Authority and Obedience

“Authority and obedience can never be divided, with some people having all the authority while others only have to obey. This separation causes authoritarian behaviour on the one side and doormat behaviour on the other. It perverts authority as well as obedience. A person with great authority who has nobody to be obedient to is in great spiritual danger. A very obedient person who has no authority over anyone is equally in danger.

Jesus spoke with great authority, but his whole life was complete obedience to his Father, and Jesus, who said to his Father, ‘Let it be as you, not I, would have it’ (Matthew 26:39), has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (see Matthew 28:18). Let us ask ourselves: Do we live our authority in obedience and do we live our obedience with authority?” (Henri Nouwen)

I know of too many examples where authority without obedience or accountability led to ruin. Too many times it has led into moral decay and spiritual drift. Obedience without discernment or authority has led to the perpetuation of abuses and power in places where Jesus said the first shall be last.

The authority is not to lord it over people but to serve them. The obedience is not a path leading to being a doormat but is the clearest picture of leadership as strength harnessed and under control like the bit in a horse’s mouth. Also, authority is never something we as believers should seek out but only receive with humility.

May we seek to both serve and lead well, to seek obedience and authority as two sides of the same coin. Above all, may we seek to be like Jesus, who thought equality with God wasn’t a thing to be grasped but made Himself nothing and emptied Himself to a slave’s death on a cross and by so doing took the name that is above every name and at which every knee will bow in heaven and on earth.

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