Why Respect Authority?
“Honor men of all sorts.”—1 PETER 2:17.
HAVE you ever watched a small child react when he is asked to do something he really does not want to do? You may see quite a conflict written plainly on that little boy’s face. He hears his parent’s voice, and he knows that he is supposed to respect his parent’s authority. But in this case, he just does not want to obey. His struggle illustrates a truth we all face.
2 Respect for authority does not always come easily to us. Do you sometimes find it difficult to respect those who have a measure of authority over you? If so, you are not alone in this struggle. We live at a time when respect for authority seems to be at an all-time low. Yet, the Bible says that we need to show respect for those who hold positions of authority over us. (Proverbs 24:21) In fact, doing so is essential if we want to remain in God’s love. Naturally, then, some questions arise. Why can it be so difficult for us to respect authority? Why does Jehovah ask this of us, and what will help us to comply? Finally, in what ways can we show respect for authority?
WHY IT IS A CHALLENGE
3 Let us briefly consider two reasons why it can be such a challenge for us to show respect for those in authority. First, imperfection afflicts us; second, it afflicts those humans in authority over us. Human sin and imperfection got their start a long time ago, back in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s authority. So sin began with rebellion. To this day, we have an inborn tendency to rebel.—Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12.
4 Because of our sinful nature, pride and haughtiness arise easily in most of us, whereas humility is a rare quality that we need to work hard to cultivate and maintain. Even after years of faithful service to God, we may give in to stubbornness and pride. For example, consider Korah, who faithfully stuck with Jehovah’s people through many hardships. Still, he craved more authority and brazenly led a rebellion against Moses, the meekest man alive at that time. (Numbers 12:3; 16:1-3) Think, too, of King Uzziah, whose pride led him to enter Jehovah’s temple and carry out a sacred duty reserved for the priests. (2 Chronicles 26:16-21) Such men paid dearly for their rebellion. Yet, their negative examples are useful reminders for all of us. We need to combat the pride that makes it difficult for us to respect authority.
5 On the other hand, imperfect humans in positions of power have done much to undermine respect for authority. Many have been cruel, abusive, or tyrannical. In fact, human history is largely a record of the abuse of power. (Read Ecclesiastes 8:9.) For example, Saul was a good, humble man when Jehovah chose him to be king. However, he succumbed to pride and jealousy; he then persecuted the faithful man David. (1 Samuel 9:20, 21; 10:20-22; 18:7-11) David later became one of the best kings Israel ever had, yet he misused his power when he stole the wife of Uriah the Hittite and sent that innocent man to the front lines to be killed in battle. (2 Samuel 11:1-17) Yes, imperfection makes it hard for people to handle power well. And when those in power do not respect Jehovah, they do even worse. After describing the way that some Catholic popes instituted widespread persecution, a British statesman wrote: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” With such a record in mind, let us consider the question: Why should we respect authority?
WHY RESPECT AUTHORITY?
6 The best reasons to respect authority spring from love—our love for Jehovah, for our fellow man, and even for ourselves. Because we love Jehovah above all else, we want to make his heart rejoice. (Read Proverbs 27:11; Mark 12:29, 30.) We know that his sovereignty, his right to rule the universe, has been challenged on earth ever since the rebellion in Eden and that the majority of mankind have sided with Satan and rejected Jehovah’s rule. We are thrilled to take the opposite stand. When we read the majestic words of Revelation 4:11, they strike a chord in our heart. How clear it is to us that Jehovah is the rightful Ruler of the universe! We embrace Jehovah’s sovereignty, accepting his rule in our day-to-day life.
7 Such respect means obedience and more. We obey Jehovah readily because we love him. However, there are bound to be times when obedience will be very difficult for us. At such times we, like that little boy described at the outset, will need to learn submission. We recall that Jesus submitted to his Father’s will even when doing so could seem very challenging. “Let, not my will, but yours take place,” he said to his Father.—Luke 22:42.
8 Of course, Jehovah does not speak to us individually today; he uses his Word and human representatives on earth. Most often, then, we show submission to Jehovah’s authority by respecting those humans he has placed, or has allowed to continue, in positions of authority over us. If we were to rebel against those humans—for example, by refusing to accept their Scriptural counsel and correction—we would offend our God. When the Israelites murmured and rebelled against Moses, Jehovah took their actions personally as directed against him.—Numbers 14:26, 27.
