Whose Authority Should You Recognize?
1, 2. Are all forms of authority injurious? Explain.
“AUTHORITY” is a distasteful word to many people. This is understandable, for authority is often abused—on the job, in the family, and by governments. The Bible realistically says: “Man has dominated man to his injury.” (Ecclesiastes 8:9) Yes, many have dominated others by acting in a tyrannical and self-serving manner.
2 But not all authority is injurious. For example, it might be said that our body exercises authority over us. It “orders” us to breathe, eat, drink, and sleep. Is this oppressive? No. Compliance with these demands is for our good. While submission to our bodily needs may be involuntary, there are other forms of authority that require our willing subjection. Consider some examples.
THE SUPREME AUTHORITY
3. Why is Jehovah rightfully called “Sovereign Lord”?
3 Over 300 times in the Bible, Jehovah is called “Sovereign Lord.” A sovereign is one who possesses supreme authority. What gives Jehovah the right to this status? Revelation 4:11 answers: “You are worthy, Jehovah, even our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power, because you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created.”
4. How does Jehovah choose to exercise his authority?
4 As our Creator, Jehovah has the right to exercise his authority as he chooses. This might seem frightening, especially when we consider that God has an “abundance of dynamic energy.” He is called “God Almighty”—a term that in Hebrew conveys the idea of overpowering strength. (Isaiah 40:26; Genesis 17:1) Yet, Jehovah shows his strength in a benevolent way, for his dominant quality is love.—1 John 4:16.
5. Why is it not difficult to submit to Jehovah’s authority?
5 Although Jehovah warned that he would bring punishment upon unrepentant wrongdoers, Moses knew him principally as “the true God, the faithful God, keeping covenant and loving-kindness in the case of those who love him and those who keep his commandments.” (Deuteronomy 7:9) Just imagine! The Supreme Authority of the universe does not force us to serve him. Rather, we are drawn to him because of his love. (Romans 2:4; 5:8) Submitting to Jehovah’s authority is even a pleasure, for his laws always work to our ultimate benefit.—Psalm 19:7, 8.
6. How did the issue of authority arise in the garden of Eden, and with what result?
6 Our first parents rejected God’s sovereignty. They wanted to decide for themselves what was good and what was bad. (Genesis 3:4-6) As a result, they were ousted from their Paradise home. Jehovah thereafter allowed humans to create authority structures that would enable them to live in an orderly, though imperfect, society. What are some of these authorities, and to what degree does God expect us to submit to them?
“THE SUPERIOR AUTHORITIES”
7. Who are “the superior authorities,” and how does their position relate to God’s authority?
7 The apostle Paul wrote: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except by God.” Who are the “superior authorities”? Paul’s words in succeeding verses show that they are human governmental authorities. (Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1) Jehovah did not originate man’s governmental authorities, but they exist by his permission. So Paul could write: “The existing authorities stand placed in their relative positions by God.” What does this indicate about such earthly authority? That it is subordinate, or inferior, to God’s authority. (John 19:10, 11) Therefore, when there is a conflict between man’s law and God’s law, Christians must be guided by their Bible-trained conscience. They “must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
8. How do you benefit from the superior authorities, and how can you show your subjection to them?
8 Much of the time, however, the governmental superior authorities act as ‘God’s minister to us for our good.’ (Romans 13:4) In what ways? Well, think of the numerous services the superior authorities provide, such as mail delivery, police and fire protection, sanitation, and education. “That is why you are also paying taxes,” wrote Paul, “for they are God’s public servants constantly serving this very purpose.” (Romans 13:6) With regard to taxes or any other legal obligation, we should “conduct ourselves honestly.”—Hebrews 13:18.
9, 10. (a) How do the superior authorities fit into God’s arrangement? (b) Why would it be wrong to oppose the superior authorities?
9 At times, the superior authorities misuse their power. Does this absolve us of our responsibility to remain in subjection to them? No, it does not. Jehovah sees the misdeeds of these authorities. (Proverbs 15:3) His toleration of man’s rule does not mean that he winks at its corruption; nor does he expect us to do so. Indeed, God will soon “crush and put an end to all these kingdoms,” replacing them with the rule of his own righteous government. (Daniel 2:44) But until this occurs, the superior authorities serve a useful purpose.
