It is the power or right to give orders and to ensure that appropriate action is taken, (given the necessary resources). Proper authority is not restrictive but liberating, releasing and equipping, by giving the right to act within the established boundaries.
Appropriate authority structures are necessary, for the smooth, orderly running of any organisation or people group, providing direction, giving correction and requiring accountability, with those who respond co-operatively being blessed.
1/. The nature of authority
The key to having authority is being under authority. This is the principle of delegated power as voiced by the Roman military man, ‘I am under authority, and so I have authority, I know how it works’ (Mt 8:8-10). As he was in subjection to those higher up the line of command, he could demand total obedience from those under him. It is essential to have clear instructions as well as honest and open communication in all lines of authority. A person can’t lead if they are not given the authority to make decisions and the power to act on or enforce those decisions.
Authority is a potent tool for good or evil so must be used wisely
Failing to obey the higher authority will result in a person’s downfall, as it did with King Saul, while if we humble ourselves under God’s hand (including His delegated representatives) at the proper time, if He sees it appropriate, we will be given a higher position (1 Sam 15:2,3,19,23; Lk14:11, 18:14; 1 Pet 5:5).
2/. God’s authority
God always was, is, and will be the ultimate authority in all that happens in the universe – He is sovereign. He in turn has given that authority to Jesus, “with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him” (Mt 28:18; Col 2:10; 1 Pet 3:22). By the authority of God we have been given eternal life and Christ has delegated limited power to His followers, to enforce His supremacy and carry on the good works He started, yet we can only release the benefit of His rule flowing from us to the degree that we submit to Him (Mt 6:9,10; Mk 16:15-18; Jn 14:12, 15:4,5, 17:2). He has many delegated authorities and representatives, with various degrees of power, who carry out His purposes on earth, and to disobey them is to disobey God. It is our right and responsibility as sons of God to drive back evil forces and ensure God’s Kingdom comes upon the earth, not through protests but intercession – heartfelt believing prayer.
To Pilate (the Roman Governor) who said, “I have the power to crucify you or to release you”, Jesus replied, “You have no power at all over me except it is given from God”, for even the most powerful and evil rulers are under God’s control and they are outworking His overall purposes (Gen 50:20; Prov 21:1; Jn 19:10,11; Act 2:23,24, 4:28; Rom 13:1-7). God doesn’t explain why He allows some evil rulers to act ruthlessly, but He indicates what our attitude, reaction and behaviour should be towards those He permits into office. Persecution is part of life and a refining tool, purifying the core standards of His children and bringing about the spread of the gospel as Christians live out godly values, maybe even experiencing death rather than denying Christ.
Always obey God rather than man
making this higher command an excuse for serving our selfish desires, besides we must be prepared to take any consequences for the action.
History shows when nations have chosen not to walk in God’s ways but have rebelled and embraced false gods, they place themselves under a curse, which will continue from generation to generation and increase their bondage to evil unless dealt with (Ex 20:4,5; Deut 27:26; Gal 3:10). True to the principle of sowing and reaping, a harvest of poverty, sickness, and misery result, often with the righteous in these nations also suffering. “At the present we do not see everything subject [under control] to Him” although “He is far above all rule and authority…” however, the day is coming when all will bow before Him and the physical elements will also do His bidding (Rom 14:11; Eph 1:22; Phil 2:10; Heb 2:8; 2 Pet 3:7).
On occasion, the direction of an authority figure can be altered through prayer and humble dependence upon God. Joseph, Nehemiah and Esther all experienced the power of prayer being greater than the power of position (Gen 41:16ff; Neh 2:5ff; Est 4:8ff). God sets kings up and deposes them, He is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes (Prov 21:1; Dan 2:21, 4:25,32). God’s ability to change a ruler’s heart is evident in the life of Pharaoh, with divine pressure being applied until he conceded (Ex 7:1-12:32).
3/. Satan’s authority
By rebelling against God, Adam and Eve sold humanity into the control of Satan who is allowed, under God’s final and ultimate authority, to have control over many world leaders, delegated authorities and peoples. Satan walks around ‘like a roaring lion’ looking for vulnerable prey who have let their defenses down but he will ultimately be totally defeated and thrown into the everlasting Lake of Fire (1 Pet 5:8; Rev 20:10).
Satan maintains his power over Christians because of his deception and their ignorance but he doesn’t have as much power as he would have us believe. The Bible says, “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas 4:7). Cancel the enemy’s assignments against you in Jesus name. Satan only has power over us if we surrender our God-given authority by not living upright lives, choosing instead to walk in blatant sin, which includes unforgiveness. Unless Satan’s power is continually diminishing in our lives, we are not appropriating the victory Christ died to gain for us.
4/. Authority in the church and (natural) family
God holds those in charge responsible for individuals under their authority so church leaders need to adequately watch over their members (Prov 27:23; Act 20:28; 2 Cor 11:28; Heb 13:17). This is why it is important to be committed to a local church – for your protection and correction. When exercised properly authority ‘builds up’, creating peace and co-operation, with all parties benefitting, rather than tearing down, intimidating or manipulating (2 Cor 13:10). Pastors and elders are God's appointed leaders tasked with shepherding the believers in a specific location (Act 20:28; 1 Pet 5:2).
Authority is most effective when used positively
accumulated knowledge and experience. The Word says, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” while disobeying parental authority is a sin (Ex 20:12; Col 3:20). Parents should be role models who lead by example, besides trainers and guides of their children, showing unconditional love, giving encouragement, while commanding respect, not equals as mates or buddies.
