Authority

I often get frustrated with authorities in my life. I’m something of a rebel to begin with but when I end up under the authority of people I don’t exactly respect, I can get myself in trouble really easily (we can talk about my respect issues later). So when I see a verse like today’s verse, I cringe.

Today’s verse is Romans 13:1.

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.

Yeah.

Ouch.

I’m sure I’ve blogged on this before, but I don’t know when it was. I just know this is a big topic for me. It’s one I struggle with. Because when I don’t feel like the authorities in my life are obeying God, I don’t feel like I need to obey them.

My first loyalty is to God. But that doesn’t mean I don’t obey my authorities on earth just because they don’t do what God tells them to do. According to this verse, the people who are in authority in my life were placed there by God. They were given their authority by God. And this verse doesn’t say that I get to disobey my earthly authorities when they don’t follow God’s example of leadership. This verse says everyone must submit.

So who are my authorities?

Well . . . my boss is definitely my authority. When I was younger, my parents were my authority, although now we have moved more into a role of friendship but I still take their suggestions seriously. Obviously, the president and any of our elected representatives are our authorities.

This verse is a big deal. It’s hard to remember, though, when you can see the people in your life who have the power to control you making decisions that you know don’t please God. But that doesn’t give us the right not to obey.

The only time we have the right to disobey our authorities is if they tell us to do something that is directly contrary to the Bible. Everything else — taxes, speed limits, etc. — we have to obey the ruling of our authorities.

But there is something we can do about it. Maybe you’re a protester type who likes to march around with signs and think up clever rhymes. If so, that’s great. Maybe you’re the type who likes to write letters. That’s great too. But the Bible tells us to do something specifically for our authorities. I don’t remember the reference, but as believers we are commanded to pray for our authorities.

I get really frustrated with them, certain ones in particular, but it’s not my job to be frustrated with them. It’s my job to pray for them. And it’s God’s job to work everything out.

Orbus non sufficit

The verse for today has been used over and over again, so unfortunately it’s become something of a cliche. But that doesn’t make it any less true — or any less convicting if you actually sit and think about it.

Mark 8:36

36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?

It’s a good question. Jesus said this when He was telling the disciples about His upcoming execution (the disciples either didn’t believe Him or they didn’t undertand what He was saying, which is pretty much par for the course for them). And when He called the crowd to join them, Jesus explained to them that if any of them wanted to be His followers, they had to leave everything behind to do it.

True Christianity is such a paradox. The more you fight to hang on to your life, your possessions, your selfish desires, the faster you will lose them. But if you give all of that over to God (without worrying if it will be restored or not), you’ll find more joy and more happiness than anything you could have attained on your own.

So what purpose is there to gaining the whole world? What purpose is there to gaining wealth and power and status on this crazy, broken-down planet we live on?

Well, okay, let me back up before I start sounding like I’m an advocate of living like a monk. I’m sure living that way has its perks. I’m sure having no earthly attachments must make it easier to focus on God. Does it? I don’t know. All I do know is that I’m not called to sell everything I own and wander around. At least not yet. Though if God ever told me to do that, I would do it. After all, He gave me everything I have, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly through parents and friends.

I have nothing by my own merit. Every good thing in my life has come from God. And the same is true for everyone.

You may feel like you have worked to earn the things in your life, but who gave you the strength to work? Who gave you the intelligence to think? Who has orchestrated every moment of your life to bring you to where you are right now? Do you really think that life is full of coincidences? Do you really believe that you just happened to learn the things you needed to learn so that you could get the job you just happened to get so that you could impress the people you needed to impress to allow you to get where you are right now?

I’m not old. But I’ve lived long enough and have experienced enough to know that there are no coincidences in life.

I’m thankful for everything that God has given me. I have a house and a car and a job. I have food to eat and hobbies to pursue. And I have ambition to improve myself, to make myself better today than I was yesterday. And I am not saying that’s bad. I think it’s good to want to better yourself. I think it’s the right thing to do, actually. The Bible tells us that we need to live excellent lives and to do every task as though we were doing it for Him. With that sort of a work ethic, you can’t help but do well, especially in the lazy workforce we have now.

So what happens if we end up with wealth and status and power without seeking it? Do we throw it away?

No. But we do have a choice as to what we do with it.

You have to also think about the examples in Scripture about wealthy people who were used for God’s glory. Like Job. He was the wealthiest man in the world but he was also the godliest man at the same time, and he became the object of Satan’s attacks for that reason. And when it was all over and He had never been unfaithful to God, God gave him more than He’d had before Satan struck Him down.