10 Paul explained: “He who opposes the authority has taken a stand against the arrangement of God.” (Romans 13:2) The superior authorities are God’s “arrangement” in that they preserve a measure of order, without which chaos and anarchy would reign. Opposing them would be unscriptural and senseless. To illustrate: Imagine that you had undergone surgery and stitches were securing the wound. Though the stitches are foreign to the body, they serve a purpose for a limited time. Removing them prematurely could be harmful. Similarly, human governmental authorities were not part of God’s original purpose. Until his Kingdom is ruling the earth completely, however, human governments hold society together, performing a function that fits in with God’s will for the present time. We should thus remain in subjection to the superior authorities, while we give priority to God’s law and authority.
AUTHORITY IN THE FAMILY
11. How would you explain the principle of headship?
11 The family is the basic unit of human society. Within it a husband and a wife can find rewarding companionship, and children can be safeguarded and trained for adulthood. (Proverbs 5:15-21; Ephesians 6:1-4) Such a noble arrangement needs to be organized in a way that enables family members to live in peace and harmony. Jehovah’s way of accomplishing this is through the principle of headship, summed up in these words, found at 1 Corinthians 11:3: “The head of every man is the Christ; in turn the head of a woman is the man; in turn the head of the Christ is God.”
12, 13. Who is the family head, and what can be learned from Jesus’ way of exercising headship?
12 The husband is the family head. However, there is a head above him—Jesus Christ. Paul wrote: “Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it.” (Ephesians 5:25) A husband reflects his subjection to Christ when he treats his wife in the way that Jesus has always treated the congregation. (1 John 2:6) Great authority has been conferred upon Jesus, but he exercises it with the utmost gentleness, love, and reasonableness. (Matthew 20:25-28) As a man, Jesus never abused his position of authority. He was “mild-tempered and lowly in heart,” and he called his followers “friends” rather than “slaves.” “I will refresh you,” he promised them, and that is what he did.—Matthew 11:28, 29; John 15:15.
13 Jesus’ example teaches husbands that Christian headship is not a position of harsh domination. Instead, it is one of respect and self-sacrificing love. This would clearly rule out mistreating a mate physically or verbally. (Ephesians 4:29, 31, 32; 5:28, 29; Colossians 3:19) If a Christian man were thus to mistreat his wife, his other good works would be valueless, and his prayers would be hindered.—1 Corinthians 13:1-3; 1 Peter 3:7.
14, 15. How does the knowledge of God help a wife to be submissive to her husband?
14 When a husband imitates Christ’s example, it is easier for his wife to comply with the words of Ephesians 5:22, 23: “Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of his wife as the Christ also is head of the congregation.” Just as a husband is to be submissive to Christ, a wife must be in subjection to her husband. The Bible also makes it clear that capable wives merit honor and praise for their godly wisdom and industriousness.—Proverbs 31:10-31.
15 A Christian wife’s subjection to her husband is relative. This means that God rather than man must be obeyed if submitting in a certain matter would result in violating divine law. Even then, a wife’s firm stand should be tempered with a “quiet and mild spirit.” It should be evident that the knowledge of God has made her a better wife. (1 Peter 3:1-4) The same would be true of a Christian man whose wife is an unbeliever. His compliance with Bible principles should make him a better husband.
16. How can children imitate the example Jesus set when he was a youth?
16 Ephesians 6:1 outlines the role of children, stating: “Be obedient to your parents in union with the Lord, for this is righteous.” Christian children follow the example of Jesus, who remained subject to his parents as he grew up. As an obedient boy, he “went on progressing in wisdom and in physical growth and in favor with God and men.”—Luke 2:51, 52.
17. The way parents exercise authority may have what effect on their children?
17 The way parents handle their responsibilities may have a bearing on whether their children will respect authority or will rebel against it. (Proverbs 22:6) So parents might well ask themselves, ‘Do I exercise my authority lovingly or harshly? Am I permissive?’ A godly parent is expected to be loving and considerate, yet firm in adhering to godly principles. Appropriately, Paul wrote: “Fathers, do not be irritating your children [literally, ‘provoking them to wrath’], but go on bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.”—Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21.
