Monday, November 30, 2009

Authority and the Kingdom of God

Today I'm going to talk about what the Bible says about authority. This teaching is one of the central Christian teachings. Sadly, often times Christians fail to understand and correctly apply this teaching.

Along the way, I will begin to answer a question I posed awhile back, namely, What is the Kingdom of God?

First though, let me talk about what we usually mean when we say authority. The first definition in that link is the one I have in mind. It reads "The power to enforce laws, exact obedience, command, determine or judge." In other words, authority is the power to govern.

In our screwed-up world authority is a results driven business. For every nation on the planet, their authority, their ability to govern, is backed by force or by the threat of force. Military force is used to guard the borders and prevent revolution, and police forces are used to enforce the laws. This isn't because every nation is evil, though some certainly are. This is because force is an effective means of controlling people and, as I've already said, authority is a results driven business.

Keeping that in mind, the Biblical definition of authority is strange and deeply counter intuitive. The Bible teaches us that the real way to exercise authority is by loving people selflessly. We wield authority when we take care of other people's needs without considering our own.

I'll give you a moment to let that sink in.

One reason why this definition seems so strange is because it is fundamentally backwards. Normally, the whole point of having authority is so that I can get other people to do what I want. Under this strange new definition, authority means the opposite of what we think it should.

Secondly, this definition is strange because it isn't especially results driven to say the least. You could love someone selflessly for their whole life without seeing any results. Love isn't an effective means of persuasion, because, among many other reasons, humans are terribly ungrateful.

Nevertheless this is how the Bible teaches us to rule. Love is the basis for God's authority in the Old Testament. Abraham first follows God because God promises to bless him. Later God leads his people out of Egypt because He had compassion on them. When God gives the Israelites the Law He expects them to obey because He rescued them from Egypt.

Throughout the Old Testament God is always promising to love and care for his people. We tend to assume that the God of the Old Testament is full of judgment and wrath. Indeed there are many times in the Old Testament where God does punish his people, but that is not how he typically reacts. In the Old Testament we see again and again that God is slow to anger and rich in love. God only brings judgment as a last resort.

In Jesus we see the loving kindness of God at its full measure. Jesus comes to Earth and ultimately gives up His life for our sake. In doing this, not only does Jesus give us peace with the Father, he also gives us an example to follow. He gives a model of what real authority looks like. He shows us what His Kingdom looks like.

Perhaps the passage where we see most clearly how the role of servant and king come together in John 13. In that passage we see that even though Jesus humbled Himself to serve them, He was still their king. Indeed he was a king because of his humble service, not in spite of it.

This teaching has a lot of implications for how Christians aught to live. It is one of the most important teachings in all of scripture. Indeed, this teaching helps to clarify a lot of what is said elsewhere in the Bible. It also serves as a powerful illustration of what the Christian way of life really is.


  1. Makes me think of Philippians 2:5-8.

    So often a tarnished or broken image of who God is comes directly out of our own desires to serve ourselves. We see God as wrathful and angry because that's how we are. When we want something, and rightly deserve it, and then don't get it, how do we respond?

  2. "When God gives the Israelites the Law He expects them to obey because He rescued them from Egypt." The way you framed this makes me think God is a passive-aggressive boyfriend.


  3. First of all Alexander, thanks for your comment.

    I'm afraid that I don't understand where you're coming from. Could you please explain to me why that quote makes you think of God as a passive-aggressive boyfriend?

    I was trying to convey the idea that the Law that God gives the Israelites is based upon the love and kindness that He has shown to them. In addition, I'd like to add that it is based on the love and kindness that He continues to show them even after they disobey Him repeatedly.