It’s not a sin to be wealthy. It’s not a sin to be powerful or to have status above other people.

It’s a sin to think you got it all on your own. And it’s a sin to make those things the center of your life.

If we aren’t careful, wealth and power can become idols in our lives. This is especially relevant in America where we seek both of those things with all the strength we have. But let’s be honest, guys, we can’t take either one of those things with us when we die. And what good will earthly wealth do us in heaven? In heaven, the streets are paved with gold. That should tell you what God thinks of earthly wealth. It’s so common in heaven, He’s used it to pave the streets. And what power can you possibly attain on earth that will translate to heaven? The only power and authority we have comes from God anyway. It won’t be any different in heaven.

Wealth and power are illusions. Living for them is a waste of time because when you finally obtain them, you realize that they were never real.

Living for Christ is a completely different matter. If you’re one of the people who God has specially positioned to have both earthly wealth and authority, you have a unique role to play. Just because you have wealth and status doesn’t mean you have to be selfish. As much as Christians don’t like to talk about it, this world runs on money. And everyone needs money to survive — to buy food, to get from point A to point B, to do ministry. Ministry is expensive, not just in time and effort but in dollars.

So you wealthy Christians out there, have you ever thought about what God might be calling you to do with your money?

Want to prove that money doesn’t matter to you? Give it to God. Find a church that is doing God’s work (real, biblical work and not just some religious cause) and invest there. Invest in ministry. Invest in missionaries. You may think you won’t get a return on that investment, but you will be truly surprised what God can do with a couple of dollars.

Want to prove that status isn’t your god? Be humble before your subordinates. Lead by following. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated.

You can gain the world if you want, but the world won’t ever be enough for you because it isn’t real. Living for wealth is a waste of time, just like living for power. But if you live for Christ and live the way the Bible teaches, God fills up the emptiness in your heart. And not just full — overflowing. And pretty soon you’ll have so many blessings you don’t know what to do with them all.

Pecking order

Growing up on a farm, I learned pretty quickly that there is a hierarchy in nature. There are pack leaders and then there is the rest of the pack that follows, and nobody messes with the pack leader. I don’t think I ever saw this dominance in raising chickens or turkeys, though. Just saying.

But the one that really surprised me was the sheep. We had three 4-H market lambs that we raised one year (we named them Larry, Curly, and Moe). Curly was mine, she was the biggest. Moe was Andy’s, she was the calmest. Larry was the extra, backup sheep in case Curly and Moe died unexpectedly, and she (yes, she) was the smallest. But no matter how hard we trained them, no matter how we worked with them, we couldn’t get them to walk in that order. Larry, Curly, Moe. Instead, it was Curly in front, Moe in the middle, and Larry in the back. They wanted to be in height order, independent out front, Moe resignedly in the middle, and Larry bringing up the rear like an idiot. Come to think of it, the positions fit their personalities (because, even though they’re stupid, sheep still have personalities). And if we ever got them out of that order, they weren’t happy again until they got back into it. Moe refused to lead. Larry never knew where she was going. And Curly would prance and jerk and dash away from me trying to get into the lead again.

That’s probably a poor example, but the verse this morning is partly about power. And whenever I think of power, I think of a chain of command. Because wherever you have power, someone has to have more of it than someone else. You can’t have two people with the same amount of power in an organization; they’ll tear each other apart unless one of them is humble enough to back off and let the other rule.

A good example of this is the year we had three directors for our church Passion Play. Three different directors for the same play. Oi, what a nightmare! And I love all three of these people. Incredible people. But none of them could make their own decisions because they had to balance their decisions with the decisions of the others. Having too many cooks in the kitchen is a very bad idea.

There has to be someone in charge. Someone has to have a final say, no matter what endeavor you’re undertaking in life, whether it’s getting your oil changed or seeking for a means to save your soul from eternal damnation.

Anyone who has power or authority in this life got it from someone else. Some positions of authority are inherited. Granted, some are earned, but even those positions of authority that people work for are still given to them, either by election or popular opinion. Power has to come from somewhere and usually it descends.

Look at the government. I know it’s not functioning well at the moment, but let’s look at it the way it was intended to be (the way the Founding Fathers set it up). The way the Founding Fathers looked at our government was that God had created people with a free will to make their own choices. So they set up a government that the people could run for themselves, electing officials and maintaining their freedoms independently. They looked at it this way: God gives power to the Federal Government to govern and rule as they see fit. The Federal Government gives authority to the State Government. The State Government gives authority to the County Government. The County Government gives authority to the City Government. The City Government empowers its people locally. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Power starts at the highest level and descends to the levels below it, and if one of the levels below has a problem, they can take it to the higher levels for help.

