God's Kingdom is a kingdom of law and order, a kingdom wherein imperfect humans are appointed by God to exercise authority over other imperfect humans until the Lord returns. Authority in God's Kingdom is hierarchical and begins with the Supreme Authority, God. The Bible says that God is the head of Christ, Christ is the head of man, and man is the head of woman. (See 1 Corinthians 11:3.) Women are also delegated to exercise authority. Older women have authority to teach younger women ("The aged women...that they may teach the younger women," Titus 2:3f), and mothers have authority over their children ("Forsake not the law of thy mother," Proverbs 1:8).
In God's Kingdom, authority in the family is gender-based: "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church" (Eph. 5:22f). "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands...even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord" (1 Pet. 3:1-6).
Authority in the Body of Messiah is generally age-based ("Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder," 1 Peter 5:5), although younger individuals may sometimes be appointed to govern the affairs of a local congregation ("These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth," 1 Timothy 4:11f).
Authority in civil government and in the workplace is neither gender-based nor age-based, but is based on the governing positions that individuals hold. God expects His children to submit to these authorities, too (provided they do not tell you to do something contrary to God's Word): "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme, or unto governors...Servants be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to be froward" (1 Pet. 2:13-18). "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation" (Rom. 13:1f).
Many believers have difficulty submitting to people in positions of authority. All sorts of reasons are stated to justify rebellion against God's delegated authority. Most of these reasons focus on the imperfections and flaws of the people in positions of authority:
"The politicians who passed that law are stupid. I'm not going to obey that law."
"My boss is stupid. I'm not going to do what he told me to do."
"My pastor is stupid. I'm not going to submit to his leadership."
"My husband is stupid. I'm not going to submit to him."
Regardless of the stupidity and other flaws that exist in human leaders, God commands us to submit to those flawed, stupid people whom He has placed in positions of authority (provided they do not tell us to do something contrary to God's Word). As Romans 13 says, whoever resists authority is resisting God. If you resist those in positions of authority, you are in fact challenging God's right to delegate authority to imperfect people and His right to command you to submit to them.
The Bible gives several examples of people who resisted authority and acted independently from the authority and acted independently from the authority God has placed over them. The first example is Eve, who acted independently from her husband and decided for herself whether or not to eat from the tree of knowledge. That independent act, followed by Adam's sin, brought about the fall and ruin of the human race.
With each succeeding generation, people became more and more wicked until God wiped out the world with the Flood. Soon after the Flood, Noah's son Ham was cursed for what he did. What did he do? He pointed out his father's flaws to his two brothers. Noah's flaws were real. He got drunk and lay naked in his tent, passed out. Yet in spite of his flaws, Noah was still God's delegated authority, and Ham was cursed from pointing out his father's flaws. (See Genesis 9.)
Rebellious people take delight in pointing out the flaws of those who are in positions of authority over them. Why? Because if they see flaws in the people in authority, then they think this gives them the right to resist authority, to defy authority, to rebel against authority, and even to usurp authority.
Even godly people like Aaron and Miriam got into serious trouble when they challenged God's delegated authority. They started questioning Moses' preeminence.
"And they said, Hath Yahweh indeed spoken only by Moses? Hath He not also spoken by us?"
Yes, Yahweh had spoken through Miriam and Aaron, too. But Yahweh had placed Moses in a higher position of authority than either Miriam or Aaron. Yahweh reminded Miriam and Aaron of this, and asked them, "Wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?" Then Yahweh departed in anger and struck Miriam with leprosy because of the words she had spoken against God's delegated authority. (See Numbers 12.)
Moses' authority was challenged again by Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. These three rebels gathered 250 princes together to confront Moses. They accused Moses and Aaron of taking too much upon themselves and of lifting themselves up above the congregation. God dealt with these rebels by causing the earth to open its mouth and swallow them, along with their families. "They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation." (See Numbers 16.)
Rebellion against imperfect human authority is a very serious sin in the eyes of Yahweh. Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, the Bible says (1 Samuel 15:23). Witchcraft is a sin that merits the death penalty (Exodus 22:18). If rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, then rebellion likewise merits the death penalty.
Why is rebellion such a serious sin? Because if you rebel, you are not just rebelling against authority, you are rebelling against Authority with a capital "A," i.e., against the Sovereign One who delegates authority and tells you to submit to those in positions of authority. You are in effect telling Yahweh that He has no right to allow that person to be in a position of authority, and no right to tell you to submit to imperfect human authority. This is the reason Romans 13 says that whoever resists authority is resisting the ordinance of God. This is the reason Moses told his critics "your murmurings are not against us, but against Yahweh" (Ex. 16:8).
