Posts Tagged 'submission to authority'

Dealing With Authorities


King Solomon was trying to make sense of life by studying life itself. He recorded his observations to share them with his son. For at least part of his search, Solomon was away from the Lord. The conclusions he made during this period are a mixed; some times they are spot on, other times they are the cynical observations of an unhappy, dissatisfied man. Here are some of those conclusions about some very profound topics.

Conclusions about injustice, Ecclesiastes 3:16, 17; 4:1—6

Moreover, I notice that throughout the earth justice is giving way to crime, and even the police courts are corrupt. I said to myself, “In due season God will judge everything man does, both good and bad.” (Ecclesiastes 3:16, 17 TLB)

The idea of “justice” was a big deal in the Old Testament. Most of the times, “justice” was linked to God’s judgment, something that modern Christians don’t really grasp. Today, we speak of things undefinable like “social justice,” as opposed to the what the Bible spends a lot of time dealing with: “retributive justice.” This Biblical form of justice is at the root of the Jewish sacrificial system and ultimately finds fulfillment in the work of Christ on the Cross.

Solomon’s initial observation is that of a cynic. Of course, crime and corruption are not rampant everywhere, but those things certainly do exist in societies around the globe, including ours. The average person hears about political corruption or the ineffectiveness of our legal system and he complains about it,  sounding a lot like Solomon does in verse 16. The conclusion is not to be taken as another expression of fatalism; that’s not Solomon’s style. It is, rather, a statement of absolute fact. Nobody “gets away with it” forever. God sees everything a man does—the good and the bad. And God is able to discern whether what a man did in life was good or bad. We have a difficult time with discerning the motives of the heart, but God is expert at that!

There is a New Testament echo of what Solomon wrote here:

Yes, each of us will give an account of himself to God. (Romans 14:12 TLB)

Ultimately, no matter how activist we may be; no matter how hard we may work to reform government, the problem of unjust rulers is solved by a just God. Ultimately, those who escape paying for their crime and corruption on earth, will stand before the great Judge of the Universe, and they will have to give account to Him for their conduct on earth.

Conclusions about the abuse of power, Ecclesiastes 4:1—3

Next I observed all the oppression and sadness throughout the earth—the tears of the oppressed, and no one helping them, while on the side of their oppressors were powerful allies. So I felt that the dead were better off than the living. And most fortunate of all are those who have never been born and have never seen all the evil and crime throughout the earth.

Solomon had just concluded that God would eventually redress the harm done by corrupt rulers, and that justice—God’s justice—would prevail. But knowing that Biblical truth in your head doesn’t always translate well to the emotions of your heart. Seeing the corruption and cronyism of American politics, for example, can lead you to a sense of hopelessness and a feeling that “we can’t do anything about it.” When you dwell on the negative for too long, you can get positively depressed! That led Solomon to a very cynical conclusion: it’s better not to bring a child into such a world.

This is not the thinking of a rational man; it’s the thinking of the emotional mood of the moment. It makes for a horrible philosophy of life. In fact, later on in this book, the author comes to the exact opposite conclusion!

There is hope only for the living. “It is better to be a live dog than a dead lion!” (Ecclesiastes 9:4 TLB)

In the following group of versions, we see another pessimistic conclusion reached by the cynical Solomon:

Then I observed that the basic motive for success is the driving force of envy and jealousy! But this, too, is foolishness, chasing the wind. The fool won’t work and almost starves but feels that it is better to be lazy and barely get by, than to work hard, when in the long run it is all so futile. (Ecclesiastes 4:4—6 TLB)

What the Teacher has written here are barely half truths; anybody who truly believes these three verses needs to “pause and reflect!” There are, indeed, some who are greedy and full of envy who somehow achieve what appears to be success, but looking further, we see that most successful people are that way because, in the beginning, they wanted to feed their families or not be a burden on their families or society at large. These successful people simply reaped what they had sown; they worked hard and were rewarded accordingly.

So, to be envied because of one’s success is bad, but to strive to achieve that success in order to best your neighbor is worse. Yet, in the end, hard work and activity are necessary components of “the good life.”

Now, there is a bit of wisdom hidden in the cynicism. It’s wrong to seek success just to “keep up with the Jones’.” But it is also wrong to be lazy and to just not work. It’s foolish to think it’s better to “barely get by” than it is to work hard and enjoy the fruits of your labors.