9 We also show respect for authority out of love for our fellow man. How so? Well, imagine that you are a soldier in an army. The success, even the very survival of the army, likely depends on each soldier’s cooperation with, obedience to, and respect for the chain of command. If you were to undermine that organization by rebelling, all your fellow soldiers might well be placed in danger. Granted, human armies wreak terrible havoc in the world today. However, Jehovah has armies that do only good. The Bible refers to God hundreds of times as “Jehovah of armies.” (1 Samuel 1:3) He is the Commander of a vast array of mighty spirit creatures. At times, Jehovah likens his earthly servants to an army. (Psalm 68:11; Ezekiel 37:1-10) If we were to rebel against the humans that Jehovah has put in authority over us, might we not be putting our fellow spiritual soldiers at risk? When a Christian rebels against appointed elders, others in the congregation may suffer as well. (1 Corinthians 12:14, 25, 26) When a child rebels, the whole family may suffer. So we show our love for our fellow man by developing a respectful and cooperative spirit.
10 We also respect authority because it is in our own best interests to do so. When Jehovah asks us to respect authority, he often mentions the benefits that will come to us for doing so. For instance, he tells children to obey their parents in order to live a long and good life. (Deuteronomy 5:16; Ephesians 6:2, 3) He tells us to respect congregation elders because failure to do so will cause us spiritual harm. (Hebrews 13:7, 17) And he tells us to obey secular authorities for our own protection.—Romans 13:4.
11 Would you not agree that knowing why Jehovah wants us to obey helps us to respect authority? Let us, then, consider how we can show respect for authority in three principal areas of life.
RESPECT IN THE FAMILY
12 Jehovah himself designed the family arrangement. Ever the God of order, he has organized the family so that it can work well. (1 Corinthians 14:33) He gives the husband and father authority to act as family head. The husband shows respect for his Head, Christ Jesus, by imitating the way Jesus exercises headship over the congregation. (Ephesians 5:23) Thus, the husband is not to abdicate his responsibility but to shoulder it manfully; nor is he to be tyrannical or harsh but, rather, loving, reasonable, and kind. He keeps in mind that his authority is relative—it never overrules Jehovah’s authority.
13 A wife and mother is to act as her husband’s helper, or complement. She too is vested with authority in the family, for the Bible speaks of “the instruction of your mother.” (Proverbs 1:8) Of course, her authority is subordinate to that of her husband. A Christian wife shows respect for her husband’s authority by helping him fulfill his role as family head. She does not belittle him, manipulate him, or usurp his position. Rather, she is supportive and cooperative. When his decisions are not to her liking, she may respectfully express her thoughts, but she remains submissive. If her husband is not a believer, she may face challenging situations, yet her submissive conduct may move her husband to seek Jehovah.—Read 1 Peter 3:1.
14 Children bring delight to Jehovah’s heart when they obey their father and mother. They also bring honor and joy to their parents. (Proverbs 10:1) In single-parent families, children apply the same principle of obedience, aware that their parent may have an even greater need for their support and cooperation. In families where all members fulfill the roles that God designed for them, a great deal of peace and joy results. This reflects well on the Originator of all families, Jehovah God.—Ephesians 3:14, 15.
RESPECT IN THE CONGREGATION
15 Jehovah has appointed his Son as Ruler over the Christian congregation. (Colossians 1:13) Jesus, in turn, has assigned his “faithful and discreet slave” to look after the spiritual needs of God’s people on earth. (Matthew 24:45-47) The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses serves as “the faithful and discreet slave.” As in the first-century Christian congregations, elders today receive instructions and counsel from the Governing Body, either directly or through its representatives, such as traveling overseers. When we as individuals respect the authority of Christian elders, we are obeying Jehovah.—Read 1 Thessalonians 5:12; Hebrews 13:17.
16 Elders and ministerial servants are not perfect. They have failings, as we do. Yet, the elders are “gifts in men,” provided to help the congregation remain spiritually strong. (Ephesians 4:8) Elders are appointed by holy spirit. (Acts 20:28) How so? In that such men must first meet the qualifications recorded in God’s spirit-inspired Word. (1 Timothy 3:1-7, 12; Titus 1:5-9) Further, the elders who evaluate a brother’s qualifications pray earnestly for the guidance of Jehovah’s holy spirit.
17 In the congregation, there may be times when no elders and ministerial servants are available to perform a task normally assigned to them, such as conducting a meeting for field service. In such instances, other baptized brothers may fill in. If none are available, then qualified Christian sisters may fill such needs. However, when a woman fills a role normally assigned to a baptized male, she wears a head covering.* (1 Corinthians 11:3-10) This requirement does not demean women. Rather, it provides an opportunity to show respect for Jehovah’s arrangement of headship, both in the family and in the congregation.
