Do you want to see some folks tense up and automatically get hostile?
Mention the word “authority.”
Many of us have the heart of a rebel. In fact, we may have been raised that way. Americans value independence, freedom, self-sufficiency –– these are the character traits we admire. Things like obedience, submission to authority, and humility –– well, just the thought can get under our skin in no time.
But, in scripture, authority is a very big deal. As Jesus teaches, heals, and challenges the status quo, he mentions authority again and again. Who has authority over us? Where does authority come from? And how do we respond to others’ authority?
And most importantly, how do we respond to Jesus’ authority?
In the gospels, we see Jesus calling his disciples, saying only, “Follow me.” There must have been an enormous amount of authority in his voice, in his very being, for the disciples to have left everything and followed him.
The gospel of John shows us Jesus standing before Pilate, who says to him, “Why don’t you answer me? Don’t you know I have the authority to let you live or send you to die?” Jesus hadn’t said ANYTHING up to that point, but when his authority was questioned, he said, “You have no authority except what has been given to you.”
He won’t have the Father challenged. Jesus knows where all authority ultimately lies. And in Mark, the people talk about Jesus teaching with AUTHORITY. In all the gospels, we see that Jesus has been given authority over unclean spirits and sickness and disease, and through God’s power, he is able to heal and deliver people.
There are lots of other examples, but it’s clear that the question of authority comes up repeatedly, and the bottom line is always the same: GOD has all authority. And our job is to submit to God’s authority.
Yep, there’s trouble coming! Most of us just don’t like to be told what to do, especially if someone gives us an order and doesn’t sugar coat it, at least a little. Plus, we don’t like thinking that someone is possibly smarter than we are, or knows more.
“Why should I take orders from him? He doesn’t know what he’s talking about!” We usually think we know a better way, and it irks us when we have to toe the line.
But the truth is, how we respond to authority is hugely important to God. God wants to see us develop a submissive spirit. I’m not talking about being a doormat. I’m talking about us finding some humility and developing an attitude that says we don’t have to be right all the time. We can do as we’re told without raising a fuss about it. We can respect the authority God has placed in our lives, whether we think we know a better way or not.
In many of our churches, we share the Lord’s Supper frequently. But do we remember what happened after supper, in Gethsemane? Jesus knew what was coming, and he went away by himself to pray. He gave voice to his anguish and grief: “My Father, if it possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want.”
No one on earth had the authority to take Jesus’ life from him. He sacrificed himself willingly, but he was not immune to fear and sadness. Yet even in the midst of his pain, he was submissive to the will of God. No one took his life from him. The choice was his. And he chose to be obedient, and submit to God’s will.
There is NOTHING asked of us like that which was asked of Jesus. We’re asked to sometimes do what we don’t really want to do; to occasionally submit to an authority that irritates us; to keep quiet and obey when we’d rather complain and resist.
And sometimes, doing even that much seems impossible! When it comes to authority, we cling to the illusion of control, and often give God a very hard time.
The development of a spirit of humility and submission doesn’t happen overnight. But it won’t happen at all unless we acknowledge our need, repent, and ask for God’s help.
God wants to grow us into mature Christians, who are able to submit to his authority with humility and graciousness. And God never gives up on us.
We say we’re grateful for that, but it seems difficult when the same lessons show up again and again. If we have that rebel spirit I was talking about –– and many of us do –– we’ll find ourselves repeatedly facing the same situations, and having to do as we’re told, whether we feel like it or not.
Let’s give up the fight and start passing the tests! Believe it or not, humility and submissiveness lead to joy.
Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.