How Should Christians Respond to Authority?
When I was a kid growing up, I didn’t like authority — on any level. Whether it was my dad telling me to do things on the farm a certain way, my youth leaders telling me to go to bed at camp, or a sign that said, “wet paint don’t touch,” I lived to do the opposite of what was told to me. All of this resulted in me getting kicked out of bible school twice while studying to be in ministry. It wasn’t until the end of my college experience that I learned what submitting to, honoring, and respecting authority looked like.
One of the things I’ve noticed over the last few years, with all that has happened in the world, is that so many people don’t like authority. Whether it’s in the workplace, the church, politics, or some other place, so many struggle with submitting to God-given authority in their lives.
So, how should we respond to the authority God has placed in our lives? Let’s look at three of the most common areas and dive deeper into how we can answer this question and work through our struggle with authority.
Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. — 1 Timothy 6:1
In this verse, Paul is addressing bondservants in Ephesus and instructs them on how to respond to their masters for the sake of the gospel. Now, a bondservant was considered an enslaved person, as another human owned them as property. However, this ancient form of slavery was not based on race, nor were they kidnapped and forced into work — ancient enslaved people had more opportunities to earn their freedom, get educated, and increase their social and economic status.
Nevertheless, again, these bondservants were owned as human property by their masters. So, these bondservants were often tempted to fight the authority of their owners. But even though Paul never validates or affirms the institution of slavery, he still does call these bondservants to obey their earthly masters. He calls on them to acknowledge and honor the authority structure they find themselves in.
None of us today are bondservants, but we do all serve a God-given authority over us. For many of us, this is the greatest reality in the workplace. The place we work is the primary place we make contact with the world. So much opportunity for gospel sharing happens in the workplace. This is the environment where people see who we really are, what we are made of, and how we respond to the stress and pressures of life. According to Paul, we can’t separate our work and our worship.
He writes in Titus 2:9–10 that “Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”
This is the idea! We are to adorn God in our workplace! We are to make the teaching of God our Savior more attractive in our workplace by how we respond to our God-given authority!
Look, we don’t always honor the authority over us for many reasons. You may struggle to respect your boss because you don’t believe they have earned it. Maybe it’s hard for you to honor your superior because they are not honorable. However, it’s important to remember that how you respond to the non-Christian authority above you, whether they are worthy of honor and respect or not, may change their life or those watching.
What about politics? Do we show respect and honor to God-given political authority? How about those politicians we disagree with? Over the last couple of years, I’ve witnessed a lot of Christians be extremely disrespectful to political figures they disagree with, all the while forgetting what Scripture calls us to.
1 Peter 2:13–17 says, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Honor the emperor.”
These verses call us to show honor and respect to the God-given authority in our lives for the sake of the gospel. Why? Because Christians under authority serve a higher authority.
If you want to read more about what God says about politics and how we should respect political authority, click here.
Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good services are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these things. — 1 Timothy 6:2
Here, we see that towards Christian God-given authority, we are to serve better to bless our spiritual family. Those in the Ephesian church might have been tempted to be “disrespectful on the ground that they are (not simply masters) but brothers” But for Paul, these individuals have even more reason to honor their masters because they are brothers. This seems to be the major rub in the Ephesian church. The mutual brotherhood of enslaved persons and their masters led to an attitude of disrespect. The declaration that the gospel had leveled the playing field within Christian households might have caused bondservants to disregard the old rules of bondservant and master, therefore not acknowledging the authority of their masters and being disrespectful. The same danger is in play here — that the church’s witness would be hindered because of households being disrupted by disrespect for one another.
How have you responded to the spiritual authority God has placed over you? Have you submitted yourself to that authority with respect and honor? One of the ways we do this in the modern church is through membership, as the church commits itself to you as family, and you submit yourself to the church.
Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” In the modern church membership is a way in which church members submit to spiritual leadership and a way in which church leadership knows whose soul they are watching over and will give an account.
Being a servant is being a follower of Jesus. Whether you are under God-given Christian authority you like or don’t like, agree with, or don’t agree with, our calling as believers is honorable servitude. In this way, we not only honor those above us, but we honor God Himself.