RESPECT FOR SECULAR AUTHORITY
18 True Christians conscientiously adhere to the principles stated at Romans 13:1-7. (Read.) As you read over that passage, you can see that “the superior authorities” mentioned there are the secular governments. As long as Jehovah allows these human powers to exist, they perform important functions, maintaining a measure of order and providing needed services. We show our respect for these authorities by means of our law-abiding conduct. We are careful to pay whatever taxes we owe, to fill out properly any forms or documents that the government may require, and to comply with any laws that involve us, our family, business, or possessions. However, we do not submit to the secular authorities if they ask us to disobey God. Rather, we reply as did the apostles of old: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:28, 29; see the box “Whose Authority Should I Obey?” on page 42.
19 We also show respect for secular authorities by our demeanor. At times, we may deal directly with government officials. The apostle Paul dealt with such rulers as King Herod Agrippa and Governor Festus. These men were seriously flawed, but Paul addressed them with respect. (Acts 26:2, 25) We imitate Paul’s example, whether the official we address is a powerful ruler or a local policeman. In school, young Christians endeavor to show similar respect for their teachers and for school officials and employees. Of course, we do not limit such respect to those who approve of our beliefs; we are also respectful when dealing with those who are antagonistic toward Jehovah’s Witnesses. Really, nonbelievers in general should be able to sense our respect.—Read Romans 12:17, 18; 1 Peter 3:15.
20 Let us not be stingy when it comes to showing respect. The apostle Peter wrote: “Honor men of all sorts.” (1 Peter 2:17) When people sense that we view them with genuine respect, they may be deeply impressed. Remember, this quality is becoming ever rarer. Showing it, then, is one way in which we heed Jesus’ command: “Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.”—Matthew 5:16.
21 In this bedarkened world, good-hearted people are drawn to spiritual light. So our showing respect in the family, in the congregation, and in secular settings may attract some and move them to walk in the light with us. What a glorious prospect! Even if that does not happen, though, one thing is sure. Our respect for humans pleases Jehovah God and helps us to remain in his love. What reward could be greater than that?
On pages 209-212, the Appendix examines a few practical ways to apply this principle.
1, 2. (a) What struggle do we face when it comes to authority? (b) What questions will we consider?
3, 4. How did sin and imperfection begin, and why does our sinful nature make it a challenge for us to respect authority?
5. How have imperfect humans misused their authority?
6, 7. (a) What does our love for Jehovah move us to do, and why? (b) What attitude does submission involve, and how may we show it?
8. (a) Submission to Jehovah’s authority today often involves what, and what reveals Jehovah’s feelings in this regard? (b) What can help us to listen to counsel and accept discipline? (See the box on pages 46-47.)
9. Why will our love for our fellow man move us to respect authority? Illustrate.
10, 11. How does a proper desire to benefit ourselves move us to be obedient to authority?
12. What role does Jehovah assign to the husband and father in the family, and how may a man fulfill that role?
13. How may a wife and mother fulfill her family role in a way that pleases Jehovah?
14. How may children bring joy to their parents and to Jehovah?
15. (a) How may we show in the congregation that we respect Jehovah’s authority? (b) What principles may help us to be obedient to those taking the lead? (See the box on pages 48-49.)
16. In what sense are elders appointed by holy spirit?
17. In their congregation activity, why do Christian women at times wear head coverings?
18, 19. (a) How would you explain the principles outlined at Romans 13:1-7? (b) How do we show respect for secular authorities?
20, 21. What are some of the blessings that result from showing proper respect for authority?
[Box on page 42]
WHOSE AUTHORITY SHOULD I OBEY?
Principle: “Jehovah is our Judge, Jehovah is our Lawgiver, Jehovah is our King.”—Isaiah 33:22.
Some questions to ask yourself
[Box on pages 46, 47]
“LISTEN TO COUNSEL AND ACCEPT DISCIPLINE”
Satan’s spirit—his rebellious, contentious attitude—fills today’s world. The Bible thus refers to Satan as “the ruler of the authority of the air” and mentions the resulting “spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:2) Many today want to be completely independent of the authority of others. Sadly, that spirit of independence has even infected some in the Christian congregation. For example, an elder may offer some kindly counsel on the dangers of immoral or violent entertainment, but some may resist or even resent the counsel. Each of us needs to apply the words of Proverbs 19:20: “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, in order to become wise in your future.”
What can help us in this regard? Consider three common reasons why people resist counsel or discipline, and then note the Scriptural viewpoint.