A different translation of verse 6 reveals what may be the missing balance; the Living Bible’s paraphrase may be a bit over the top.

Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit. (KJV)

It’s wrong to build a fortune on a foundation of greed and avarice. It’s also wrong to be lazy. It’s good to both work and to take time to relax. Sometimes even the best believer may, in his sincere efforts to get ahead, get all caught up in the stress that comes with the wrong kind of ambition. When that happens, it’s best to find that place of quietness.

Conclusions about the king, Ecclesiastes 8:1—5; 11—13

The Bible has a lot to say about the believer’s relationship to and with authority, and most of it can be annoying. Over in the New Testament, we read things like this:

Obey the government, for God is the one who has put it there. There is no government anywhere that God has not placed in power. (Romans 13:1 TLB)

The rest of Romans 13 goes downhill from there!

Pay your taxes too, for these same two reasons. For government workers need to be paid so that they can keep on doing God’s work, serving you. Pay everyone whatever he ought to have: pay your taxes and import duties gladly, obey those over you, and give honor and respect to all those to whom it is due. (Romans 13:6, 7 TLB)

As annoying as Paul’s advice to the Romans sounds, it should be noted that living in obedience to the governing authorities is generally God’s will for all believers. It should also be noted, though, that the overriding principles in obeying the governing authorities as far as Paul was concerned is this:

Never pay back evil for evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honest clear through. Don’t quarrel with anyone. Be at peace with everyone, just as much as possible. (Romans 12:17, 18 TLB)

Sometimes, in the case of moral or ethical issues, it may not be possible for a believer to obey a government edict.

Back in Ecclesiastes, we read this little “ode to wisdom”—

How wonderful to be wise, to understand things, to be able to analyze them and interpret them. Wisdom lights up a man’s face, softening its hardness. (Ecclesiastes 8:1 TLB)

This verse is important in light of what follows. Solomon’s advice to his son is the same as Paul’s advice to the Roman church, but the reasons are different.

Obey the king as you have vowed to do. Don’t always be trying to get out of doing your duty, even when it’s unpleasant. For the king punishes those who disobey. (Ecclesiastes 8:2, 3 TLB)

Solomon indicates that obedience to the king is part of your oath to the king—it’s part of your duty. Paul’s advice is slightly different; in Romans, the governing authorities are deserving of your obedience, not because of any oath you may have taken but simply by virtue of their position. In fact, Paul links obeying or respecting governing authorities to complying with God’s will!

Back to Solomon, here is the balance:

The king’s command is backed by great power, and no one can withstand it or question it. Those who obey him will not be punished. The wise man will find a time and a way to do what he says. (Ecclesiastes 8:4, 5 TLB)

In other words, it’s wise to obey the king because he or the state has the power to punish you if you don’t. But, a wise individual will find a way to obey the king. As one scholar noted:

In the face of of impossible circumstances or unbending authority, one does well to compromise when moral issues are not involved.

Conclusions about crime and punishment, Ecclesiastes 8:11—13

Because God does not punish sinners instantly, people feel it is safe to do wrong. But though a man sins a hundred times and still lives, I know very well that those who fear God will be better off…

Verse 11 is one of those verses that most of us think we made up out of our own experiences, yet here Solomon declares it to be a fact. It seems to a lot us that the wicked will never get their just deserts! It’s worse than that; because punishment seems not forthcoming, these same wicked sin even more, emboldened by the belief they’re never going to pay for their wrongdoing. However, in spite of the contradiction of appearances, Solomon knows the truth. And you should too! Nobody, but NOBODY, gets away with sin!

