God’s Authority and You

God’s Authority and You

From the time that we are born God designs for us to live as a people under authority. Yet, we find this design unpleasant to our flesh’s desires and so from the earliest of our days we resist God’s design for us in this. Young parents eagerly await the first words emanating from their son’s or daughter’s little mouth; will it be “Mommy” or will it be “Daddy.” We try to teach them and train them, even before they can speak, because their first words are very important to us. Early on, our children learn one word that becomes one of their favorites and it is one word that we never tried to teach them and that is the word, “No!” “It is time to eat vegetables.” “No!” “It is time to go to bed.” “No!” “It is time to share your toys with your brother.” “No!”

In that word, this little person expresses his or her will to defy authority and we never grow out of this inner pull of our flesh to establish ourselves as kings over our own kingdoms. The truth is that how we respond to authority largely determines the path of our lives, the peace of our hearts, and the pleasure of our soul, for the sin of rebelling against authority is a gravely, corrupting one; a sin that exposes our lives to manifold evils for it is a sin that is near and dear to Satan’s heart.

Please remember that Satan was the first created being to rebel against authority when he said, “I want to be like God. I will,” and he exerted his will against the will of God and he was thrown out of Heaven for it. Remember, also, that it was defiance to authority that ruined the paradise of Eden for Adam and Eve and cast the whole race into conflict and chaos to this very day. Remember Samuel the Prophet warning Saul, when he perceived rebellion in King Saul’s heart, in 1 Samuel 15:23,

23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination (or witchcraft)…

How is the rebellion like the sin of witchcraft? It is by their effects. Both of these sins uniquely open wide the door of our lives to the influence of the evil ones in hundreds, and in deed thousands, of ways. Both of these sins are an open invitation for the evil one to draw near us and to exert authority over us.

I remember when I was in 7th or 8th grade getting upset at my parents, can you imagine that, as a junior higher. My parents, at times, would put limitations upon me that limited my freedom or they would make decisions which I, quite frankly, thought were ridiculous in my junior high mind. On these occasions I would get emotionally upset at my parents and their exertion of their authority over my life. I would storm to my room in a whirl of emotion. I would stomp around my room for awhile and I would mutter my displeasure under my breath and not so loud so they could hear clearly the words that I was arguing with them about but so that they would know that I was not pleased.

Thankfully, God would meet me in those moments. The Holy Spirit would communicate with me, “Ritch, do you sense how close to darkness you are right now?” As I reflect back, it is those moments, more than perhaps than in any others in my young life, when I recognized the presence of evil so close to me and the draw and pull upon my life toward evil and toward that which was ungodly. By grace, I would actually become frightened as I was storming around my room as to how close I was to stepping over the line in utter and abject rebellion against the authority that God had placed over my life. I would become frightened for the future of my soul wondering what a life would be like if I chose to give in to that inner inclination to rebel. I knew that I had a decision to make: either I would leave my room humble and contrite and walking with God or I would leave my room proud and angry but without God.

Again, God’s Spirit would gently break me and I am utterly convinced that much of my joy and much of my blessing in life is the fruit of God’s work in calling me to submit to authority in those early years.

In Acts 22, we learn four principles concerning our response to authority. The context is Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem. His arrival sets off a riot in Chapter 21:30-32:

30 The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. 31 While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

Paul asked to be able to talk to this group of Jewish citizens that was so angry that they would take his life and he asked to give a defense. Chapter 22, Verses 1-21 is Paul’s defense as to why he is the way he is. He says, “It is God who worked in my life and I can’t explain it in any other way.” Paul tells his story that God is the One who appeared to him; that he was met with a divine confrontation and that he couldn’t resist God’s will anymore in drawing him to Jesus Christ as his Savior and as Lord. He gets through this story and in Verse 21 he tells of a divine confrontation, this is God’s doing,

21 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ “

I don’t believe that Paul is even finished with his sentence, but something takes place at that moment that is remarkable, and in Verse 22 we read,

22 The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”

I believe that if Paul would have been able to finish his sermon that day, in his testimony he would have talked about the Kingship of Jesus Christ, the cross that Jesus Christ died upon, the resurrection, and the necessity of repentance and faith, but Paul is not able to finish his sermon. I am thankful that I have never had to experience what Paul experienced here and the inability, because of the angry response of the people, to finish the message. At this, this Roman commander steps in on the scene and protects Paul.

