There’s a lot of talk about authority in Christian circles these days – who has it, who does not, who should, who should not. It has become a dividing line between truth and error, solid ground and slippery slope, particularly when it comes to who holds authority in the church and in the home.
Presuming what Jesus, Peter, and Paul really meant when it comes to men and women and womanhood and manhood, authority has become a line in the sand, the rails that tell us who grew up on the right side of the tracks and who still hangs out on the wrong, who is in and who is out, who deserves admiration and respect, who is worthy of heartfelt love, and who deserves nothing but scorn.
More than anything, conceptions of authority govern who speaks and who is silent, who leads and who follows, who decides and who agrees. In extreme cases, authority grants one Christian the right to tell another she must not leave her violent husband. In more run-of-the-mill scenarios, authority justifies affixing “unbiblical” to a union where the husband listens to his wife as much as she listens to him, where responsibility, decision-making, and initiative are shared, where the hopes and dreams of both are equally cherished.
On both sides of the deck beliefs about who has authority, how authority functions, and who may sit in official positions of authority define the limits of the pool.
I doubt that Jesus is happy about this. We are so often at odds, divided, devouring one another in our quarrel over authority. It must grieve his heart.
Sometimes I simply want to bow out of the fight.
Yet now, unexpectedly, I can’t. I’ve been launched into a position of authority so, like it or not, the battle has invaded my peace.
My role is a supporting one. Still, it entails a title, a platform, and includes leading, directing, teaching, and preaching. There is value in this positional authority, in the authority granted by a community of believers to those entrusted with oversight. We need structure. We need to know where to turn, whom to ask, what to follow. Someone, or some ones, need to bring focus, clarity, protection.
I do see that.
But what I want to tell you is that the authority established by humans, the authority associated with a role, a position, or a title, is not important to me. It’s not been something I have looked for, desired, or run after.
The authority I care about is the authority Jesus grants, the authority he demonstrated on a daily basis, the authority that sets people free. I want the authority that comes through humility, service, faith, love, pure-heartedness, and compassion, the authority that comes from walking with Jesus.
Jesus healed the sick, set demoniacs free, raised the dead, and forgave sinners. The crowds were amazed because Jesus spoke with authority – unlike the elite, those teachers of the law who whipped up so much batter about their positions of authority while their words fell flat as pancakes.
One day Jesus encountered two wildly violent demon-possessed men and set them free with a word. The demons jumped into a herd of pigs, cascaded them off a cliff, and the townspeople asked Jesus to hit the road.
Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region. (Matt. 8:34)
Jesus’s authority was way too much for the town, too dangerous, too uncontrollable.
The religious leaders were infuriated with Jesus, asking by what authority he went around doing so much good. Who did Jesus think he was, restoring a man’s hand on the Sabbath? Who did he think he was, forgiving sins, driving out demons, raising a girl from the dead? Who gave this interloper from the wrong side of the tracks the right, the authority, to do any of this?
Yet all their scurrying about, their flying accusations and whispered conspiracies could not stop Jesus. Their claims to power, their fantasies of control, could never hinder Jesus from doing what he was put on this earth to do.
And that’s just it. You can’t control real authority, the authority backed by the power of God, no matter how hard you try. You can say it’s unauthorized and refuse to permit it in your circles, but you can’t control it.
When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. …After this the Lord appointed seventy-two and sent them two by two…. (Luke 9:1-2; 10:1)
I have no interest in the authority that can do no better than spend ten years working with a guy yet at the end all the poor man can do is barely manage his addiction. I couldn’t care less about the authority that has nothing more to offer the brokenhearted than a pat on the back and a tuna casserole, a hug and a don’t-give-up.
I will pass on the authority that holds onto its money and convinces itself it deserves this perk or that, this special treatment or that indulgence. I’m not interested in the authority that leads to arrogance and selfishness, to the quenching of every good and perfect gift. I recoil at the authority that twists the tangible work of Christ into warrant for abuse. I can live without the accolades, the deference, the respect, if Jesus will but work through me to set captives free.
Which I’ve seen a few times.
I’ve seen a daughter, pushing seventy yet still traumatized by childhood suffering, by the abuse of a wicked father. I’ve seen her set free in a moment, in a prayer.
I’ve seen a father sick, helpless, and virtually bedridden for three years, yet choose to worship God anyway. I’ve seen him touched and healed and restored to purpose and destiny.
I’ve seen a son, bound by pornography and all its destructive effects, helpless to help himself. I’ve seen him walk clean and clear, mind and heart free and alive.
I’ve seen a mother, overwhelmed by the death of her twelve-year-old daughter eight years running, released to move forward, to start living life again.
I’ve seen a husband, born with a broken body, bullied incessantly and struggling with despair and thoughts of ending it all, encounter the love of God in a real and tangible way, finally knowing that he is a true son worthy of love and respect and hope and destiny.
I’ve seen eyesight restored, demons cast out, hearts set free.
So yes, I do want authority.
Because I want to see more. I want to see more spirits and hearts and minds and bodies restored. I want to see purpose and destiny and healing released, freedom and joy experienced, life and love expressed. Sometimes it’s a process; sometimes it occurs instantly.
Either way, I’m all in.
If you hold a position, the title of pastor or leader or elder, and Jesus has imbued your ministry with true authority, with the power that sets people free, I rejoice with you. The reason you have been given this platform, this role, is so you can do the work Jesus did, the work of rescuing, saving, delivering, setting free.
Never forget that.
If I speak and people listen, pray and demons flee, touch and hearts fly free, these are not from me; they are from Christ. On my own I can do nothing, I control nothing, I have authority over nothing.
Nothing, nothing, nothing.
And I’m absolutely fine with that.
He must increase, but I must decrease. He must become greater; I must become less. (John 3:30; NASB and NIV)