“But What About…?”
Here are eight more common objections, thought to prove that leaders have to use authority:
(i) ‘HE GAVE THEM AUTHORITY’ (Matt 10:1; Mark 3:15, 6:7; Luke 9:1, 10:19)
… having summoned His twelve disciples, He gave them authority1
Doesn’t this mean that Jesus gave His leadership authority, the right to enforce obedience? Yes, it does. The question is, over whom? Matthew goes on to say ‘over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness’. Mark 3:15 says ‘authority to cast out the demons’, Mark 6:7 says ‘authority over unclean spirits’, Luke 9:1 adds ‘power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases’, while Luke 10:19 has Jesus reminding them:
“Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall injure you”
Notice, none of these verses say ‘over the other disciples’ and there surely is quite a difference!
The second question is, was this authority limited to the twelve apostles, the first leaders of the Early Church? No, because Phillip clearly had it, casting out demons and healing the sick2 as did Paul, casting out demons3 healing the sick,4 and surviving a normally fatal snake bite.5 Or again, is this authority only for leaders? No, because Jesus also promised exactly these things to every believer.6
(ii) “A MAN UNDER AUTHORITY” (Matt 8:9, Luke 7:8)
Some teach from the incident of the centurion’s ‘great faith’ that Jesus had instituted a hierarchy of authority amongst believers. The centurion had asked for help for his slave but then stopped Jesus coming to his house, saying:
“Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof…, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I, too, am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come!’ and he comes….”7
The centurion saw that the way natural authority worked for him in the Roman army was the way spiritual authority worked for Jesus in the spiritual realm. Being himself “under authority” then gave him authority over others. No problem so far. However, some then reason that we must all find out which Christian authority figure we are to be ‘under’ and this will then give us authority over other believers. This is nonsense. Jesus exercised authority over the servant’s sickness.8 There is no mention of a human hierarchy anywhere in this passage, and it is explicitly taught against elsewhere as we’ve seen. James also says:
Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.9
In the spiritual realm, we are to be like Jesus and submit directly to the Father. Jesus had authority over all sicknesses, diseases and demons, not because He knew His place in a human hierarchy but because being under the authority of His Father, He did nothing of His own initiative:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing”10
The spiritual authority we gain from coming under God’s authority is over sickness and demons, not over each other. And if we want to be shown what the Father is doing at any time, we each need to be personally in contact with and directly under the authority of God Himself.
(iii) ‘WE COMMAND YOU’ (1 Thess 4:11, 2 Thess 3:4, 6, & 12)
Doesn’t this prove Paul exercised authority over the Thessalonians? No, because the Greek verb translated here as ‘command’ is paraggello, which is ‘to transmit a message’. While this reveals the translators’ propensity to having leaders exercising authority, the Greek leaves the authority with the One who sent the message. This can also be seen today in how we relate to our postmen and women. Do they have any authority over us to make us pay the bills that they deliver to us on behalf of the telephone company or Inland Revenue? Of course not. Nor does the one transmitting a message to us from God. If the message is God’s, the authority is His.
The apostle Paul obviously had a remarkable anointing, far superior to anyone today in that his writings became Scripture, yet in commanding anything in his letters he was careful to acknowledge the authority was not delegated to him but remained God’s. He also expected the Holy Spirit to personally confirm His wishes to every hearer:
For you know what commandment we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus… Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.11
If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognise that the things I write to you are the Lord’s commandment.12
Notice, Paul is calling for his words to be recognised in a way that requires discernment from either prophetic insight or personal spirituality rather than from submission to himself. Otherwise there would be no testing of their discernment. Where he did not have a clear word of God, he said so:
Now concerning…, I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy.13
The apostle John is similarly careful:
(iv) ‘REPROVE WITH ALL AUTHORITY’ (Titus 2:15)
When Paul wrote to Titus, he wrote:
These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.16
As you should be coming to expect by now, the word here translated ‘authority’ is the Greek epitage, which is everywhere else translated as ‘command’ or ‘commandment.17 What authority did Titus actually have? None. He was to speak only ‘these things’ which were the commandments of God, ‘and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to engage in good deeds’.18 He was to be a faithful messenger who delivered the message even to those who didn’t want to hear. It was not up to to him to ‘enforce obedience’ to himself but to ‘exhort’ and ‘reprove’ them with all the commandments of God, thereby further establishing His kingdom.
