Tag Archives: Leaders

The Limit of Authority

 

Having looked recently at the nature of leadership, established by Christ for His kingdom, we saw how the authority of the Pharisees and scribes was limited insofar as they were representing Moses faithfully, or we might say teaching faithfully the Law of Moses.   This principle of limitation on authority is not isolated to Jesus’ rebuke of the Jewish religious leaders of the day, but may also be subtly seen in His ‘Great Commission’, “teaching them all I have commanded you” as it likewise provides boundaries on the nature of authority.

In keeping with this principle, the Apostle Paul, writing to the troubled community of believers in Galatia**, rebukes them for quickly deserting the word of the gospel that was preached to them and, similarly, provides the guardrails of authority.  After introducing the letter by establishing the divine source of his apostleship, Paul turns toward the central thesis of his writing

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

In this passage we find the motivation of the rebuke in verse 6, that the Galatians were turning away from the true gospel to another gospel (as though there was another gospel) and that there had arisen among them those who claimed to be teachers of this false, distorted gospel.  As the letter unfolds, we gain clarity and insight into the nature of this false gospel and find that it is a works-based gospel resting on works of the law, most notably circumcision.

In his rebuke, instead of staking a claim on the exclusivity of his apostolic authority, the Apostle places the emphasis on the authority of the true gospel

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

Here we see that neither an apostolic messenger, nor a messenger from heaven holds authority, rather the authority is from the Gospel itself, the good news that God has proclaimed.  For emphasis, Paul reiterates this point in verse 9 to make sure that his purpose has been delivered with clarity, “if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received.”  Again, the authority is placed on the message of revelation, not the messenger, while the wisdom needed to discern a false gospel from the true gospel is placed in the hands of the people.  In practice, this is precisely what we find taking place in Acts 17:11, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

This brings up some important questions on the nature of authority within the ekklesia(s) (churches) of Christ, particularly in light of the kingdom leadership paradigm that we recently looked and the limits of authority that our Lord has established.

  • Why doesn’t the Apostle, under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, appeal to the authority of his own office? He introduced his letter by establishing his apostleship from God, yet we do not see him defer to it in the rebuke, i.e. listen to my message because I am an apostle.
  • Why doesn’t he defer to the ecclesiastical church officers, i.e. elders, pastors, bishops, of Galatia and instruct the people to simply submit to their authority and rule?
  • More pointedly, why isn’t the letter addressed to the ‘leaders’ of the Galatian congregations with the message to straighten out the people?

The answer is really quite simple.  Authority does not rest in man, either by position or status.  All authority is Christ’s (Matt. 28:18) and He mediates that authority through His Word, the very revelation of God.  When one believer speaks truth to another believer, whether for correction, rebuke, training, or exhortation, the limits of that truth are confined to God’s Word.  Certainly we may take human wisdom into consideration, particularly as God has gifted men and women with levels of faith, maturity, and discernment, and has placed them in various contexts where they can communicate that wisdom.  But human wisdom is by nature fallible and the communication of it is not binding or authoritative, rather it is subordinate to the Word of God, indeed it must be derived as well as always point back to God’s Word.

Aware that perhaps those who had been teaching or preaching this distorted Gospel might object on the basis of their self-assumed, human authority, the Apostle defends his bold statements by revealing his motives as seeking the approval of God.

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

One has to ask here, why would the approval of man vs. God enter into the equation?  Why would Paul even assert this as a question?  It seems reasonable to conclude that because Paul is elevating the message above the messenger that their would naturally be push-back.  Their could be those, either claiming positional authority or claiming relational authority, as though being from Jerusalem gave them authority.  Whatever the case may be, clearly Paul is uninterested in pleasing man, but all the more interested in pleasing God.

Barnes comments on this passage, “The great system of salvation had been taught; and no other was to be admitted, no matter who preached it; no matter what the character or rank of the preacher: and no matter with what imposing claims he came. It follows from this, that the mere rank, character, talent, eloquence, or piety of a preacher does not of necessity give his doctrine a claim to our belief, or prove that his gospel is true. Great talents may be prostituted; and great sanctity of manner, and even holiness of character, may be in error; and no matter what may be the rank, and talents, and eloquence, and piety of the preacher, if he does not accord with the gospel which was first preached, he is to be held accursed.”

In concluding this introduction, before he moves towards expounding this thesis, the Apostle concludes with a word on the gospel that he preached

11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Again, this places the authority of the message above man, resting it squarely upon God.

Stepping outside the bounds of Scripture’s authority always leads to abuse.  The abuses of authority have been the cause of many reformations throughout history and of course, the central cause of THE Reformation from the 16th century.  Let this be a reminder to us in our day.  The moment we begin to accept assumed authority, is the moment we begin retracing the steps to Rome.  All authority belongs to Christ and He has chosen to mediate that authority through His written word – Sola Scriptura

 

**It should be noted that most translations use the phrase, “to the churches of Galatia” in Galatians 1:2.  There were multiple gatherings in Galatia, and these are the audience; not elders/pastors and not a general, universal concept of church.

Obey or Be Persuaded, that is the Question

 

“Obey your leaders….” Hebrews 13:17a

Following up on the post, Follow the Leader, where we looked at Hebrews 13:7, we now arrive at Hebrews 13:17 to examine the closing passage of the inclusio in chapter 13.