The first principle that we learn is this, in regards to authority: God exercises His authority to command us. In Paul’s testimony, he says, “God told me, ‘Go! I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” It is important for us to know and consistently observe in our lives that God possesses authority to command our lives as He pleases. He said, “Go, Paul, I am going to send you to the Gentiles!” This is not something that Paul thought through and said, “It would be nice to be the apostle to the Gentiles,” but it is something that God commanded upon his life.

God possesses authority to command us for two specific reasons. The first reason is that God is God. He is sovereign. He is the Creator. God spoke and the worlds came into being. You and I would not exist if not for God’s sovereign life-giving energy causing us to come into being. God is the proprietor, that is to say He is the owner of all that is. Everything is His legal right. God alone possesses what we would call “intrinsic authority,” authority that is found in His person. No one else and no other authority carries intrinsic authority. Every other authority is “derived authority,” that is to say every human authority has authority because it is derived from God, the God who is sovereign over all.

God would say, “I am God and there is no other.” God has the right to command the authority to demand obedience because He is the Sovereign Lord; He is the owner of all that is.

Imagine that you invite me to your house for lunch and as I get to your house I look around and I begin to move your furniture around to my liking. I put the television in the other corner of the living room and I set the easy chair in front of that. I begin to rearrange the dining room and I go into the kitchen and I begin putting dishes in various drawers and silverware in drawers that you had not had them in. What would you say to me if I began to do all of that? You would think I was crazy and you would wonder why you had invited me to your house in the first place, but ultimately you would say, “What are you doing? You don’t have a right to move around the furniture.” Why is that? It is because I don’t own the house.

Now if you chose to move around the furniture and place the silverware in the exact same place that I would have moved it that is not an odd thing because you own the house and it is your right to move around as you will and place various objects where ever you desire. Such is the privilege of ownership.
God owns our lives. We are His possession, particularly as believers. That is true for the unsaved, but as believers we have been doubly bought with a price by the blood of Jesus Christ.

One professor in seminary said this to us in regards to God’s authority: “If commanded us in His Word to wake up at 2:00 o’clock in the morning and stick our head in a bucket of cold, ice water that is what we should do.” Everyday we would get up at 2:00 o’clock in the morning and stick our head in a bucket of cold, ice water.

God’s commands don’t have to make sense to our feeble and finite mind before we should obey them. We obey them because God has authority. God is His sovereign right as owner and as Creator of all that is.

Thankfully, our sovereign God is also the all-wise God. He doesn’t ask us arbitrarily to exercise His authority for authority’s sake to get up at 2:00 o’clock in the morning and stick our head in a bucket of cold, ice water; rather His commandments are wise; they are smart ways to live. His commands cause our lives to work out for us to our good. This leads us to the second reason why God possesses authority to command: He redeemed us by His grace. We can trust Him to have our best interests in mind.

Paul has just gone through his conversion story and he has just told of this remarkable event of walking down this road to persecute Christians. Later he would say, “Everything that I used to consider as gain I consider as loss. I know now that everything in my life before Christ was nothing and now everything is mine in Christ. Christ is in all to me.” Paul recognizes God’s gracious hand upon his life so that when God comes to him, following His gracious work in his life in giving him a new life in Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins, a right relationship with God, and a hope for Heaven, and says, “Go, to the Gentiles,” Paul doesn’t sit back and say, “God, do you really have my best interest in mind?” Paul knows He does because of the gracious, redeeming hand that has already touched his life. He recognizes now that his joy and his happiness in now bound up in obedience to the authority of God.

Let’s turn to Exodus 20, the story of the presentation of the Ten Commandments. We remember how Moses went up to Mount Sinai and God delivered to him the ten rules for people whereby their lives would be blessed. The preamble to the Ten Commandments is something that is often forgotten, and in fact, all Ten Commandments are often forgotten, but the preamble is often left off. Here is what God says as He institutes His commands and exercises His right to command:

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

Why does God mention that He is “the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out to the land of slavery”? It is as though God is saying, at the beginning of providing these Commandments, “I want you to know that I am not out to ruin your life.”

The temptation that our flesh throws at us and that Satan gives to us is that sin is a better way of living, but God says, “No, I am the Creator. I am all wise and I have your best interests in mind. This is the best way of living. Trust Me. I know that sometimes your flesh will deceive you into thinking that sin somehow has a corner on blessing and happiness, but that is not true. It will only rob you of your joy. Remember that the One who commanded you is the One who brought you out of slavery. Remember that as you consider the Commandments of the Lord.” It is vital that we grasp this or our struggle with authority will chase us all of our lives.

