What the Bible Teaches Us About Authority

Dr. Todd Gray

When I was in the military, there was this exercise we had to do as military officers to teach us the importance of a chain of command and authority. They would take us as young officers and they would separate us into squad numbers, 10 to 12 people. Then they would say, “Okay, we want you to go on patrol to this part of the woods”. They would elect one person to be the squad commander.

We had our parameters, and it was straightforward. But then they would have these improvised explosive devices either thrown at us or set off as we traveled on patrol.

The squad commander had one responsibility: to see where the simulated mortar rounds were coming from. He would direct his squad as new challenges arose. We would follow. If an improvised explosive device endangered our position, he would set off a new path to get us out of danger.

But if that squadron commander failed, chaos would ensue, and we would theoretically die.

Why is that story important?

Because we must have order. Order comes through clear channels of authority that God has put in our lives. And we must follow that to bring honor and glory to Him.

What Does the Bible Say About Authority?

In 1 Peter 2:13, Peter says to submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution. He pointed to the kings and governors of the day and how we should obey them.

In verse 16-20, he said something very interesting:

 “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. Slaves, in reverent fear of God, submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are 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 [NIV].”

This message is the same for us as citizens of heaven. As sons and daughters of the king, we honor God by submitting to authority. We can’t go around it. God expects it and has commanded us to obey.

There are two types of authority that Peter talks about. Government authorities and vocational authorities.

1. Governmental Authorities

Peter tells us that for the sake of Christ, submit to governmental authority.

Maybe it’s hard for you to submit to those authorities, like many of us. But just because we struggle with submission to authority, we cannot dismiss this clear command.

Paul tells us in 1 Timothy Chapter 2 that we’re to pray for those in authority, meaning governmental authority. Jesus also talks about it in Mark 12:17 when referring to taxes, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. And to God, the things that are God’s.” This applies today.

We honor God by obeying governmental authority. This obedience can be on big things like paying taxes, but it can also be very small things like obeying the speed limit. That may be a challenge for most of us. Consider starting with “Lord, would you show me how I can better submit to authority?”

The Limits of Authority

In Acts 4:19, Peter and John were commanded to stop preaching about Jesus. They responded, saying “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God, for we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and what we have heard.” They marked a clear line for limitations on earthly authorities.

When the Gospel is on the line, we put Christ first. We must first obey God, before anything else.

Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 2:16 that we are free men and women in Christ. But don’t use that freedom as an excuse to sin. Your freedom is in Christ: to lay down your rights, to lay down your liberties for the sake of Christ and the sake of others.

There are different political ideologies shared by those reading this. But God’s truth matters most. We must start there. How you stand up, how you dissent, how you speak up, it matters. Stand up for biblical principles.

How We Respond to the Limits

A reaction is not a response. Do you know the difference? A response comes out of prayer and is guided by God’s word, a reaction comes out of emotion.

Every time I react, I tend to fly off the handle. Though I think I’m right, I’m wrong at the same time. Knowing when to submit and how to dissent is important.

Did you know that you can dissent without retaliation?

Peter feels no need to call us to action to fight for personal freedom. Peter understands that our pride can get carried away and he reminds us of God’s call to our life: to submit to authority.

Honoring the People Around Us

You can value people you don’t agree with. When did it become okay for believers to hate others? I hear so many Christians use vulgar terms when talking about our elected officials over the past eight years.

How can we ever expect the world to come to know a savior that we refuse to model?

Honor all people, love the Brotherhood. As Christians, we can disagree with each other. But if you disagree with another believer, please stop questioning their faith. They are your family.

When you struggle with submission to authority, realize that God is the one that put that authority in place.

What if it is an evil system? He’s been doing it for thousands of years. Why should we be any different?

In Romans Chapter 13, Paul says every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except given from God. Good or bad: God puts them in place, and he’s got a purpose for him.

2. Vocational Authority

Peter also says we should submit to vocational authority (1 Peter 2:18-20).  “Slaves, in reverent fear of God, submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate but also to those who are harsh [NIV]…” 

These verses are hard for us to even grasp. Slavery is so distant, but it wasn’t that long ago in our country.

We have to accept that slavery was a reality of life for Peter and his readers. No, it wasn’t good, and the Bible doesn’t support it but it was a fact of life. Did Peter support it? No. Was it a real circumstance? Yes.

Peter goes against many societal norms concerning the issue. Notice when Peter talks directly to the slaves. He gives them their own independent identity; he gives them their independent faith, apart from their masters. He never tells them that their situation was right, but he helps them accept the reality that they’re in. Along with the other believers, he identifies slaves as free men. Though they may be in slavery on this earth, their true freedom is in Christ.

Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross is the great equalizer. Think how revolutionary what Peter saying was. Peter gave them spiritual equality until physical equality became a reality.

He encouraged them to follow the example of Christ and endure their wrongful suffering. Though their physical position was lower, this elevated the slaves’ character above their oppressors. This is the kind of truth that we find in the Bible that would lead to the abolishment of such heinous crimes as slavery.

You might be treated differently or harshly because of your faith.

Your boss at work may be hostile but how you respond, push back against her, and how you show the Gospel’s love says much about your Christian faith. You might get fired. But let it be for righteousness’s sake.

As believers, we do things that we’re asked to do with our very best effort, and we do the things we’re asked to do with a good attitude.

Obeying God’s Command Daily

Honor God by submitting to governmental authorities. He put them there and has a plan for them and for you. Let’s commit to honoring Christ by modeling him at work, in submission to authority under our employers.

Remember, Christ submitted to the Father. He did this by submitting to the governing authorities that crucified him. You’re never going to suffer such indignity as He did, but you can do two things, you can accept his sacrifice and you can model his behavior.