In our first passage we saw the commands for the recipients of the letter to remember, consider, and imitate their leaders, defined as those who spoke the word of God to them.  Here in this passage it would appear the response has advanced from emulation to subordination.  That apparent shift should give us pause to consider our interpretation carefully.  The difficulty hinges on the word “obey”.

All major English translations use this same word, but because of the difficulty squaring this with the context that we’ve seen so far, a wise suggestion is to look at the semantic range, or glosses, of the Greek word, peitho, and consider if obey fits the context best.

According to Strong’s concordance, we find the following outline for the range of possible meanings

  1. persuade
    1. to persuade, i.e. to induce one by words to believe
    2. to make friends of, to win one’s favor, gain one’s good will, or to seek to win one, strive to please one
    3. to tranquilize
    4. to persuade unto i.e. move or induce one to persuasion to do something
  2. be persuaded
    1. to be persuaded, to suffer one’s self to be persuaded; to be induced to believe: to have faith: in a thing
      1. to believe
      2. to be persuaded of a thing concerning a person
    2. to listen to, obey, yield to, comply with
  3. to trust, have confidence, be confident

As seen above, obey is certainly an option, though perhaps less frequently used.  In fact, of the 55 occurences of this word in the New Testament (KJV Concordance), only 8 times it is translated as obey.  By the way, 22 times it is translated as persuade, 8 times as trust, 8 times related to confidence (this is according to the KJV count, as per blueletterbible.org).  For comparison, the word (or those related) occurs in the NASB 64 times in 55 verses, translated as obey four times, Romans 2:8, Galatians 5:7, Hebrews 13:17, and James 3:3.

(As a side note: in Greek mythology, which predates the New Testament writing, Peitho was the Greek Goddess of Persuasion.  This of course is not authoritative, only provides some cultural context towards a possible meaning)

Given the list of possibilities, why choose obey?

Typically in translation, the context determines which gloss best fits. When we hear or use obey in the English language we immediately think of authority and subordination as in, “Children obey your parents” “Servants obey your masters”, these however use a different Greek word.  Interestingly, peitho  was used earlier in Hebrews 6:9 and again in verse 18.  Below are the ESV translations

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.

Of all the possible meanings for the word in our verse, peitho – obey – seems to be the weakest in that it carries an idea of subordination that is not supported by the context.   Instead, a better fit would be, “be persuaded or believe” your leaders, as it clearly relates to their speaking of the word of God.  The authority is God’s Word, not the leader.  Even here, the persuasion is not towards the leader, but towards the leader’s speaking of God’s Word.

Obey or be persuaded, that is the interpretive question in this passage.  If one assumes ecclesiastical authority and the reads the meaning of the English word obey into the passage, then it is not difficult to arrive at most translations and commentaries.  However, if we allow the context and the meaning of the actual words to interpret the passage, we arrive at a different conclusion.

In the next post, we’ll examine the second command from this verse, ‘submit’.  For more, see the recent video on Pastoral Authority by John MacArthur

 

Follow the Leader

 

A few weeks ago, I had the delight of revisiting one of my favorite books of the Bible, The Epistle to the Hebrews, for the third time in four years.  It’s caused me to reflect back on fond memories of having either participated in or led an in-depth study through this wonderfully challenging book, but also to look back through my notes for gaps or areas where I hadn’t yet fully fleshed out my interpretations (see the Scriptural Index).

Apparently this was the case in the last few chapters, but the last chapter more specifically.  In that chapter, which is full of practical and ethical exhortations, we have mention of the term “leader” three times, so clearly it is at the forefront of the Author’s mind.  The first two uses form brackets around a particular series of exhortations, while the last use is part of the Author’s salutation. Though it has a variety of uses, including references to specific people such as David or Joseph, the word for leader here means leaders in general.

The first use occurs in Hebrews 13:7 forming the opening bracket

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

Several observations need to be made on this use of leaders.

Remember your Leaders

First is the command to remember them.  These leaders are identified as “those who spoke to you the word of God.”  While it doesn’t clarify whether this speaking was by way of preaching, teaching, discipleship, individual exhortation, etc., nevertheless these leaders communicated the word of God to the people, and subsequently the Author has exhorted the readers to remember them.  It’s quite possible that the leaders being referenced here had died and their life is to be called to mind.

Consider their Life

Second, we see the command to consider the outcome of the leaders way of life.  As stated, its likely that these leaders had died, therefore having completed the race that was set before them, their life should now be viewed as a model of faithfulness.  The call then is to consider, literally to hold up and look at repeatedly, the body of their life’s work.

Imitate their Faith

Finally we have the third command to imitate the faith of these leaders.  Not only were they to be remembered, specifically their teaching of God’s word and their lives to be considered as an example, but also their faith was to be emulated.

To this pattern of following and emulating godly leadership in doctrine and practice, the Scriptures express the exact same sentiment elsewhere, including a prior use in Hebrews

“so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Hebrews 6:12

Similarly we have the following passages throughout the New Testament:

14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me.“1 Cor. 4:14-16

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” 1 Cor. 11:1

“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Philippians 3:17

“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:9

“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” 1 Thessalonians 1:6

“It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.” 2 Thessalonians 3:9

The pattern for follow-the-leader is a clear Scriptural principle.  Never in any of these passages do we see an example of a leader “lording” over or demanding blind allegiance.  Instead we see a pattern of humility in following the Lord , submitting to His word, and a call for other believers to imitate these qualities in the lives of those who lead them in the Word of God.  This is the mark of a leader and the definition of discipleship.  It represents what biblical leadership among the gathering of God’s people should look like.