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The Role of Authority in Biblical Decision Making

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In my last blog, I put before you my take on how authority helps us to rightly apply the ideas of entitlement, enablement, and boundaries. In this blog, I will attempt to show the importance of viewing biblical decision making through the lens of authority

 and how this can maintain unity in the body of Christ, even when we don’t agree. Any model of biblical decision making, conflict resolution, or reconciliation that does not include authority is incomplete.

Before I address decision making, I first want to acknowledge that for most of us, authority is a difficult issue. In fact, apart from redeeming authority, it will often not bring a sense of safety, but dread for those who live under it (all of us). I believe this is primarily for two reasons.

One is that authority is often misused. Jesus speaks to this in the gospels indicating that the rulers of the nations are self-exalting and oppressive (Matthew 20:25). They are not trusted; they are followed not out of joy, but fear. We typically trust and follow those who have our best interest at heart. For a leader to lead rightly he must have God’s glory and the good of those he leads in view.

Abuse of authority compounds the primary reason for wanting out from under it— our hearts are rebellious! We find comfort in the illusion of control, in being able to decide what we want to do and when we want to do it. I would concede that decisions need to be made, but making them often has more to do with our relationship with God than the circumstances surrounding the decisions themselves.

These two factors—desire for control and fear of abusive authority—blur our vision and keep us from seeing the beauty of God’s creative design of authority for what it truly is: a safe place and a refuge, where care, provision, protection, and direction dwell. There are boundaries and consequences set by those in authority that spell out what it looks like to live under that authority. Unlike the broken systems of the world, authority utilized as God intends is for His glory and our good. Authority helps to maintain unity, order, and peace.

It is impossible to say I am obedient to Christ and not submit to the authorities He has placed in my life. God tells us in His word that He establishes the authorities in our lives, and when we rebel against them, we rebel against Him (Romans 13:1-2). The dynamic of authority is seen throughout Scripture as God’s people are called to submit to God and His word, Christians to their local church, all peoples to their governing authorities, employees to employers, children to their parents, wives to their husbands (Ephesians 5:21-6:9), and husbands to their wives in terms of how they use their bodies sexually (1 Corinthians 7). Of course, this submission has limitations, for we cannot follow sinful direction.

Now let’s address the role of authority in biblical decision making. In the Bible, it seems God communicates direction to those who have the responsibility for leading, though He does this through various vehicles, including those under his authority. Biblical decision making is not a democracy. It does not necessitate that everyone be in agreement, and it is not left up to the one who is superior in winning arguments.

I often hear well-meaning counselors say to couples in disagreement about important decisions that God would bring them into agreement if it was His will to do this or that. It is the responsibility (yes, that is a weighty word) of the one in authority to make decisions to the glory of God and the good of those he is responsible for. It would be poor leadership to not be considerate and care for those under his authority. But it seems clear to me in scripture that those under authority have already been given direction…submit joyfully!

In a marriage, for example, it is the husband’s responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the family. He may delegate responsibility and defer decisions to those under His authority as long as the acceptable choices are in line with God’s glory and their good. A husband does not get to punt on his responsibility and later blame those under his authority. Additionally, the “good” for those under authority here is not necessarily just doing as they wish (or my kids would eat nothing but chocolate shakes and ice cream), but what is good and loving in God’s eyes.

The one under authority (in this case, the wife) often has the responsibility of offering wisdom, (without attempting to manipulate the outcome), praying, and leaving it in the hands of her husband. This often presents a precarious situation for a wife, particularly if she believes her spouse is making decisions foolishly. What if she doesn’t trust him? What if those decisions are costly? First Peter 3 is helpful here. How can she joyfully submit in these instances? The answer for her and for us is in the text… hope in God! Sarah and the holy women of God were anchored in the truth that God is sovereign and that, in submitting, they were placing themselves under His authority. He is their refuge and in His presence they will overcome all things.

Does that mean in order to submit I must agree? No. The call to love is costly. We are to sacrificially love those God has placed in authority. We must be willing to lose in this world to love those in authority over us in order that we might have an opportunity to love and live out the gospel. Do I love those in authority more than what I might lose in submitting to them? Am I willing to allow God to teach and train as He sees fit? When necessary, am I willing to engage a higher authority to love and bring correction rather than rising up myself?

In submitting, unity is preserved amidst disagreement.

In my next blog (God willing), we will look at the role of authority in terms of spiritual dynamics.

Posted on February 3, 2011