In 1 John 5:3, John would say,

3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome…

Have you ever felt as though the Commandments of God were burdensome to your life, as though they were some heavy weight hanging around your neck? Here is the reason why we believe the Commandments of God are burdensome: because we forgot that God is the Lord our God who has redeemed us from slavery, slavery from the guilt and the power of sin in our lives.
We know that God’s Commandments are meaningful; they are not arbitrary. They work to produce a joyful fruit so they are not burdensome to the heart that has that clear understanding and embraces God in such a way.

Imagine that you have a sixteen-year old son and you say to him that you bought a 1963 Corvette and that the two of you are going to restore it to its cherry red color and it will be all chromed and shiny. You bring the car home and you say to your son, “Let’s go out and work on your 1963 Corvette.” Do you think that son is going to say, begrudgingly, “Well, I gotta go out and help my dad with my new Corvette.” No, he is going to be excited because the command is not burdensome; he will be motivated to work on it. Why is that child motivated to go to work? Why is that child then motivated to follow these Commands? Why are those Commandments not burdensome? It is because he knows that the fruit of those Commandments are going to bring joy and blessing to his own life. So, God possesses the authority to command us on the basis of His sovereignty and on the basis of His grace.

God not only possesses the authority, but He also uses His authority to command us. That is why it is vital that we listen to His Commandments. The Apostle Paul’s heart, once he was converted, was ready to listen to the Commandments of God, and the question we have to ask ourselves is: “Is my heart ready to listen to the Commandments of God?”

David expressed this in Psalm 119,

35 Direct me in the path of your commands for there I find delight. 36 Turn my heart toward your statutes…

David is saying that he doesn’t want to be ignorant of these things, because there he finds delight. I believe that Paul has the same heart that David had and that is why it is so clear to him why God commanded him to go to the Gentiles because he was listening to God. Today we listen to God through His Word by meditating upon it. I urge you to make it the pursuit of your life to discover God’s commands. They lead you toward the path of life. So often we are afraid that if we learn more of the Commandments of God we will become more accountable and ignorance is bliss. If we don’t know what God commands of us then we won’t be held accountable. That is not true and it is a mixed up view of God’s Commandments.

Imagine that I have told you that I have planted somewhere on our six acre lot a treasure worth $10,000,000 in gold coins and gave you a map. It is a rather complicated map, but if you follow it and learn its directions you will get there. At the end of the week you have not found the treasure. At the end of the year you have not found the treasure. I come to you and ask if you have found the treasure. You reply that you have not and I ask why not! You say that it is just too hard to find. I ask if you had taken the first step and you say that you didn’t even know there was a first step because you haven’t looked at the map.

It would be crazy if you knew that there was a treasure and this map held the key to finding that treasure, wouldn’t you say, “I have to find out exactly how to find the treasure. I am going to make sure that I don’t make a right turn when I am supposed to make a left turn. I am going to make sure that I don’t take five steps when I am supposed to take three steps.” You will want to say, “I am going to make sure that I am going to follow that map to a ‘T’.”

God’s Commandments are not burdensome because they are the instructions and directions for this treasure of life itself.

The second principle of authority is this: God establishes human authority to serve His purposes and to benefit our lives. In this story there are two human authorities that Paul rubs up against. The first is the civil government, Claudius Liscius, the Roman commander. The second is the religious authority, the Sanhedrin, the high priests. Both of these authorities are established by God. How do we know that? Let’s turn to Romans 13, where we will study this section somewhat closely.

1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

Notice that there are no caveats and no exceptions in this verse: most authorities are established by God; the authorities that are good and are wise are established by God. This says, in plain teaching Scripture, that the authorities that exist have been established by God!

God is not saying that only good leaders are established by God, but He is saying that even bad leaders have not gotten to their position merely by corruption which may have been the human way that they arrived at their position, but God had His hand in it. Think through the leaders of human history through the leaders in the Bible. There is the Pharaoh in Egypt, Ahab and Jezebel, and Herrod who sought to take the life of Jesus shortly after He was born. In our day there are the horrendous leaders like Saddam Hussein, Joseph Stalin, and Adolph Hitler.

God is not the author of evil. It is important for us to acknowledge clear teaching of the Scripture. God did not create these men for evil purposes, but the power of the government that they wielded was derived from God. God restrains and God steers even the evil hearts of some leaders to fulfill His eternal purposes. There is a mystery to that isn’t there? God is not the author of evil, but also evil does not usurp the authority of God. Evil is not sovereign in this world. God is sovereign and so God restrains evil and he also steers evil as evil expresses itself to accomplish His ultimate, eternal purposes.

There are a couple of illustrations for us in Romans 9:17. The first is of a wicked Pharaoh:

17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

The best teaching on this comes from Daniel 2:21-21, in which Daniel praises God:

20 and said: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.”

