Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Obeying Authority

On 7 May, we remembered Mothers’ Day and voted in our General Elections. Reflecting on the 4th Commandment “Honor your father and mother…”, my mind was drawn to Martin Luther’s Catechism on the 10 Commandments where he expands this, “we must fear and love God so that we will neither look down on our parents or superiors nor irritate them, but will honor them, serve them, obey them, love them and value them.”

Its interesting how Luther expands the 4th Commandment to include obedience of all lawful forms of authority. There are biblical injunctions to obey the different spheres of authority – home (Eph 6:1), workplace (Eph 6:6), church (Heb 13:17), government (Rom 13:1). Normally, we get turned off by the word ‘authority’ because we think of someone dominant and forceful, who compels us to do what we don’t want to do and not do what we want to do. Our fallen condition makes it easy for us to disobey our authority figures because the ‘I’ comes first. Or we may respect them but it is always tinged with dread.

However, we need to remember God has instituted authority so that the peace is kept and his blessings of safety and stability flow to the people. More than that, institutions like schools and infrastructure may also be built providing prosperity. I believe disobedience of any lawful authority is disobedience of God himself. This is because God rules and orders the world through parents, teachers, managers, ministers, etc.

Nevertheless, this is not a blank cheque for authority to demand blind and cringing obedience. Obedience is qualified by the principle of Acts 5:29, “we must obey God rather than man.” Institutions of authority do not have the mandate to supplant the authority of God. When that happens, we must courageously obey God than man. However, this does not give us a blank cheque to disobey the authority anytime we do not agree with them. More often that not, our disagreement is based on mere opinion rather than facts which prove the authority has superseded God’s authority. Or we look at the perceived flaws of the authority figure and we amplify them to justify our disobedience. We look at our parents and we think, ‘they don’t understand our generation”. We look at the flaws in temperament or conduct of a church leader and we tell ourselves, “he’s not worthy to be a Christian leader”. We blow up the unfulfilled promises of the government so as to excuse our disobedience. While each case’s grievance may be true, we need to tinge our judgment with grace and also reflect on the good the authority figure has accomplished. Being fallen creatures ourselves, it would be unfair to expect our leaders to be saints. Therefore, Acts 5:29 is always to be used judiciously and only after much prayer and biblical reflection.

Being Christians, we live by Kingdom principles. Our Lord Jesus came and lived a life of love, grace and truth. He taught his disciples to give oneself away rather than grasp for more. That is the Gospel, difficult to follow but promising blessing to those who do. Gethsemane shows us Jesus was willing to obey and trust in the Father’s plan. Can we do any less with earthly authorities who remind us of the heavenly authority, Jesus Christ our Lord?

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