Christians often seem to be very interested in this topic.
We want to make sure that everybody fits into our systems correctly.
Who’s ‘in charge’?
Who’s in charge in the home?
Who’s in charge in the church?
The word often translated ‘authority’ in our English Bibles is the Greek word exousia. It has a range of meaning including things like force, capacity, competency, freedom, mastery, delegated influence, authority, jurisdiction, liberty, power, right, strength.
We see it in the Gospels in instances like:
“he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”Matthew 7:29
The frequent attribution of ‘authority’ by the people who observed his teaching and miracles is interesting because, positionally, he had no authority. In the culture, as far as the systems and structures of religious life, Jesus was a nobody.
And yet his teaching and his presence demonstrated a spiritual weight that was recognized. People know that it was real.
Jesus was very critical toward what we might call ‘positional authority’ in his kingdom. This type of authority could be expressed in terms of, ‘you should listen to me because I’m…(fill in the role). I’m the husband. I’m the pastor.
When addressing his disciples, Jesus uses a form of that greek word that is often translated ‘exercise authority over’ (katexousiazo). And that ‘over’ is a big problem.
It’s a constant temptation and more often than not Chrsitians have given in to it.
Jesus addresses it directly:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.Matthew 20:25-28
Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
This concept gets interesting when we get to 1 Timothy and the instruction given to Timothy regarding women there. While this passage presents several exegetical and contextual challenges not to mention questions of application, I simply want to bring this discussion about authority to bear on it.
I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man1 Timothy 2:12
When we read that, what is our assumption of what the correct view of authority would be?
We often think, and maybe have been told, that the problem is that these women have the order wrong. It’s the men who should be exercising authority over them and not vice versa.
But this is completely wrong, in line with teaching about how spiritual authority is supposed to work.
This particular Greek word (authenteo) occurs only here in the entire New Testament. It’s often translated ‘to assume authority’ or ‘to ‘exercise authority’ or even to ‘usurp authority’ (KJV)
Unfortunately, women are also quite capable of falling into the trap that men frequently do: Wanting to exert control or authority over others.
Jesus paints a better picture that I believe Paul well understands. The kingdom of God is not a matter of over or under but rather of an interconnected and mutually submissive body under the authority of the true King Jesus.
As he instructed his disciples to be slaves to all (see Matt 20 above) so he calls us into an interconnected body where we lay down our lives for one another rather than wielding the gifts and capacities we’re given to control others.
We are invited and baptized into the body of Christ where he is the head and we work together, exercising our own God given abilities to serve one another in whatever capacity he has given us.
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.”1 Corinthians 12:4-5
Who’s in charge of the church?
Who’s in charge of the home?
That’s what it means to be Lord. And because he is Lord, we must refuse to be.