5/. Civil authority (the authority of society)
The overall social structure has been established by God and enables societies to function, ideally with good authority bringing peace and hindering Satan’s attacks yet "The authorities that exist have been established by God" (Rom 13:1-3; Col 1:16). These words were probably written when the particulary evil emperor Nero was in power yet Paul did not question why God put him in power. God always has good reasons for what He does. The early church was subject to persecution by the authorities and God used these evil men in authority to force the church to put the great commission into action, "scattering them throughout Judea and Samaria" (Mt 28:19,20; Act 1:8, 8:1).
All delegated authorities will ultimately be held accountable for the abuse, misuse or non-use of the power invested in or available to them. The Bible gives accounts of ruthless heathen Kings whom God used to discipline the Israelites when they failed to return to the ways of righteousness, for His disciplines are designed to bring wayward people back to Him (2 Kgs 20:17,18; Isa 10:5-19, 15:1-9). However when God’s purpose had been fulfilled, He also dealt with the heathen nations for their atrocities (Ex 9:16; Isa 10:12, 13:19, 14:4). God as the ultimate King has the power to install and dispose kings and rulers (Dan 2:20,21).
While at many times we don't comprehend God's will, we can trust that in the end everything will align with His plans and purposes in the world – and they are plans for ultimate good.
I urge that prayers be made for all those in authority – 1 Timothy 2:2
impair an employee’s ability to serve them acceptably during work time. Nevertheless, at all times we are to be in submission to the rulers of the land, and under God’s authority “for the authorities are God’s servants’ (Rom 13:6).
If you are in a position of authority, rather than micromanage every detail, clearly indicate what needs to be done, and let others take ownership and use their initiative, inside the perimeters established, to achieve the stated aims. Expect regular reporting but leave the details for the individual to outwork as they consider best. This approach doesn’t threaten independence, stifle initiative or creativity, although you still have the final say. Your role is to be available to provide overall guidance and motivation – being accountable to those both above and below you. Solomon prayed for wisdom to carry out his duties understanding this was a very influential position (1 Kgs 3:7-12).
6/. Authority and individual responsibility
Although power, authority and submission, are all linked they are different – a big truck has immense power, yet the driver submits to the ‘stop’ signal from a traffic officer’s hand.
The Bible makes it clear stubbornness and rebellion are serious offences as “He who resists or rebels against authority brings judgment on himself”, and while God is the highest authority, and must be implicitly obeyed, other delegated authorities exist under Him with the Bible stating “Obey the authorities…Obey them that have the rule over you” (1 Sam 15:23; Rom 13:1-5; Tit 3:1; 1 Pet 2:13,14). If they instruct you to do what is contrary to the Bible’s clear teaching respectfully inform them that you can’t obey, as your first priority is to obey God (to whom we are ultimately responsible), but be prepared to accept the consequences for disobedience (Dan 3:13-18, 6:10-16; Mt 10:28;Act 4:19; Rom 13:5). God delivered some who would not compromise their allegiance to His principles while others were tortured and martyred (Dan 3:26,27, 6:13,22; Heb 11:35-40). Sometimes, as Daniel suggested, a compromise or creative alternative, which would not violate or break God’s Word, is acceptable to those in control (Dan 1:8-16).
We never outgrow being under authority and as Christians we should surrender our dreams and plans to the Master, as Jesus did when He prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Mt 26:39). Through trials and testing God’s character can be developed in us and displayed to the world (Rom 5:3-5, 8:29; Gal 5:22,23; 1 Pet 1:6,7). Some character qualities can only be learnt and outworked in us through time, pressure, and being subject to firm authority.
Authorities exist to protect us and must be honoured, obeyed and prayed for, rather than criticized (1 Tim 2:1,2). Even if the authority lacks integrity, we are still are to submit to the office or position. David honoured King Saul even though he was an evil ruler. Peter wrote, “Honour the King”, although he knew Nero was killing Christians (1 Pet 2:17). Even our attitude to delegated authority is our attitude to the one who appointed that authority (1 Sam 8:7; Jn 13:20). If people do not submit to human authority (unless it contravenes God’s laws), it is unlikely they will submit to God. If you are in a position of authority, it may be necessary to confront those under you who are not in submission when they challenge your authority.
7/. Christians’ authority
We have authority in Christ to challenge evil – use it
make disciples of all nations…” The delegation to ‘take the world for Christ’ comes with His authority to use His name to do what He Himself did – preaching, healing, releasing His power into situations, and setting people free from the power of Satan, while rejoicing “that your names are written in heaven” (Mt 10:1, 28:18-20; Mk 16:15-18; Lk 4:18,19, 10:20). In the same way that Jesus was endued with power our empowerment comes from personal encounters with the Holy Spirit (Lk 3:21,22, 4:1,14). The total reliability and authority of God’s Word stands in stark contrast to mankind’s unreliable and changeable opinion, so we can confidently state, ‘the Word of God says…’ when engaging with the unregenerate.
Provided we remain under His God-given authority nothing can happen to us that He has not designed for our good (Rom 8:28). The wise choice is to voluntarily position or align ourselves under His authority structures and remain there, living in relative safety and freedom, within their confines. An umbrella is symbolic of the shelter authority gives (through direction, protection, correction and provision) to those wise enough to take their place beneath it. Those who live in defiance, with a ‘No one is going to tell me what to do’ attitude are rebellious and self-centered. They remove themselves from the protection that could be theirs thus exposing themselves to needless, harmful influences – including Satan’s destructive forces – and must take full responsibility for the consequences of such actions.
See also: abuse, accountability, anointed, binding and loosing, church discipline, control, declare, delegate, government, Jesus (name of), leaders/leadership, management, obedience, orders, power, prayer, protection, responsible/responsibility, spiritual warfare, submission.