▪ “I don’t think the counsel was appropriate.” We may feel that the counsel does not really fit our circumstances or that the one giving it did not grasp the whole picture. Our immediate reaction might even be to belittle the counsel. (Hebrews 12:5) Since we are all imperfect, is it not possible that our own view of the matter is what needs adjusting? (Proverbs 19:3) Was there not some valid reason for the counsel to be given? Then that is what we need to focus on. God’s Word advises us: “Hold on to discipline; do not let it go. Safeguard it, for it means your life.”—Proverbs 4:13.
▪ “I don’t like the way the counsel was given.” Granted, God’s Word sets a high standard for the way counsel should be given. (Galatians 6:1) However, the Bible also says: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) The only way that we can ever receive perfect counsel delivered in just the right way is to receive it from a perfect person. (James 3:2) Jehovah uses imperfect humans to counsel us, so it is wise to avoid focusing on the way the counsel is given. Look, rather, to the content of the counsel, and prayerfully consider how to apply it.
▪ “He is in no position to counsel me!” If we think that personal faults in the counselor invalidate his counsel, we need to remember the points noted above. Likewise, if we think that our age, experience, or responsibilities in the congregation somehow put us above counsel, we need to readjust our thinking. In ancient Israel, the king had great responsibilities, yet he had to accept counsel from prophets, priests, and others who were among his subjects. (2 Samuel 12:1-13; 2 Chronicles 26:16-20) Today, Jehovah’s organization appoints imperfect men to offer counsel, and mature Christians gladly accept it and apply it. If we have greater responsibilities or experience than others do, we should be even more conscious of the need to set an example in reasonableness and humility by accepting counsel and applying it.—1 Timothy 3:2, 3; Titus 3:2.
Clearly, none of us is above counsel. So let us be resolved to accept counsel readily, apply it obediently, and thank Jehovah heartily for this lifesaving gift. Counsel really is an expression of Jehovah’s love for us, and we want to remain in God’s love.—Hebrews 12:6-11.
[Box on pages 48, 49]
“Be Obedient To Those Who Are Taking The Lead”
In ancient Israel, there was an urgent need for organization. Moses alone could not oversee millions of people traveling together in a dangerous wilderness. What did he do? “Moses chose capable men out of all Israel and appointed them heads over the people, as chiefs of thousands, chiefs of hundreds, chiefs of fifties, and chiefs of tens.”—Exodus 18:25.
In the Christian congregation today, there is a similar need for organization. That is why a field service group has an overseer, a congregation has elders, a group of congregations has a circuit overseer, a group of circuits has a district overseer, and a country has a Country Committee or a Branch Committee. Because of this organization, each man acting as a shepherd is able to pay close attention to Jehovah’s sheep assigned to his care. Such shepherds are accountable to Jehovah and to Christ.—Acts 20:28.
This organizational arrangement calls for each of us to be obedient and submissive. Never would we want to have the attitude of Diotrephes, who had no respect for those taking the lead in his day. (3 John 9, 10) Rather, we want to heed the words of the apostle Paul, who wrote: “Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over you as those who will render an account, so that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you.” (Hebrews 13:17) Some obey when they agree with the direction coming from those taking the lead but refuse to submit when they disagree with the direction or cannot see the reason for it. Keep in mind, though, that being submissive can include the idea that we obey even when we are not inclined to do so. Each of us, then, does well to ask himself, ‘Am I obedient and submissive to those taking the lead over me?’
Of course, God’s Word does not spell out every arrangement or procedure needed to help the congregation function. Yet, the Bible does say: “Let all things take place decently and by arrangement.” (1 Corinthians 14:40) The Governing Body obeys this direction by putting in place various helpful procedures and guidelines that ensure the smooth and orderly operation of the congregation. Responsible Christian men do their part by setting an example of obedience as they put such arrangements into effect. They also show themselves “reasonable, ready to obey” those placed in oversight. (James 3:17) Thus, each group, congregation, circuit, district, and country is blessed with a united, orderly body of believers who reflect well on the happy God.—1 Corinthians 14:33; 1 Timothy 1:11.
On the other hand, Paul’s words found at Hebrews 13:17 also highlight why a disobedient spirit is harmful. It may cause those in positions of responsibility to do their work “with sighing.” What should be considered a privilege of sacred service can feel like a burden when a brother must deal with an uncooperative, rebellious spirit in the flock. In turn, damage results “to you,” the entire congregation. Of course, there is yet another form of damage that results when a person refuses to submit to theocratic order. It hurts his spirituality if he is too proud to submit, putting distance between him and his heavenly Father. (Psalm 138:6) Let us all, then, be determined to remain obedient and submissive.
[Picture on page 40]
A Christian father imitates the way Christ handles headship