Lord continually before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will dwell securely.
For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;
You will not allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.
You will make known to me the way of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. (Psalm 16)

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