And yet, the wisest man who ever lived reached another cynical conclusion:

There is a strange thing happening here upon the earth: Providence seems to treat some good men as though they were wicked, and some wicked men as though they were good. This is all very vexing and troublesome! (Ecclesiastes 8:14 TLB)

Eventually, Solomon would snap back to his senses; he would figure things out from the correct perspective. Many years later, the prophet Malachi would have problems with his people, who had become disillusioned with the Lord because they had become cynical:

Listen; you have said, ‘It is foolish to worship God and obey him. What good does it do to obey his laws, and to sorrow and mourn for our sins? From now on, as far as we’re concerned, “Blessed are the arrogant.” For those who do evil shall prosper, and those who dare God to punish them shall get off scot-free.’ ” (Malachi 3:13, 14 TLB)

Most of us have probably said things like that, and we, of course, don’t really consider these words to be true. They’re “idle words,” and we assume God understands our frustration. He does understand our frustration, of course. But there is no such thing as an “idle word.” Reading on in Malachi, we understand that the Lord pays attention to our attitudes and our words:

Then those who feared and loved the Lord spoke often of him to each other. And he had a Book of Remembrance drawn up in which he recorded the names of those who feared him and loved to think about him. “They shall be mine,” says the Lord Almighty, “in that day when I make up my jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares an obedient and dutiful son. Then you will see the difference between God’s treatment of good men and bad, between those who serve him and those who don’t. (Malachi 3:16—18 TLB)

The wisest among us is the one who, though he may not understand all he sees or even experiences, trusts that the Lord has it all under control and that in the end, God’s Word and will shall prevail.


Real serenity. Not a worry in sight.

The Way of Submission and the Way of Peace, 13:17—21

Our letter writer is getting back the thought he began in verse 7:

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

The intervening verses, 8—16, may be considered parenthetical in that they are more or less doctrinal. With verse 17, the writer switches back to the practicalities of holiness. Christian leaders have a solemn responsibility to live a life that reflects the faith they preach. Eventually, these Christian leaders must give account to God, not only for themselves, but also for those under their care—the members of their church. The readers of this letter needed to keep this in mind, so as not to make their job any more difficult.

1. Submit to church leaders, verse 17

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

In addition to imitating the life of faith of the spiritual leaders who have passed, Christians are to “obey” and “submit” to their present spiritual leaders. In all likelihood, this admonition was given in response to a specific occasion or incident which was known to the writer. We know, for example, that some of these Hebrew believers had given up gathering together for corporate worship and that others were being influenced by false teaching. Their true Christian leaders needed the support and encouragement of their people now more than ever!

Some in our cynical society, and indeed some of the original readers of this letter, may wonder whether or not their pastoral leaders really had God’s authority or whether they had invented their own authority. It’s not uncommon for people to seek a career in the ministry because they, frankly, like the power it gives them. So, how do you know if your pastor or Sunday School teacher has Christ’s authority as they do their work? If a spiritual leader is genuinely committed and dedicated to the Word of God, both professionally and personally, the odds are very good that they preach and teach with Christ’s authority.

Why is it so important to respect the authority of your spiritual leaders? It’s because they have a responsibility to care for you, but also they will have to answer to God for your spiritual condition. Yes, leading the flock of God is a great privilege, but with that privilege comes a very heavy responsibility. The phrase “they keep watch over you” really means, “the keep watch for your souls.” What a powerful thought! A true spiritual leader knows well the word of the Lord to Ezekiel:

Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. (Ezekiel 3:17—18)

J.B. Philips in his translation of Hebrews renders the last sentences of verse 17 like this:

Try to make their work a pleasure and not a burden—by so doing you will help not only them but yourselves.

The task of the pastor is heavy enough at the best of times. When members of his congregation engage in spiritual mutiny, his job is even harder. The fact is, as we honor and respect our spiritual leaders, we not only bring them a measure of joy, but we also help ourselves in the process.

However, our submission to our spiritual leaders must be predicated on their submission to God. A spiritual leader must be called of God to do the work of God in watching over the souls of his people. If he’s all about playing golf and taking vacations and feathering his own nest, he has no claim to the divine rights of his position. Sometimes we forget the the position of “clergyman” was not invented by the Church, it was established by God.

2. Pray for one another, verses 18, 19

Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.

These two highly personal verses are like the flip side of the coin. Preachers are not supermen. They need supernatural help to do their work. They need prayer. The man of God not only has a right to be obeyed by his people, but he also has needs. One of those needs is for the prayer support and the loving encouragement of his people.

As we read this verse, it’s almost pathetic. There is almost a sense that the writer, whoever it was, had a fear of rejection, or being taken the wrong way. It may well be that in addition to caring for the souls of his readers, he’s also combating scandalous accusations made against him by false teachers. But his conscious is absolutely clear; both his work and his conduct were in line with God’s Word.

