Our Obsession with Authority
We are obsessed with being in charge. Call it leadership. Call it governance. Call it managing. Call it responsibility. Call it control. Whatever you call it… we want it.
I did an Amazon search today for books on leadership. You have 60,000 options, right now. I matched that query with books on followership, there is only 131. 60,000 compared to 131, that’s coming close to the odds of the Lions winning the Super Bowl.
Now, leadership matters. We all realize the difference a great authority makes. But get this. My personal favorite book on being under an authority, is actually a book about how to be a great leader when you’re not in authority. This may tell you something about how messed up I might be. Also, it may indicate it might be time to rethink our culture of leadership. (But seriously, check out “How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge” by Clay Scroggins, it is excellent!)
So, why the diss track on developing and being a great authority? Well, let’s clarify. I am not here to push that specific line of argument. It would be swinging the notorious “pendulum” too far. But what I do think is worth pointing out is, God does not view our culture’s love affair with being in authority as the accurate angle to take either.
When it comes to living as a kingdom advancing Christian, God’s view on leadership is that it does not really matter. Ok, ok, let me add some nuance. God’s Word indicates to do good and live faithfully and your role, station, job, or position simply are not important. His words? “There is no partiality.”
Check out Ephesians 6:1–9
Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
5 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 9 Masters do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
So, parent or child, living in freedom or living in financial and contractual service (a historically better understanding of bondservant), what mattered was not your authority in life, but rather your approach to living.
The author of this passage writes to a church gathering under much harsher oppression than any executive order issued in the western world to date. And yet the actionable behaviors are, obey, honor, and render service. And the qualifiers are not any easier. Christians are called to approach living under their authorities:
· with fear and trembling
· with and from a sincere heart
· as you would Christ
· not to get noticed
· as bondservants of Christ
· with a good will
There are avenues towards exceptions from this challenge, but we should not ever rush to those. First, and most obvious no matter what our response, Christians are called to live under their authorities with a perspective defying cultural values. A perspective portraying the kingdom. One where the 64 years we accrue aren’t the sum total of our existence, the value placed on our income bracket isn’t the source of our value, and the power of our position isn’t our source of our power for living.
In a disorienting twist, God shows no partiality to the roles we will borrow during life. When we are rescued, forgiven, adopted, and empowered by God, we do not need to be in premier roles to have premier lives.
When we are rescued, forgiven, adopted, and empowered by God, we do not need to be in premier roles to have premier lives.
If this is the way God views and responds to us, then we can show a glimpse of that Kingdom mindset in every shift we clock, chore we tackle, opinion we post, and person we love. By living well under our God-given authorities, we proclaim the kingdom economy of God-reconciled re-creation.
So, yes, the next time you aren’t motivated to work, disagree with your manager, are frustrated by your governing officials, annoyed by the lifeguard, or, yes, even angered by your parent, respond to them with this framework in mind:
· I must start with honor and submission
· I must be genuinely motivated
· I must be respectful of them
· I must do it towards their good
· I must do it as I would to my Savior
· I must ultimately follow my highest authority
We do not need to be in premier roles to have premier lives. While we may have been conditioned to think that being the leader is the best way to do good in our world, perhaps we need to embrace a less alluring mindset. Perhaps we need to begin by demonstrating the power of the gospel in our lives by engaging the submission of following and honoring the authorities over our lives.
So, do not buy into the trend. Being in charge is not the only path towards doing the most good. Neither are cheap shots at those who currently occupy those seats. What matters most is not our possession of authority in life, but rather our approach to living: from, by, to, and for God, no matter where we find ourselves.