David understands that God is the God who is sovereign and who raises up the authorities that find their place in human history. You may remember, when Jesus was standing before Pilot, who was not a great guy as far as being a leader, he asked, in John 19,

10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”

God is the author and God is the sovereign over times, nations, rulers, and events which prompts the question: why does God then wait to judge wicked nations and wicked rulers and why doesn’t He judge them immediately? Those are good and valid questions and it is not wrong to ask those questions. It is a question that the people in Revelation 6 asked as they are suffering underneath the hands of wicked rulers. In Verse 9 we read:

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”

It is a reasonable question, but the answer that God gives throughout the Book of Revelation is: “Trust me, it is going to work out according to my eternal purposes and you will be satisfied and praise me for it. Trust Me.” God sovereignly establishes authority.

In our story, in Acts 22, we see how God used the authority in Jerusalem to protect Paul. Claudius Liscius was not a Christian man and yet God used him because he was at least a decent leader. He was concerned about the things that government should be concerned about. In Scripture there are two things that government ought to be concerned about: administering justice and defending the citizens and this is what Claudius Liscius did. In Verse 24 we read,

24 the commander ordered Paul to be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged…

He put Paul into the barracks because he didn’t want an injustice to take place whereby Paul would be killed by the mob. The commander had a legal right to have Paul flogged and this flogging was horrible. It was the same flogging that Jesus had to endure and was one that often killed people. It was a Roman flogging where there were strips of leather with glass and metal that ripped open a person’s back and sides. If it didn’t kill them, almost always they were crippled or deformed severely throughout life. Paul was about to experience that when he looked up and said, in Verse 25, “Do you know I am a Roman citizen?” Paul didn’t want to use this card, this piece of last defense that the Lord had given him, until the last minute, because it was a crime to flog someone without a trial who was a Roman citizen. They were scared because they realized that they could have been in grave danger from the Roman Empire if they would have done this to a Roman citizen. Then we see the conversation about Roman citizenship continue in Verses 27 through 29,

27 The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” “Yes, I am,” he answered. 28 Then the commander said, “I had to pay a big price for my citizenship.” “But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied.

Interestingly, it was illegal to “purchase” a Roman citizenship so Claudius Liscius received his through some sort of bribe that was quite illegal.

We see here how God implements and establishes human authority for the blessings of His people, and regardless of that human authority, we understand that it was established by God and we respond to it as such, whether that authority is human government or religious leadership or our parents or an employer/employee relationship. Regardless of where we find it we understand that God is sovereignly behind this.

It reminds us, as well, as we see the blessing of this pagan commander that was given not only Paul but all of Christianity throughout the ages because Paul now is able to live because of this man’s actions from a human standpoint, and God established him so. We should thank God for government, even if they are unbelievers, when they act with a concern for law and justice and they use the authority as God intends to protect people.

The third principle we find about authority is: God calls us to submit actively to human authority in honor to God. That is the point of Romans 13: everyone must submit themselves to human authorities. This is the clear call of God upon our life.

Now Paul comes before the Sanhedrin, this religious body, in Verses 1-5 of Chapter 23, and he says,

1 Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.”

One’s conscience is that gift of God whereby we discern those things which are right and those things which are wrong. It is not an infallible guide, though. We shouldn’t just let “conscience” be our guide. Paul says this and I believe he is speaking back to his earlier days when he was persecuting Christians. He said that he did it in good conscience and he thought that he was doing what God wanted him to do, so he lived his life in “good conscience” not as though there were times when he thought that what he was doing was not something that God wanted him to do and rebel against Him. Conscience isn’t always the best guide, but it is a guide and it can be honed as we submit our lives to God and to His Word so that it becomes a help to us in our obedience.

We continue in Verse 2,

2 At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. 3Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”

We don’t know how many times Paul got struck, but it is not like a slap, it is a strike or a punch. Most of us have the spirit that Paul showed because it was time for the good guy to get back at the bad guy. This is when we stand up and cheer at the movies. But, we see what happened,

4 Those who were standing near Paul said, “You dare to insult God’s high priest?”
5 Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.'”

Paul even quoted a verse from Exodus 22:28 that pertains to this because he knew he was wrong. Negatively submitting to authority actively means that we refrain from speaking evil about the rulers of the people. That applies to both government rulers and religious rulers. Does this mean that we cannot criticize our leaders? No, I am not saying that, but there is a place for the church holding both spiritual and governmental authority accountable. We have seen that through Scripture in John the Baptist holding Herrod accountable for his illicit relationship with Herodias. We see that when Samuel came to David and said, “You are the man, David. You sinned against God.”