It may seem strange that the writer of this letter—a mature, thoughtful, and obviously spiritual individual—should ask for prayer from those reading this letter—people who needed his help, people who were struggling in their faith. How odd it seems for the greater to be asking something of the lesser. However, there is a great lesson here for us. The idea that I, an average or maybe below average Christian, one who has his own lapses of faith and is riddled with doubt, should think it’s possible for me  pray for another seems like the height of presumption! Surely I am the one in need of prayer! That kind of thinking is probably more common than we think. When it comes to spiritual superiority and power in prayer, those things don’t rest in any particular individual but in God Himself! We do not pray and intercede for others out of our own spiritual resources, but out of God’s infinite grace administered through His Holy Spirit. The fact is, God has created us as individuals, yet bound together as the Body of Christ by His Spirit. And each one of us, members of one Body, while dependent on the other, also offer our own talents and abilities to the whole. When it comes to members of the Body of Christ, it’s never a matter of superiority or inferiority, but of working together in complete harmony. Paul comments on this:

those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:22—26)

This is why we are all called to pray for one another. Each of us has been created by God. We are different from each other; we are distinct from each other but each of us has a place in and a role to fulfill within the kingdom of God. We have a responsibility to each other and if we are unfaithful in carrying out that responsibility, it will go undone and somebody will suffer. It won’t be the one you should be responsible for because God’s grace will look after him. It will be you. If you are a lax or lazy Christian who is so self-centered you don’t realize your responsibilities as a member of the Body of Christ, you will miss out the best God wants for you.

The writer of this letter understood this, and in humility he is giving them a chance to be blessed by giving them the opportunity to pray for him.

3. The way of peace, verses 20, 21

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

What a beautiful title: the God of peace! These verses form a benediction but it’s a deep thought in these two verses. Our God is a God of peace, and He makes that peace available to us all. That title brings a number of things to mind:

a. We live in a hostile world.

While Christians are called to “be in the world but not of the world,” we realize that the world is hostile toward God, the things of God, and to the people of God. The world exists to frustrate the purposes of God. Not only is the world in which we live hostile, but there is a spiritual world that is also hostile to the Christian. There is spiritual warfare going on all around us; we can’t see it but we may frequently see its results. But God’s peace transcends the upheavals of the world we see and that which we can’t. The peace of God has been called “the peace that passes understanding” because it sometimes doesn’t make any sense! How in the world can a person be at peace when their lives are so topsy turvy? In reality, that peace can be ours; that peace is available to any and all believers. If you don’t have it, it’s not God’s fault!

b. There are struggles in the church.

Yes, it’s unfortunate but true, but sometimes the atmosphere inside the church is just as toxic as it is outside the church! Imagine never finding relief from the stresses and struggles of the world because your church is a mess. There are churches like that and there are Christians who don’t know what unity and harmony looks like because their church is full of divisions and strife. For you unfortunate believers in that boat, the Bible has a word of advice for you:

come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord… (2 Corinthians 6:17)

You may think you should “bloom where you’re planted,” but sometimes the best thing is to be uprooted and transplanted so you will flourish. Once again, if you get stressed out in your church, don’t blame God. You need get yourself in a position to receive His peace, and that might mean a new church.

c. Peace with God.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… (Romans 5:1)

Thanks to the work of Christ, we are no longer at war with God. The conflict between man and God is over! Those who have named Christ as Lord and Savior have found the peace of redemption and reconciliation with God. As we yield ourselves to God’s will and accept His forgiveness, we are immersed in a supernatural peace. We rejoice that God took the initiative in making peace with us and we are blessed as we open ourselves up to Him and receive it.

The writer’s benediction comes swiftly after asking to be remembered in prayer. It’s personal and to the point. He mentions his “short letter,” although if Hebrews is a short letter in his estimation, we’d hate to see what a long letter looks like! He mentions Timothy, which as led some scholars to thing the writer is Paul. He mentions Italy and God’s people living there. Then he wraps up his letter by wishing them God’s grace:

Grace be with you all. (verse 25)

Without question, God’s grace is man’s summum bonum. It is the greatest gift available to any human being: God’s grace.

(c)  2012  WitzEnd

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