June 30, 2019 Authority & Obedience

 

 

Scripture reading: Romans 13:1-2; Genesis 3:1-6.

 

God is the authority in all realms. He is the authority in heaven. He is the authority on earth. He is the authority in hell. Satan has no authority in hell. He will be suffering there one day. With respect to the earth, God has authority in every institution.

 

There are four primary institutions or realms where God’s authority is manifest. They are government, economics, church, and family. God has established government. He has established private property and the principle of labor for remuneration. He has established the church. And, he has established the family. Each one of these realms was divinely begun by God. Thus, he has authority over them, in them, and through them. God has set various guidelines, commands, by which these institutions may function and flourish.

 

I am of the persuasion that the Lord has given unusual insight of spiritual truth to men of God throughout the ages. This does not mean that they are infallible (only the authors of Scripture were, as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit). But it does mean that they were given illumination into the will of God and we should take what they say with regard. Men like Augustine in the fourth century, Martin Luther during the Reformation, and Jonathan Edwards during the Great Awakening to name only a few.

 

In the last century, Watchman Nee was given much illumination. I am going to quote him on the subject of authority because I am convinced that his insights line up well and summarize revelation on the subject. Here is what he has said:

 

Authority is a tremendous thing in the universe – nothing overshadows it. It is therefore imperative for us who desire to serve God to know the authority of God.

 

Since the subject of authority is an imperative one, we must understand it.

 

All the acts of God issue from his throne. The throne is a symbol, or representation, of authority. He who sits on the throne is the one who has authority. This will help us to understand the origin of Satan.

 

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!

How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven,

I will exalt my throne above the stars of God:

I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:

14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.

15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.[1]

 

Although this passage ostensibly is to the king of Babylon (vs. 4), almost all Bible scholars recognize it as an allusion to Satan. It was Isaiah’s way of saying that the Babylonian king was thinking and acting like the devil!

 

Lucifer says, “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God.” Or, as the ESV puts it, “I will set my throne on high.” He goes on to say, “I will be like the Most High.” Satan attempted to usurp God’s authority. He desired to throw off God’s authority and to be his own authority. This was the origin of Satan and this is man’s greatest sin and problem. Man wants to violate God’s authority and establish his own. When he does this he follows Satan. This is known as autonomy. Autonomy means self-rule. Man wants to make his own laws. This is true both at the individual level and the societal level.

 

I tell you, the sin of autonomy is not just a huge problem for the lost. It is a huge problem for Christians! Even Christians do not like to be told what to do. But that is what God’s authority is all about. It is about deference and dependence on God’s authority and an acknowledgment that we are inadequate to rule ourselves (Proverbs 3:5-7).

 

So, we see that a disdain for authority originated with Satan. Hence, we must always be on guard for our hearts.

 

Let me quote brother Nee again:

 

The controversy of the universe is centered on who shall have authority, and our conflict with Satan is the direct result of our attributing authority to God. To maintain God’s authority we must be subject to it with all our hearts.

 

I say “amen” to this. Authority is the controversy of the universe.

 

One of the most famous hymns of all time is the classic, Trust & Obey:

 

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there's no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

 

How true these lyrics are! In order to obey the Lord we must trust the Lord. And, in order to truly trust the Lord we must know authority. If we neglect the authorities that God has established, then we are not fully trusting the Lord.

 

Obedience is God’s greatest demand. It is higher than serving God. In one sense it is even higher than love, if one sees love as primarily feeling (which most people do). You can have very tender feelings for someone and make decisions that are very bad because they are contrary to God’s revealed will. For example, homosexuality is a vile and perverted sin as revealed by God. Yet, there are parents out there who support their children in the sin because they “want them to be happy.” How misguided! Supporting sin is itself a sin! Mankind’s problem is that we do not even know what true love is. Love to both God and man is defined by obedience! God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what is best for us and we do not.

 

To see how important obedience is to the Lord let us read from I Samuel 15:

 

And Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. 2 Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. 3 Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ ”[2]

 

The Lord’s command was to kill every living thing in the territory of Amalek. Of course, if this were merely the decision of people it would be wrong to do such a thing even in war. Only God has the authority to kill people. Thus, when God commanded this devastation it was absolutely correct and under his authority as the Creator (Job 1:21-22; 2:9-10; Psalm 19:9).