A believer usually finds it fairly easy to submit to the authority of the civil government and to authority in the workplace. A believer might complain about the politicians and about his boss. He might disagree with them, yet he obeys them. Why? Because he knows he could lose his job if he defies his boss, and he could lose his freedom if he defies the civil government. Yet he feels free to defy God's delegated authority in the Body of Messiah. He feels free to challenge his spiritual leader's decisions, to disregard his leader's instructions, to murmur and complain to others about the leader, and to insult the leader. He may even feel free to usurp the leader's authority by leaving the congregation and urging others to leave with him. He would never act this way toward authority in his workplace or toward the civil government, because he knows there would be serious consequences. Yet he imagines that there will be no negative consequences for this sort of behavior toward authority in the Body of Messiah.
In a typical congregation there is usually a solid core of people who are together for the long haul. They stick together as they weather the storms that come upon a congregation. These committed people are the ones who keep the congregation going. Then there are the people who come for only a season. They attend meetings for a few months, maybe even for a year or more. Then they leave the congregation because somebody says or does something that offends them. In many cases, they are upset with the leader. They disagree with some decision the leader has made, or with the leader's vision or with his methods of doing the work of the Lord. So they leave the congregation.
A few years ago I was thinking about all the people who have left our local congregation since I first planted it around 23 years ago. (At the time, it was nearly 15 years ago.) I made a list of the people who have left. I did not include people who came for just a very short time, or people who moved away, or people who left to be involved in another ministry, or people who otherwise left on good terms, or people who left for a period of time and later returned to the congregation. I listed only those who considered GOE their home congregation and who left because they had a gripe or a complaint against someone or something.
I came up with around 20 names of individuals and families. That's an average of about 1.3 decisions per year.
I looked at this list of names and thought about what these people have done since leaving our congregation, and how they have fared spiritually. A few of them abandoned the Messianic way and returned to their Sunday churches, but the great majority of them are not involved in any congregation, Messianic or otherwise. They are not in regular fellowship with any local body and they are not accountable to any leaders. By their own choice they are sheep without a shepherd, with no one to watch for their souls.
That's discouraging for a shepherd. It makes a shepherd wonder if he's a lousy shepherd, or maybe no shepherd at all. I have to remind myself that even the Chief Shepherd experienced a time when "many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him" (John 6:66). I also have to remind myself that the Chief Shepherd did not run after those who left, begging them to please come back and offering some sort of compromise to accommodate their personal wishes. Rather, He immediately turned to His core of committed disciples, the twelve, and asked, "Will ye also go away?" (John 6:67). I don't believe this was a pitiful plea begging the twelve to not go. I believe it was Yeshua's way of saying, "Do you guys want to leave, too? If so, this is the time to do it. If you want to leave, don't let me stop you." Yeshua did not want followers who were half-hearted in their commitment to discipleship.
Yeshua "took upon Him the form of a servant" and "humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Ph'p 2:7f). As disciples of Yeshua, we are required to take up our cross daily and die to self. Notice in Philippians 2:8 that Yeshua's humility was linked to His obedience.
The test of humility is submission to imperfect human authority. To be more precise, the test of humility is submission to human authority when you disagree with the person in authority. If you always agree with the person in authority, if you have the same opinions and preferences, then your submission and cooperation prove nothing in regards to your humility. It is right and good that you submit, but submission to someone with whom you agree is not proof that you have learned to humble yourself and submit to authority. It's easy to submit and cooperate with authority when you always agree with the person in authority. The real test comes when you disagree. The humble will submit and cooperate. The proud will resist and rebel.
A lot of eager-beaver believers want to exercise authority over other believers without first having learned to submit to authority. You have no right to exercise authority over others until you have learned to submit to a leader when you disagree with a leader's decision.
The Bible gives several examples of people who disrespected those in authority, pointed out their flaws, murmured against them, challenged and defied them, rose up against them, and tried to usurp their authority. In contrast to all these rebels, the Bible gives one example of a man whose understanding of delegated authority was so profound that it actually caused the Son of God to marvel. And that unnamed man was not even an Israelite, he was a Roman centurion, a Gentile.
This Roman centurion told Yeshua that his servant was sick. Yeshua offered to come and heal the man's servant. The centurion said that he was not worthy that Yeshua should come to his house. "But speak the word only," the centurion said, "and my servant shall be healed."
The reason this centurion had such great faith was because he had such a great understanding of how delegated authority works. "For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me," he said. "and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it."
When Yeshua heard this, He marveled and said to them that followed, "Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel" (Matt. 8:9f).
Yeshua was amazed because this Gentile understood the principle of authority better than any Israelite did. The centurion knew that the only reason his soldiers submitted to him was because he himself was under the authority of an even higher power, that of Caesar. If the centurion's soldiers challenged his authority, they would have to answer to Caesar. In the same way, if you challenge someone who has authority over you, you will have to answer to the King of kings who placed that person in a position of authority. For a soldier to challenge his centurion was to challenge Caesar; for a disciple to challenge his spiritual leader is to challenge Yahweh. In Yeshua's day, a Roman Gentile understood this truth better than any Israelite did. Today there are heathen Gentiles who understand this better than most Messianic Israelites do.
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Image: Psalm 2, from the Psurrealistic Psalms series by Daniel Botkin. See all of Daniel's art pieces on DanielBotkin.com