Biblical Submission to Authority
July 19, 2023
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
God has given authority to parents, pastors, government rulers, and others, and it is not to be taken lightly.

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1).

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1).

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18).

“Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of
their conversation” (Hebrews 13:7).

“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that
is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).

At the same time, authority in this present world is not to be followed blindly and unquestionably. It is to be followed so long as it does not contradict the highest authority, which is God’s Word. Human authority is always to be tested by God’s Word.

The Bereans are commended as “noble” because they carefully tested Paul’s preaching by the Scripture instead of blindly following a man (Acts 17:11).

God’s people are instructed to “prove all things” (1 Th. 5:21).

Every sermon is to be judged by those who hear it (1 Co. 14:29).

Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Co. 11:1). Paul could demand that others follow him because he was following Christ and was faithfully preaching the doctrine given to him by Christ. He warned the churches of Galatia that if even he himself were to preach any other gospel, they were to reject him (Ga. 1:8).

The wife is to submit to the husband “as it is fit in the Lord” (Col. 3:18). If the husband demands that the wife disobey God’s Word, that certainly would be not fit in the Lord. He is her head, but he is not her God. The same is true for parents. They do not have the authority to demand that their children disobey God.

This is true in regard to pastoral authority.

Consider Hebrews 13:7, 17, and 24. The word for “rule” is hegeomai, meaning “to lead the way, to be chief, to preside, govern” (Mounce). It is translated “governor” (2 times, Mt. 2:6; Ac. 7:10) and “chief” (4 times, Lu. 22:26; Ac. 14:12; 15:22, 23). Pastors have real authority but it is not a lordly authority after a worldly sense; it is a shepherd’s authority. “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Pe. 5:3). We see this in Hebrews 13:17, where the ruler’s role is described in terms of watching for souls. See also Mr. 10:42-45; 1 Co. 3:5-9; 2 Co. 1:24; 3 Jo. 1:9-10. The pastor’s job is in the spiritual sphere. In contrast, some pastors have attempted to lord it over every aspect of people’s lives, interfering with their every decision, wanting the people to be dependent on them, forbidding the people to do things that are not forbidden in Scripture, and putting obligations upon them that go beyond the bounds of Scripture.

The word in Hebrews 13:17 translated “obey” (
peitho) is not the normal Greek word for obey (which is nupakouo, Eph. 6:1, 5; Col. 3:20, 22; 2 Th. 3:14; Heb. 5:9; 11:8; 1 Pe. 3:6). Peitho is translated “persuade” 22 times. The meaning is “to be persuadable.” It reminds us of the Bereans who “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Ac. 17:11). They were ready and eager to obey Paul if they could see that he was teaching according to Scripture. To obey the church leaders properly is a “readiness” kind of obedience. Compare Titus 3:1, “to be ready to every good work.” It is to be ready to obey, eager to obey, cheerful to obey. The Corinthians had this mindset in regard to giving (“a ready mind,” 2 Co. 8:19; 9:2). It is the mindset of submission to God and His Word which makes one eager to obey those He puts over me, so long as they are faithful to God’s Word. It is the opposite of being stubborn and resistant to the man’s teaching and leading. It is the opposite of being a hearer but not a doer. The peitho mindset is the one that brings spiritual growth and blessing. It is the mindset that produces a godly, unified, fruitful church. Peitho is also translated “trust” nine times (2 Co. 1:9; 10:7; Php. 2:24; 3:4; Heb. 2:13; 13:18), so it has the idea of submitting in a trusting way. But the trust is not in man; it is in God. When I obey them that have the rule over me, I am trusting God to lead them and give them wisdom. I am trusting the God who has ordained that the churches be led by certain men who have authority to be rulers. “Thus, this is not blind obedience to which our teacher refers, but obedience after thoughtful consideration that results in persuasion--all the stronger base for obedience. Those of us who demand obedience without reason, although that is necessary at times of childhood or emergency, are likely to get chameleon Christians who change orientation every time some golden-mouthed authoritarian happens along” (The Preacher’s Commentary).

In Hebrews 13:7, we see that “
the word of God” is the standard. As long as the leaders are speaking the Word of God and leading according to the Word of God, they are to be obeyed. “They are not to make laws of their own, but to interpret the laws of God; nor is their interpretation to be immediately received without examination, but the people must search the scriptures, and so far as the instructions of their minister are according to that rule they ought to receive them” (Matthew Henry).

When Peter and the apostles were commanded by the religious leaders to stop preaching in Jesus’ name, they answered, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

God is always the highest authority, and His Word is always the highest standard.

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