You’re Not the Boss of Me! A Biblical Primer on Authority and Submission Can you name the last time you heard a song, watched a movie, or read a book celebrating the virtue of submission to authority? That’s what I thought. Submission to authority is a lost message in America. Yet the issue of submission is critical to the fulfillment of the Great Commission and the advancement of God’s Kingdom on earth. We need leaders to spearhead this movement. And none of us will effectively lead and give authority until we first learn to submit and sit under authority. We—the American Church—must attempt to view authority and submission beyond our cultural blinders. Because at the root of this issue lies an unrelenting truth: Refusal to submit to earthly authority reveals a refusal to submit to the authority of God. When we rebel against our authority, we reveal our hand: We don’t trust God. We don’t believe He set every earthly authority in place as part of His sovereign plan for the world. Alternatively, when we obey our earthly authorities we demonstrate faith in God’s character and display the glory of His authority over the whole earth. How can we cultivate a heart of submission to authority? Some thoughts: Know what God says about authority in His Word Romans 13:1-7 clearly reveals God’s view of earthly authority: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” What can we learn about authority from this passage? • Everyone submits to someone. Every authority is God’s servant. • God has established every authority on earth. • If we rebel against earthly authority, we will bring God’s judgment upon ourselves. • We can live free from fear when we live uprightly. • Those in authority act as God’s agents in punishing evildoers. • Followers of Christ should pay their taxes. • Followers of Christ owe honor and respect to their authorities. Know what God says about submission in His Word The entire first half of 1 Peter is an amazing treatise on the virtues of godly submission. Here is an excerpt from 1 Peter 2:13-20: “Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.” What can we learn about submission from this passage? • God commands us to submit ourselves to every earthly authority He places over us. • Specifically, it is God’s will that we submit. By doing so, we do good. • We may be free, but as followers of Christ, we are still God’s servant. • God commands us to show proper respect and honor to authority. • God commands us to respectfully submit ourselves, even when our authority treats us harshly. • By bearing the pain of unjust suffering, we acknowledge the power and presence of God in our lives and in the world. • God will commend us for suffering for doing good. As Jesus walked the path to the Cross, he displayed the ultimate picture of submission. In Philippians 2, the Apostle Paul writes that even though Jesus was God, he “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant….He humbled himself and became obedient to death.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed in agony: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) In the Philippians passage, Paul also writes, “Our attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” (v.5) Know what God says about rebellion in His Word Because our American culture often condones—and even celebrates—the sin of rebellion, it’s tempting to excuse it in ourselves and in others. But the Bible speaks harshly about rebellion: • In 1 Samuel 15:22, the Lord says, “Rebellion is as the sin of divination”. According to Jewish law, divination—the practice of attempting to discover hidden knowledge by occult means—was punishable by death. • When Miriam and Aaron questioned Moses’ fitness to lead them, God turned Miriam’s hand leprous (Numbers 12). • When Korah and his 250 followers opposed Moses’ leadership, God opened up the earth and swallowed them whole (Numbers 16). • When the priests Nadab and Abihu dishonored God by choosing to approach Him any old way they wanted to, and not by His prescribed methods, God consumed them with fire (Leviticus 10). • Because Ham made fun of his father Noah (who in reality did make a fool of himself), he brought a curse on his son’s family (Genesis 9). Recognize the authorities God designated in various areas of our lives Key categories to think through: Those who submit Those in authority Bible references Citizens Government officials Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Tim. 2:1-3; Titus 3:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-17 Church members Church leadership Acts 16:45; 1 Tim. 5:17-19; Heb. 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-6 Children Parents Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:20 Wives Husbands Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:3-5; 1 Peter 3:1-6 Workers/servants Bosses and policies at work Eph. 6:5-8; Col. 3:22-24; Titus 2:9-10; 1 Peter 2:18-24 All believers God and the Bible Psalm 119; Matt. 28:18-20; John 14:15-24; Heb. 12:7-11; James 4:5-10 Once we identify our authorities, we need to pray for them, honor them, cultivate hearts of thankful submission toward them, and more joyfully obey them. Ask the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts The older I get the more aware I become of my own carelessness toward authority at best, and rebelliousness toward authority at worst. On the outside I may not appear rebellious. But inside I struggle with the idea of giving control of my life to someone else. Some specific areas I struggle with: • Grumbling about, or not following, work policies I don’t like. • Speaking disrespectfully or telling jokes about a government official whose political agenda I disagree with. • Not believing the best about the leadership of my company, or talking about them behind their backs. • Not obeying traffic laws. • Trying to make “end runs” around decisions that concern me at work. Rebellion may unmask itself as pride, lack of teachability, unwillingness to be a team player, passive-aggression, or a judgmental spirit. And rebellion isn’t always overt; at times it manifests as “mere” indifference to rule and authority. Some practical steps we can take: • Ask the Lord to reveal specific sins of rebellion in our life. • Confess our sin to Him. • Ask Him if we should confess our sin to any person or group. • Ask the Lord to reveal how to grow in this area. Learn how to respectfully disagree with those in authority Those in authority over us are sometimes wrong. However this does not give us the right to rebel against them. The Bible records several examples of God’s servants who respectfully pushed back against their authorities: • Acting against Egyptian law, Moses’ parents did not kill him when he was born, but hid him for three months (Exodus 2; Hebrews 11:23). • Esther approached King Xerxes uninvited—a capital crime—to prevent him from wiping out her people (The book of Esther). • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship false gods, and Daniel prayed openly to the Lord (Daniel 3 and 6). • Peter and the apostles refused to stop preaching the gospel (Acts 5). But let’s be clear: these rulers gave orders directly opposed to God’s laws. Most of us rebel against our leaders for lesser things: differences in ministry philosophy, personal preferences, or inconvenient new policies. As Americans we often have the freedom to voice our disagreement or displeasure. But we must always do so with a heart attitude of humility and respect. And if our authority does not change their mind, we must continue to submit to them. I might also point out two beautiful Biblical examples of those who withstood unjust authority without disagreement: • David, whose authority (Saul) tried to kill him. David publicly repented when he twice gave into temptation and mocked Saul (1 Samuel 24 and 26). He also took great pains to honor Saul publicly (2 Samuel 1 and 9). • Jesus, whose earthly authority did kill him. Remember the benefits of being under authority While some authorities might be unpleasant or incompetent, we must remember God placed them over us. God designed the world’s authority structure to protect us and provide for us. Submission to authority can bring a great sense of peace and rest to our lives. (It allows us a break from trying to run the world.) At minimum God uses each of our “positions of submission”—especially the painful ones—to conform us to the image of his Son. We must constantly guard our heart against the temptation to feel prideful or resentful toward our authority. In the past I believed I could do a better job than those in authority over me, only to then reach their level of authority myself and realize the position was much harder to fill than I thought. The more authority granted me, the more grateful I become for the authorities—past and present—God placed in my life. Bearing authority is difficult work. One day every leader will give an account to God for the way they cared for those under their authority (Hebrews 13:16-17). We must do all we can to lighten our authority’s burden, not add to it. Most important: Pray We can begin by praying for those in authority over us. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:1-4: I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Ultimately rebellion is a heart issue. We must continually pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit, who will lead us into lives of humble submission and joy. All Scripture references are taken from the New International Version. Stephanie Nannen is a wife and mother serving with Campus Crusade for Christ in Austin, TX.