Think about the difference between city laws and federal laws, the vast difference in resources. People are far more likely to break city laws than they are federal laws, aren’t they? (It’s a bad example. Just run with it.) Because federal laws represent the federal government, and you don’t screw around with the federal government. Because the federal government is where the rest of the government gets their power from. They have more power than the rest of the governments because they are the source of that power.

So with that in mind, here’s the verse for today. John 10:28-30.

28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29 for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else.[a] No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

This is Jesus talking. The section of verses before this one, Jesus is telling people that He is the Good Shepherd and that His sheep know His voice and that He takes care of His sheep and that He will lay His life down for them willingly (because no one can take His life from Him without His consent). Here, Jesus is saying that He has given eternal life to His sheep (His followers, if you haven’t picked that up yet) and that no one can take them away from Him because God gave them to Him.

Did you get that?

God gave us to Jesus.

We’re not talking about animal hierarchies and government pecking orders anymore now. We’re talking about the Creator of the Universe. We’re talking about the One who made everything. Can you wrap your head around that? I know I can’t.

God made us, so He owns us. Some people may fight against that, but it’s true. If you make something, you look at it as something you own, don’t you? I’ve spent eleven years writing a manuscript, so I call it my manuscript. I don’t call it my brother’s manuscript or my friend’s manuscript. It was my idea. My work. So it’s mine, and I can do what I want with it. It’s the same with God. He made us, so He can do what He wants with us. He could have wiped us off the face of the earth for what we’ve done, but He didn’t. Instead, He killed His Son — Himself — to save us. He gave us to His Son to save, to protect, to keep.

And nobody can change that because He’s God. And there is no higher hierarchy above Him. There is no pecking order that He isn’t at the top of. As far above the normal citizen as the Federal Government is, God is higher even than the most powerful, most authoritative person in the world. All power comes from God. All authority comes from God.

Why do I obey the law? Because God established it. Why do I respect my parents? Because God put them in authority over me. Any power, any law, anything that has authority in my life gained that authority because God delegated it.

And who can take anything away from God?

Satan can’t even do that.

Here’s an interesting thought. Satan is our enemy. Not God’s. To be an enemy, usually you have to be on equal footing with the person or people you’re opposing. And Satan isn’t on equal footing with God. He’s just a problem that God will deal with in due time.

The only way Satan can hurt God is to hurt us, to drag us away from serving God, to keep us confused, to keep us focused on ourselves. But Satan can’t take anything away from God.

So where do we get off thinking that we can lose our salvation? Why do we fear that God will leave us when the Bible says clearly — unmistakably — that we belong to Him and nothing can separate us?

It’s a lie of Satan.

God made us. He owns us. He gave us to Jesus. He saved us. And on the days when it doesn’t feel like He’s near, that’s not His problem; it’s ours. He says He never leaves us. So it’s up to us to believe that.

Pay your taxes.

I’ll be brief this morning, mainly because the verse is so straightforward. It’s verses like this that make me love the Bible. Yes, the Bible is full of deep wisdom and mind-bending truths, but it’s also full of practical advice and instruction for living.

I love it.

Romans 13:6-7

6 Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.

It’s also very funny becuase today is tax day . . . April 15. Or did they move it back? I can’t remember. In any case, that’s probably why this is the verse for today.

In either case, I know I tend to gripe about paying my taxes because they just seem to keep going up and up. But taxes are a part of life, and you will have to pay taxes no matter where you live. And I can tell you that no matter how high my taxes have gotten, God has always provided for me financially so I have still had everything I needed and most everything I wanted.

The set of verses before this one are talking about submitting to authorities. The whole of Romans 13 is really good. If you have a chance to read it, I’d really recommend it.

Basically, the reasons mentioned in verse 6 are stated pretty simply: “All authority comes from God.” Period. It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with your authorities. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t vote for them. It doesn’t matter what your opinion is. If they are in authority over you, God appointed them.  So by rebelling against who God has put in authority is the same as rebelling against God’s plan.

Don’t you think that God can use anyone, no matter who they are? Or do you think it was an accident certain people were elected?

The government we have right now isn’t perfect. No, it’s not even close to perfect. But the people who are in authority over us have been put there because that’s what God wanted. So not matter how much I disagree with them, I still need to respect them. I do struggle with this, though. It’s very hard to say good things about people you don’t think highly of.

So pay your taxes.

It’s the right thing to do.

And realize that all authority comes from God. And if the people who are in authority over us make poor decisions and lead us wrong, it’s not us that they will answer to in the end.