(v) ‘ASSERTED OUR AUTHORITY’ (1 Thess 2:6)
… even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority…
Surely ‘asserting authority’ is the same as ‘exercising authority’? Yes it is, and it is clear the translators of the NASB quoted here could see nothing wrong with that. However, that is a mindset they have brought into the text rather than found already there, since the Greek phrase is literally ‘being able to be with weight as apostles of Christ’.
The NASB acknowledges this with an alternative translation in its margin: ‘Or, been burdensome’. What kind of ‘weight’ or ‘burden’ does Paul mean? It was either the personal influence of Paul and his friends, as the NEV implies, ‘although as Christ’s own envoys we might have made our weight felt’, or it was the financial cost of their visit as in the RSV and TEV, ‘though we might have made demands as apostles’. The KJV supports this latter understanding, ‘when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ’, as does the NIV, ‘we could have been a burden to you’. This is perfectly consistent with the following verse 9 (NASB, emphasis added):
For you recall, brethren, our labour and hardship, how working day and night so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
Paul makes the point elsewhere that apostles have the right to be a burden, to be supported financially by those they serve, but he and Barnabas often ‘did not use this right’.[note]1 Cor 9:1-12[/note]
Either way, whether the ‘weight’ is ‘making their presence felt’ or the more likely ‘being a financial burden’, in neither case is there any necessity to disobey the words of Jesus against His leaders exercising authority.
(vi) ‘I… BOAST ABOUT OUR AUTHORITY’ (2 Cor 10:8, 13:10)
…even if I should boast… about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you…19
…that I may not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me, for building up and not for tearing down…20
Paul clearly says here he was ‘given authority’ (Grk, exousia) which allows him to use ‘severity’. Did he therefore rule or exercise authority, and was ‘severity’ his enforcing of obedience? Well, what authority was Paul given and what is ‘severity’?
Firstly, consider what he actually says: the authority was ‘for building you up and not for destroying you’ and again, ‘for building up and not for tearing down’. Aren’t these unusual words? Yes, and a direct quote from Jeremiah 1:10. To understand Paul then, we have to understand his reference. Jeremiah was young when he was called and “didn’t know how to speak” (Jer 1:6) so God reassured him:
“Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”21
Paul is directly contrasting his work among all the Gentiles with Jeremiah’s prophesying over them. Whereas Jeremiah’s commission was “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow… the nations and the kingdoms”, and then “to build and to plant”, Paul’s commission was only ‘to build and to plant’. He had also earlier described his work to the same Corinthians as planting and building them, ‘God’s field, God’s building’.22
So how did Jeremiah do his work? Did he take up arms against the nations, to tear them down as a king or war-lord like David or Joab did, to exercise his authority? No, he prophesied to Israel and Judah, Babylon, Egypt, Philistia, Edom, Moab, Ammon etc. When God said “I have put My words in your mouth”, it was to declare how He would judge each nation, plucking up, breaking down, destroying and overthrowing them. Jeremiah then built and planted by prophesying the restoration of Israel, the coming of Messiah, and the new covenant. Since he couldn’t force the nations and kingdoms to obey him, in what sense was he “over” them? As a messenger with God’s message. If he had made up his own message, would he still have been “over” them? Of course not. His authority was limited to his task of prophesying.
Paul too was authorised to the task of planting and building up all the uncircumcised Gentiles,23 including those in Corinth, by proclaiming the Messiah and the new covenant. In writing to them, he nowhere sought to assert his authority over them but rather to establish his credibility and to stop them coming under anyone’s authority except the Lord’s.24 He began this whole letter with an express denial of any rulership in his way of working:
I call God as witness to my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth. Not that we lord it over [lit. rule over] your faith, but are workers with you [lit. fellow-workers] for your joy.25
For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.26
What then did Paul mean in 2 Cor 1:23, ‘to spare you I came no more to Corinth’? How did Paul use ‘severity’? The same Greek word, apotomōs, is in Paul’s letter to Titus, ‘for this cause reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith’27 and it is literally ‘in a manner that cuts’, hence it signifies abruptly or curtly. The severity was in the way that he was to rebuke them for their failure to obey the Lord. That rebuke being the truth, it would hurt, as truth does when we are not walking in it. Paul went on to write about the pain he had already caused them:
For though I caused you sorrow by my letter,28 I do not regret it; though I did regret it – for I see that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while – I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, in order that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.29
He ‘spared’ them by not coming to Corinth until they had had the time to get themselves sorted out, judging themselves so that others would not have to do it for them. Although Paul refused to ‘rule over’ their faith, he unashamedly accepted his role as a leader in all the ways discussed in this study:
I have to say that I often marvel at Paul’s remarkable humility and personal consistency in his faithfulness to the word of God.
