Respect for Authority

A very gifted teacher recently told me that she was thinking about leaving her profession because the lack of respect for teachers and other students was becoming very difficult.

Is the lack of respect for authority breaking down in our culture?

We acknowledge that we are citizens of differing nations. Yet despite that, the message of respecting those whom God has placed in authority over us is to be given serious thought.

Jesus lived his earthly life as a citizen of the Roman Empire. He stood before Pilate, who showed no respect for human life, but was concerned only about his political future. Although Pilate found no guilt in Jesus, he feared the Jews who wanted Jesus crucified. So to get the Jewish religious leaders off his back, he spoke these words, “I am innocent of this man’s blood” (Matthew 27:24). He then had Jesus flogged and handed over to be crucified.

Did Jesus have to submit to such leadership? No, but He was carrying out the Father’s will to die for the sins of the world. His prayer from the cross, “Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34), showed he was submissive to his Father’s will.

When the high priest, Caiaphas, said to Jesus, “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63), Jesus answered, “Yes, it is as you say. But I say to all of you: ÔIn the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven'” (Matthew 26:64).

While Jesus remained submissive to the will of the hierarchy, at the same time he made a strong statement of who he was and that he would come again.

Thousands of Christians died under the rule of Emperor Nero. They remained obedient to the political authorities but did not submit to godless leadership.

This has not always been the way Christians have acted. Dietrich Bonhoeffer came to that point in his ministry when he said enough is enough, and he became a part of the group who tried to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer did not do this without much prayer and thorough conviction that it was God’s will.

Obedience to the state has been a serious problem for the Church through the ages. The Church’s position has been sound when they taught that the law of God supersedes the law of the state. When the state goes contrary to God’s Word, the Church must be obedient first to the divine. An example would be if the government forbade the worship of Christ in our churches, we would obey God rather than man and accept the consequences if we are faithful to our Savior and Lord.

However, there are many examples from the other side of the picture as well. When our governmental leaders and others come to the Nation’s capital to hear the President’s speech, the Sargent at Arms, as the President is about to enter the room, shouts, Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States!” I am emotionally stirred as I watch these happenings on television. The chills go up and down my back and tears come to my eyes. I may not have voted for him, and I may not share his convictions on how to govern on a particular issue, but he is my president. The Word of God says, “The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted” (Romans 13:1-3).

But does this text have broader application? What about our homes? A bride asked me to speak on Ephesians 5:22-31. Even though I warned her that this text has brought forth much anger, she wanted the teaching voiced at her wedding. The text talks about order in the home.

a. Wives, submit to your husband as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the Head of the Church.

b. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for Her. In the same way husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

c. Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Honor your father and mother which is the first commandment with a promise, that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.

d. Fathers, do not exasperate your children. Instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Following the wedding ceremony, a lady told me that she did not appreciate my meditation. She believed that portion of the Bible had been for another day.

We need structure in the home, for if God’s plan is rejected, what will the plan be? These words have to be carefully understood that the love of Christ guides each one to treat the other in love.

These words also speak to the employer/employee relationship, so that a place where work ethic and fair wage can be discussed. A teacher should seek to understand her students’ problems and the background from which they come. And the parents should also be cooperative in explaining to the child that the teacher is to be obeyed.

This part of God’s Word should be looked at carefully as we live in a democracy that wants to be free of authority. We have freedom within limits. If that is not true, we will live in chaos.

Peter summarizes this text when he writes, “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17).