 

But king Saul spared Agag, king of the Amalekites, along with the best of the sheep and oxen. Saul said he wanted to offer them as a sacrifice to God. But Samuel says to him:

 

Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,

as in obeying the voice of the Lord?

Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,

and to listen than the fat of rams. [3]

 

Why did Samuel say this? Because even in sacrifice there can be the element of self-will. Obedience is honoring to God for it alone takes God’s will as its center.

 

In order to obey the Lord we must trust the Lord. And, in order to truly trust the Lord we must know authority. If we neglect the authorities that God has established, then we are not fully trusting the Lord.

 

To see the centrality of authority in the universe we should consider the fall of man – the origin of every problem that we have.

 

After God created Adam he gave him only a few charges. One was not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This charge was putting Adam under authority that he might learn obedience. Adam was under God’s authority and the rest of creation, including Eve, were under Adam’s authority. Adam was God’s delegated authority because all authority comes from God. Since the first day of creation there is authority and now there is authority everywhere (by God’s will and design). Authority will continue into every age and forever. We must learn to be in subjection to authority now. If we do not then we will be most unhappy.

 

The fall of man was due to disobedience to God’s authority. What happened? Eve made her own decision upon seeing that the fruit was good and pleasant to the eyes. She uncovered her head. According to God’s design, Adam was her head, her authority. Her eating the fruit did not come out of subjection but it came out of her own will.

 

Watchman Nee has simply commented upon this incident. It is not only Nee. Actually, almost all Bible scholars who believe that the Bible is God’s word have said something nearly identical:

 

To rebel against God’s representative authority is the same as to rebel against God.[4]

 

When the devil came to her she should have said, “Talk to my husband.” But she took it upon herself to doubt God’s word. Now, it may be that if she had called Adam and he spoke to the serpent he may have made the same fatal error. We will never know since it did not happen that way. Could it be that he was influenced by his wife whom he cherished? If he was directly tempted by the serpent would he have been more on guard? We don’t know these things. They are only interesting to ponder. But we do know that Eve rebelled against both her head and God Himself.

 

We are all in the position of Eve today. Eve’s action was not governed by obedience. It was initiated by her own will. We are all faced with the same choice. Will we be subject to the authorities that God has established or will we do what we think is right?

 

You see, before Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit their right and wrong were in God’s hand. If they did not hear from God they knew nothing at all about right and wrong. Their right and wrong were in God. By taking the fruit of that tree they found a source of right and wrong in something other than God Himself. Since the fall people need not find in God the sense of right and wrong. They find it in themselves. But this is the problem: The knowledge of right and wrong does not come by itself. It comes with a fallen nature. It comes with a darkened mind. It comes with inordinate emotions. It comes with a corrupted will. The work of redemption is to bring us back to the place where we will, once again, find our right and wrong in God.

 

Let me quote Nee again. His insights are too good to ignore.

 

Since the fall of Adam disorder has prevailed in the universe. Everyone thinks he is able to distinguish good from evil and to judge what is right and wrong. They seem to know better than God. This is the folly of the fall. We need to be delivered from such a deception, because this is nothing other than rebellion.[5]

 

There is no authority except from God. All authorities have been instituted by him. Remember, this is what the apostle clearly reveals in Romans 13 – all authorities have been instituted by God. We all are under authority and we have some under our authority. Even the Lord Jesus was under authority. When he was before Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea, we read of this exchange:

 

4 Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” 6 When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” 8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. 9 He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” [6]

 

Jesus not only acknowledged Pilate’s authority over him, but he submitted to it! This answers the common objection to authority: “But, those in authority over me are so often wrong.” You think they are. Maybe they are. Maybe you are. Authority is like an umbrella. It is like a steel umbrella. It not only protects you from the rain. It protects you from meteors. Except for blatant defiance – defiances of God’s law that are as plain as day – we are wise to submit to authority, as our Lord did.