Certainly, the church should be conscious of its role of confronting human authority, but never with a cursing spirit, a spirit that is condemning, harsh, angry, and ungodly. Paul realized that he stepped over the line, but the words Paul spoke were true: he was a white-washed tomb. He looked on the outside, but inside there was death. It is not always appropriate to say the things that are true, especially if we say them with an angry soul. This is what happened with Paul; he responded with bitterness and anger and he lost control. This is the Paul who is going to say in Romans 12:14,

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Why did Paul do this? He has been a Christian for twenty years. Why did he loose control? It is the flesh that is inside all of us. We can give Paul excuses because he has had a tough day. He has been beaten up and he is being beaten again, bruise upon bruise. He is tired. He is worn out. He has been rejected. He had such high hopes and all of them have been dashed. He thought the people would listen to him as he gave them a good witness. Now he realizes that no one is going to listen to him. He didn’t cut himself a break, but what he did was admit that what he did was wrong.

By way of application, especially to parents, be very careful what you model before your children as to what your response is to authority, especially when the authority is wrong. What you model is what they will learn, and how we respond to authority sets our life on a path and in a direction in life. We want our children to respond to us, and yet we don’t see the corrupting influences that we may be having on them as we respond to authority in an evil way. It may be toward our government authorities, it might be toward our employer, it might be toward our religious and church leaders and what we say about them in our family. It might even be toward our own spouse and how we are sometimes tempted to use our children to show that our spouse is wrong. All the while, what is happening? We are undermining the soft and gentle spirit of submission toward authority in our children.

Positively, we are called to obey and submit our lives to human authority. There are times, of course, to disobey human authority if that authority forbids you to do something that God commands or if that authority asks you to do something that God forbids, but God calls us to submit to human authority as to Him.

The last principle is: God exercises His authority to encourage us, not only to command us but to encourage us. Verses 6 through 10 tell the story of Paul raising the issue of the resurrection. This is central to Christianity. This is the Gospel that Jesus died and rose again and we who believe in Him share in His life. Paul raises this and it causes the Pharisees to say, “Well, we are for the resurrection so I don’t know if this guy is so bad.” For the Sadducees this has been a long-lived fight and struggle between these two groups.

Imagine Paul at this moment: what a day he has had. His heart must have been aching physically. He has been beaten and bruised. They tried to kill him. They tore him here and there. They punched him. They kicked him. Emotionally, he started off with such a high because he was going to witness to his people. Then there was no witness at all because there was no one listening. Spiritually he cursed the high priest and he knew he failed God and he hoped that the Lord will forgive him. He wondered if he was worth anything in this life. How low must Paul have been? Utterly humiliated, he sits in the barracks of the fortress of Antonia and there Verse 11 tells us,

11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

God exercises His authority not just to command us but to encourage and strengthen us. There are five times that Jesus is going to use this word “courage”. He used this word with the woman who had the twelve-year hemorrhage when he said, in Matthew 9:22,

“Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.”

To His frightened disciples who were in a boat in a storm-tossed sea, He said, in Matthew 14:27,

“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

In the Upper Room, on the night before the crucifixion, when He told the disciples that He was going to leave them, He said, in John 16:33,

“…take courage; I have overcome the world.”

I believe that this is a unique word that Jesus Christ gives to His people as we serve Him and He sovereignly brings it to us in times when we need it most. In times when we are the weakest and in times when we are the most feeble, He says, “Take courage.” It is this kind of courage that we need to get up on our feet and go about the work that God has laid out for us.

Then He said to Paul,

“As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

Jesus is saying, “Paul, you feel like you are a failure now, but I will tell you, well done good and faithful servant.” Even thought the effects of our work for the Lord may not be visible for a time, the one thing we look towards is this: the pleasure of the approval of our Master. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs because he wants to please his commanding officer, and all we look towards is this word: “God, are you pleased with my life, because if you are pleased with my life then I can go bed at night happy in my soul.”

God comes to Paul, as I believe He does today to God’s servants still, and He gives us these words: “Take courage. You have been a good servant. Well done good and faithful servant. Be confident I have a future for you.”

Jesus didn’t just say, “Paul, good job! It is time for you to rest now” No, He said, “Paul, good job! It is time to get up and go. It is time for you to at the work.” He uses His authority to encourage us in our service to Him.

How we respond to authority largely determines the path of our lives, the peace of our hearts, and the pleasure of our soul, so let us respond to authority with a joyful submission to God in all things.