Three Kinds of Authority
When we think about the topic of authority, it’s very important that we think about it with a little bit more complexity. We tend to think of it is all good or all bad. As Christians, we need to think about it in terms of created authority, fallen authority, and redeemed authority.
Let’s talk about fallen authority. What is that? It means that we use the authority that God gives us for our own purposes and we exploit and use other people for our ends. We make ourselves God. So, Cain makes himself God and therefore gives himself the right to kill and destroy his brother, Abel. Pharoah makes himself God, and therefore, gives himself rights. Who is the Lord that I should obey him? He gives himself the right to exploit the labor and lives of the Jews under his care.
The abuse of authority always begins with that kind of idolatry: removing God from his throne, making myself God in some sense, and therefore, using others to my own praise and glory. Every kind of exploitation, oppression, domination, and racism basically start with removal from God, idolatry, and therefore use of others for selfish purposes.
The purpose in using authority is not to get . . . but to give and to serve, to build up, equip, and strengthen.
Using Power for Good
A famous historical example of abuse in authority is Nazi Germany—where there was a dehumanizing of a group of people so that another could dominate them. If I dehumanize them, I make myself God. Abortion is another example of the same sort of thing. You dehumanize the infant in the mother’s womb so that you get what you want.
That’s authority under the fall. We need to keep going in the storyline and understand authority in creation and authority in redemption where it’s put to the end of serving others. God has put me in a position of office. I’m still under God. He’s given me a very limited jurisdiction, and he’s given me a purpose in using that authority. The purpose in using authority is not to get, not because I’m God, but to give and to serve, to build up, equip, and strengthen.
So, people often talk about authority as a top-down thing and there is a top-down element in authority. You’re looking down from on high giving the law, teaching, or telling your children You must do this.
But, there’s also a bottom-up element. God is a rock. He is a sure place to stand. I think about how, in many ways, I lay my life down for my daughters. They’re climbing all over me and I’m holding them up. Here we are in Disney Land, and I’m serving. I’m using my authority to serve them. We’re walking around the park, and I’m exhausting myself so they can have a good time.
That picture of me at Disney Land with my daughters doing all I can to show them a good time is, in a sense, what I’m doing as their dad all the time. I’m the platform on which they are to build their lives. That’s my job. As I get down on my hands and knees and give my daughters a place to run, dance, stand, grow, and flourish.
A Word to Leaders
I want to say to anybody in any position of authority at church, the home, or the office: that’s your job. Be that rock, be that platform on which others stand. You use your top-down authority to get yourself in a bottom-up position.
Authority is dangerous—more so than you think because it can kill. But, authority is also a blessing far better than you think. You’ve got to understand it rightly.
- Christian: Are You Imbibing Our Culture’s View of Love? (Jonathan Leeman)
- Are Love and Authority Mutually Exclusive? (Jonathan Leeman)
- Why It’s OK that God Loves Himself Most (Jonathan Leeman)