 

The Bible is full of instances of authority and that God is sorely displeased when people, his own people, do not submit to delegated authority. In Numbers chapter 12, Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses. The fact that Miriam’s name is mentioned first likely indicates that she was the instigator. They say that God speaks through them and not just through Moses. In other words, they did not accept Moses’ authority over them. There is always a small element of truth in the complaints of rebels. It was true that God spoke through Aaron and Miriam in a lesser way. But not with the authority that Moses had. God was angered by their rejection of Moses and Miriam contracted leprosy. This is another indication that she was the main complainer and instigator.

 

God asks, “Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant…? [7]

 

Moses was able to represent God in authority because he had first been subject to God’s authority. For, he was very meek, above all men who were on the face of the earth. Meekness is nothing less than recognizing God’s authority, including delegated authority, and possessing an attitude of submission to it.

 

Hear brother Nee once more:

 

Many consider themselves obedient to God while actually knowing nothing of being subject to God’s delegated authority. He who is truly obedient will find God’s authority in every circumstance, in the home, and in other institutions. God asked, “Why are you not afraid to revile against my servant?” Special attention must be paid each time words of reviling are uttered. Such words should not be idly spoken. Reviling proves that there is a rebellious spirit within; it is the germination of rebellion. We ought to fear God and not speak carelessly.[8]

 

In Numbers 16 Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, along with 250 others, and complained. This time against Moses and Aaron both. They thought that they were exalting themselves. They thought that, but they were not. What we think is not always what is. If they were exalted at all it was because the Lord had exalted them. But it was really just a matter of having the authority.

 

God was so displeased with the Korah and the opposers that he killed them all! Rejecting God’s delegated authority is not a small matter. Yet, as Americans we are particularly exposed to this sin because we are, as a matter of our culture, fiercely independent. Independence has its rewards but it is a stumbling block when it comes to submission to authority.

 

Consider the realms of authority. Romans 13, which we read this morning, addresses government. Government is God’s servant (vs. 4). As society becomes more corrupt, so does government. There are some laws that we cannot abide by. However, those that are in line with God’s word and those that are seemingly unaddressed by God’s word we must be in subjection to. In those instances where we must disobey we should do so humbly and with an explanation.

 

In economics we see employer-employee relationships. Those above us have been set above us by God. We must be respectful to our bosses not necessarily because they have earned our respect by their character - because there are some pretty bad bosses out there – but because of their position. In the short little letter from the apostle Paul to Philemon we see the deference that even the apostle Paul himself gives to Philemon because he recognized Philemon’s authority over his slave, Onesimus. I tell you, the more you honor your boss the further you will go! And, just as in every realm, in the work-a-day-world everyone has someone in authority over them and someone under them. Even the President of a corporation is subject to the Board of Directors. And, even a janitor has the right to tell a salesperson not to walk on the floor that he just mopped. A janitor has the right to challenge those who come to his workplace after hours. Authority is everywhere.

 

In the church there is such a thing as spiritual authority.

 

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. [9]

 

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” [10]

 

This does not mean we take everything that more mature disciples of the Lord say without thoughtfulness. But, if we are uncertain about the verity of their counsel, we should ask questions with humility. The leaders of the church are your umbrella of protection (Acts 20:28).

 

God has established authority in the home. The classic passage on this is in Ephesians chapters 5 and 6. Though many Christians know these passages, how many take them to heart?

 

2 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. [11] Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”[12]

 

From these verses we see that children must be under the authority of their mother (and father) and she must be under the authority of her husband. If we had the time to examine the OT Scriptures we would see that the younger children should be in subjection to the older children in the family.

 

When we recognize and submit to God’s authorities it goes well with us. Some of us have leprosy because we are more like Miriam than we are like king David who subjected himself to Saul even though Saul did not have David’s interests in the least. Yet, God afflicted Miriam and he blessed David. I tell you, the Lord’s actions had everything to do with their respective submission to authority!

 

Who are we more like? Miriam or David? If we are more like David, simply ask the Lord to maintain and bless your heart to remain that way. If we are more like Miriam then we need to get on our knees and confess. Miriam was healed. You too can be healed.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Is 14:12–15). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Sa 15:1–3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Sa 15:22). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Watchman Nee, Spiritual Authority (Christian Fellowship Publishers, Manassas, VA, 22110; 1972) p 20.

[5] Ibid, 23.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 19:4–11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Nu 12:8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] Nee, p 34.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 13:17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Pe 5:5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 5:22–24). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 6:1–3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.