Respect For Authority

By Luther Bolenbarker

Call it a craving for independence or whatever you want – but there is something within each of us that dislikes authority: children resist the authority of parents, pupils the authority of teachers, employees the authority of management, citizens the authority of government, etc. It’s an inherent human tendency (which is changed by our learning the meaning and purpose of authority): we don’t like being told what to do.

There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about the importance of authority. Therefore, let’s take a careful look at what God says about it and what He says our response to it should be.

God authorizes civil authority because He knows it’s absolutely essential for society’s survival. A chaotic world indeed would exist if everyone could do as he pleased in his own eyes. Suppose for instance, every child did as he pleased (some do), every employee, driver, policeman, thief, rapist, all did as they pleased. Sometimes when we are rushing to an appointment we may wish there were no speed limits, but we know very well that the laws which govern traffic are essential to our safety. Total freedom which would allow each one to drive as he pleased would be a disaster for all. Laws, government, and authority are essential to our well-being.

That’s why in Romans 13:1ff God tells us to be subject to the higher powers. He has ordained them for our good. For us to resist these powers is to resist the ordinances of God.

Children are to obey their parents, parents their rulers, employees their employers, teachers their principals, citizens their government, etc. It’s true, sometimes people in authority aren’t worthy of our obedience or of the position they hold. If so, we should replace these as quickly as possible with others who are, but we must never dispense with authority. The only other alternative is anarchy – the law of the jungle survival of the fittest – dog eat dog, etc.

There are certain limits, of course, to which we are responsible to civil authority. When rulers order us to do what God forbids, our allegiance to God must be supreme. Peter and John faced this problem. Before His ascension into heaven, Jesus commanded the disciples to preach the gospel to all men. The rulers didn’t like it that the disciples were teaching the people that Jesus was the Son of God and the Savior of the world, so they ordered them to quit. At this point God’s authority and man’s came into conflict. Peter’s reply was, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

In this case it was right to defy civil authority because its command was in direct conflict with the commandments of God. And God’s authority supercedes man’s. This does not excuse lawlessness when the authority of man is not in conflict with God’s. Indeed, we are responsible to obey man’s authority when no conflict exists.

This whole business of authority and our responsibility toward it begins in the home. Children who aren’t taught obedience in the home usually have a hard time submitting to authority of any kind – that of teacher, boss, policeman, or even God. Submission to authority is learned more easily while young than at any other time. (Someone has rightly said, “The high-chair is the place to learn authority and not the electric-chair! “) Parents who don’t insist on it aren’t doing their children any favors, nor are they preparing them well for what they are sure to face in later years.

Learning obedience isn’t easy, but it is absolutely necessary for the welfare of our homes, schools and nation. There is no such thing as absolute freedom, with each one doing as he pleases period, with no strings attached! We’d have to live on a remote, isolated island to do this, completely cut off from all others because all we do affects someone else either directly or indirectly.

The key to our acceptance of authority is our attitude. If our attitude is right toward authority, we will realize that authority is approved of God and, as His children, we are to respect it. A bad attitude, toward authority will sabotage one’s whole future and opportunity to please God and our fellow man. A bad attitude if not changed, will no doubt cause one to be miserable in this life and lost in the next one.

It’s high time we Americans, parents, Christians and children take a hard look at this whole business of authority and how it affects the welfare of our homes, schools, churches, the nation and our individual lives as well.

In Matthew 28:18, Jesus says, “All authority hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth.” Herein ties the secret to authority: if we will all submit ourselves first to the authority of Jesus then the matter of our submitting to the authority of others will be taken care of because we will want to please Jesus. In Luke 6:46, Jesus says, “Why call me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I command you?” Romans 13; Ephesians 6:1; 1 Peter 3, 5 also apply and need to be considered.

Guardian of Truth XXX: 10, p. 295
May 15, 1986