(vii) “BE IN AUTHORITY OVER TEN CITIES” (Luke 19:17 & 19)
“Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, be in authority over ten cities”35
And again, “be in authority over five cities” (vs 19). This phrase is out of a parable Jesus told of “a certain nobleman” who went away “to receive a kingdom for himself” and, on his return, rewarded his slaves for using his money wisely in his absence. Obviously, Jesus is the nobleman and we believers are all to be His slaves, using whatever talents He has given us to the best of our abilities. Some teach from this parable that we will get “authority over” our home city and other cities, as a place in their denomination’s hierarchical structure. Never mind that there may be many other denominations already in these cities.
It is clear that we each, like Jeremiah and Paul in the previous section, have areas, cities, nations or ‘spheres’36 to reach with the word of God. Billy Graham, for example, was publicly honoured and received in many cities and nations around the world. However, this comes not from a hierarchy but from a good name or reputation. We see this in Paul who, when his ‘sphere’ was not recognised, even by the churches he had planted, did not appeal to his place in a hierarchy but to his effectiveness and credibility.37
This parable can legitimately be used to teach we will be given authority but that won’t be until He returns! In the meantime, every one of us should aim to be the best servant we can be, until He returns to judge the living and the dead and to hand out His rewards for service.
(viii) “GIVE AN ACCOUNT”
Lastly, there is often confusion over what it means to be accountable.
Some think it means to be subject or obedient and use the expression to counteract those trying to position themselves above the law or as immune from its sanctions, as in rex non potest peccare (the King can do no wrong). While this is a laudable goal, since no-one should be above the law or correction, this expression is used quite differently in the Scriptures. For example, Peter tells us:
Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.38
Notice the contrast: Jesus is the Lord to whom we should all be subject and obedient but we must be willing to “give an account” to “everyone who asks”. What then does “account” mean? The Greek word, logos, is often translated as word or thought and, in this context, it means a full explanation or “defence”- Peter is urging us to willingly explain why we have such wonderful hope. Later, in 1 Pet 4:17, he adds that we will all have to give an account of ourselves to Jesus on Judgment Day (as does Paul in Rom 14:12). This is real accountability, isn’t it – anyone can ask us to explain ourselves.
In summary, to be accountable does not mean to be subject or obedient but rather to be willing to explain ourselves, our hopes, beliefs, words, motives and actions.
Leadership in the Kingdom Appendix C – Church Discipline
If, as Jesus taught, Christian leaders are not to use authority, how can there be any church discipline? Won’t sin among the saints be allowed to go unchallenged and unpunished? Not for a moment. It is my belief and personal observation that sin can be dealt with much more effectively using spiritual means than by using natural means. Read more >>
Paul: Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn. By National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37580930
Billy Graham: By Paul M. Walsh – Billy and Franklin Graham, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4934708
- Acts 8:6-7
- Acts 16:18
- Acts 19:11-12
- Acts 28:3-6
- Mark 16:17-18
- Luke 7:6-8
- Luke 7:10
- Jas 4:7, emphasis added
- John 5:19-20
- 1 Thess 4:2 & 8
- 1 Cor 14:37
- 1 Cor 7:25 cf. verses 10, 12, 40
- 1 John 4:21
- 2 John 1:6
- Titus 2:15
- e.g. Titus 1:3, 1 Tim 1:1
- Titus 3:8
- 2 Cor 10:8
- 2 Cor 13:10
- Jer 1:9-10
- 1 Cor 3:6-10
- Gal 2:7
- 1 Cor 3:1-7, 21-23, 2 Cor 11:20
- 2 Cor 1:23-24
- 2 Cor 4:5
- Titus 1:1
- i.e. in 1 Cor chapter 5
- 2 Cor 7:8-10
- 2 Cor 5:11
- 1 Cor 2:1-6, 5:4, 14:37, 2 Cor 2:17, 6:7
- 1 Cor 1:6, 10:15, 15:15, 2 Cor 13:1
- 1 Cor 11:1, 2 Cor 4:2
- 1 Cor 3:5, 4:1, 9:19, 2 Cor 4:5
- Luke 19:17
- 2 Cor 10:13-16
- 1 Cor 9:2
- 1 Pet 3:15, emphasis added