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by Jacob Ninan

Giving some people authority over others is one of God’s methods to maintain order, and, with that order, to get things done. Even within the Trinity, where the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are equally God and together one among themselves, we see a hierarchy of the Son submitting to the Father and the Holy Spirit exalting the Son and not Himself. This shows us that, within the equality of the Godhead, there is an understanding of authority.

In the natural order of things, people understand in theory that the one wielding authority is expected to work for the welfare of those who come under his authority. It is his duty not only to maintain order, but also to take care of the needs of his people that come under his purview. If he takes care of this and people recognise that, then there will be a greater chance that the overall purpose of the setup will be accomplished with everyone contributing towards it. We can say that every authority comes along with this responsibility.

It is not only that authority comes with responsibility, but also that no responsibility can be discharged without the authority that must go along with it. If someone is given responsibility over others, but he does not have any authority to control, correct or discipline them, the others might take advantage of the situation and take things into their own hand. We can see this happening in schools where teachers are not allowed to discipline the children, that the children get away with many things and grow up spoilt. In a different example, we see that even though the police are expected to maintain law and order, many times lawlessness prevails because courts that add authority to the police do not always succeed in punishing the guilty. People are not dissuaded from taking to crime because they believe they can manage to get away free (Ecc.8:11).

It happens far too often that the man in authority forgets about or neglects his responsibility towards the people and thinks mostly about gaining something for himself through the use of this authority—usually money, fame or power. This hurts the welfare of the people and in turn the purpose of the whole arrangement. Initially he may imagine that this would not happen, but as he begins to notice it happening, he is already caught too deep into the situation to back off. The people end up suffering first under the misuse of authority and then also with the results of not being able to meet the goals.

Political history has some outstanding men who came into the scene and played key roles in shaping the destiny of their people and taking them forward. But there are also many others who took on the roles of dictators and rode over the people in order to achieve their personal, egotistic goals. This has, many times, caused widespread killing, putting down the voice of opposition and side-lining of goals of development and social reformation. Many times the people have been set back in time, in terms of the progress and development they could have made during the time. Many examples are available both in the secular world history and also in the Bible.

Misuse of authority is also very prevalent in workplaces. Bosses use their subordinates to meet their personal goals by driving them towards unreasonable targets. The needs and limitations of these subordinates are ignored or paid very little attention to. Bosses many times do not take the trouble to groom suitable people to succeed them, and then they try to cling on to their position through extensions, or by getting posts created for them where they can enjoy their privileges in an advisory capacity.

God groomed the nation of Israel to become a challenging example to the nations around it. But Israel failed. It is very sad to see that the church also does not demonstrate a model of how authority should be exercised. There are pastors who keep a hold over their congregation by keeping micro-control over their lives, and by threatening calamities from God for those who dare to protest or leave the church. The misuse of “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” is very common, by which people are not allowed to question their pastors or discuss their misdeeds. While they claim freedom from the Old Testament law, one thing they hold on to is tithing which they teach many times using either the carrot or the stick approach! Instead of ‘feeding’ their flock with nutritious food, pastors focus on giving them sufficient entertainment through high energy worship programmes and messages sprinkled with humour and sensational ‘prophetic’ declarations.

At home, parents abuse or neglect their children when they are small and blame or mentally shut them out when they become teenagers, while being occupied with their careers and the pursuit of money and pleasure. They are either not aware or grossly negligent about the tremendous responsibility God has entrusted to them while giving them authority over their children (Prov.22:6). Then they blame ‘these modern kids’ or the media for the chaos the children have grown up into and show later in their work and marriage.

When children get married, the parents try to hold on to their ‘authority’ commanding them to obey them, perhaps out of a sense of insecurity or with a desire to maintain their control. They cannot understand that their married children are no longer ‘children’ who have to obey their parents. They do not realise that they should instead be encouraging the children to ‘leave their parents and cling to their spouses’ in order to become one with each other.

Husbands think God has given them ‘authority’ over their wives as the heads of the home and demand that their wives should just submit to whatever they say. They take no responsibility, however, to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her!

The whole problem is that we forget that authority is irrevocably linked to responsibility. Those who cannot take on their responsibilities are not able to handle their authority well. What results in such a situation is that authority gets misused.

The apostle Peter understood that the under-shepherds who exercise authority over their local flocks ultimately came under the authority of the Chief Shepherd (1Pet.5:1-4). No one can get away from that. We may imagine that everything is going fine as we go from mediocre means to wealth, and from being unknown to worldwide fame and thousands paying lip service to us, without keeping in mind that one day all of us have to give an account of ourselves to God (Rom.14:12). We may not remember that God gave us authority as stewards so that we may give to others their daily portion of whatever service we are to give them (Lk.12:42). If we feed ourselves off our flock and neglect to feed them, we will have to give account to our Master. Peter warns us to serve people “voluntarily, according to the will of God, with eagerness, proving to be examples to the flock,” and not “under compulsion, for sordid gain, lording it over those allotted to your charge.”

The apostle Paul understood very clearly that God gave some people authority for ‘building them (those under their authority) up’ (2Cor.10:8). This principle ought to be the motto for politicians, bosses, parents, husbands and everyone else in authority. Paul exemplified this by making himself a slave to all men and ‘becoming all things to all men’ in order to fulfil his God-given task of winning them to Christ (1Cor.9:19-22). He gave them the whole counsel of God that would profit them (Acts 20:27), without holding back things that might ‘offend’ someone or make him unpopular. When he spoke he was careful not to try and impress them with his oratory but to allow the Holy Spirit to work through him for their benefit (1Cor.2:4,5).

Many who misuse their authority are people with poor self-esteem, who are trying to establish their importance in their own eyes and before others. But those who are sure of themselves have no problem taking the form of a servant and serving others for their good. That is what Jesus did when He washed His disciples’ feet. He knew He had come from God and was going back to Him, and that He would not lose anything of His stature by humbling Himself (Jn.13:1-4). On the other hand, when Jesus humbled Himself in this way, the Father exalted Him above everyone else (Php.2:5-11).

-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, November 2017

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