18. How should parental discipline be administered?
18 Parents should scrutinize their training methods, especially if they desire that their children be obedient and thus bring them joy. (Proverbs 23:24, 25) In the Bible, discipline is primarily a form of instruction. (Proverbs 4:1; 8:33) It is linked with love and mildness, not with anger and brutality. Hence, Christian parents need to act with wisdom and keep themselves under restraint when disciplining their children.—Proverbs 1:7.
AUTHORITY IN THE CONGREGATION
19. How has God provided for good order in the Christian congregation?
19 Since Jehovah is an orderly God, it is reasonable that he would provide authoritative and well-organized leadership for his people. Accordingly, he has appointed Jesus as the Head of the Christian congregation. (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40; Ephesians 1:20-23) Under Christ’s invisible leadership, God has authorized an arrangement by which appointed elders in each congregation shepherd the flock eagerly, willingly, and lovingly. (1 Peter 5:2, 3) Ministerial servants assist them in various ways and render valuable service within the congregation.—Philippians 1:1.
20. Why should we be submissive to appointed Christian elders, and why is this beneficial?
20 Regarding Christian elders, Paul wrote: “Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account; that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you.” (Hebrews 13:17) Wisely, God has entrusted to Christian overseers the responsibility to care for the spiritual needs of those in the congregation. These elders do not constitute a clergy class. They are servants and slaves of God, ministering to the needs of their fellow worshipers, just as our Master, Jesus Christ, did. (John 10:14, 15) Knowing that Scripturally qualified men take an interest in our progress and spiritual growth encourages us to be cooperative and submissive.—1 Corinthians 16:16.
21. How do appointed elders seek to help fellow Christians spiritually?
21 At times, sheep may stray or become endangered by harmful worldly elements. Under the leadership of the Chief Shepherd, elders as undershepherds are alert to the needs of those in their charge and diligently give them personal attention. (1 Peter 5:4) They visit members of the congregation and offer words of encouragement. Knowing that the Devil seeks to disrupt the peace of God’s people, elders exercise the wisdom from above in dealing with any problems. (James 3:17, 18) They work hard to maintain unity and oneness of faith, something for which Jesus himself prayed.—John 17:20-22; 1 Corinthians 1:10.
22. What help do the elders provide in cases of wrongdoing?
22 What if a Christian suffers some evil or becomes discouraged because of committing a sin? Soothing Bible counsel and the elders’ heartfelt prayers in his behalf can help to restore him to spiritual health. (James 5:13-15) These men, appointed by holy spirit, also have the authority to administer discipline and reprove any who pursue a course of wrongdoing or who pose a danger to the spiritual and moral cleanness of the congregation. (Acts 20:28; Titus 1:9; 2:15) In order to keep the congregation clean, it may be necessary for individuals to report serious wrongdoing. (Leviticus 5:1) If a Christian who has committed a grave sin accepts Scriptural discipline and reproof and gives evidence of genuine repentance, he will be helped. Of course, persistent and unrepentant violators of God’s law are disfellowshipped.—1 Corinthians 5:9-13.
23. What do Christian overseers provide for the good of the congregation?
23 The Bible foretold that under Jesus Christ as King, spiritually mature men would be appointed to provide comfort, protection, and refreshment for God’s people. (Isaiah 32:1, 2) They would take the lead as evangelizers, shepherds, and teachers in order to promote spiritual growth. (Ephesians 4:11, 12, 16) Although Christian overseers may at times reprove, reprimand, and exhort fellow believers, application of the elders’ healthful teaching based on God’s Word helps to keep all on the road to life.—Proverbs 3:11, 12; 6:23; Titus 2:1.
ACCEPT JEHOVAH’S VIEW OF AUTHORITY
24. Over what issue are we tested daily?
24 The first man and woman were tested over the issue of subjection to authority. Not surprisingly, a similar test faces us daily. Satan the Devil has promoted a spirit of rebellion among mankind. (Ephesians 2:2) The course of independence is made to appear enticingly superior to that of subjection.
25. What are the benefits of rejecting the world’s rebellious spirit and of being submissive to authority that God exercises or permits?
25 We must, however, reject the world’s rebellious spirit. In doing so, we will find that godly subjection brings rich rewards. For instance, we will avoid the anxieties and frustrations common to those who court trouble with the secular authorities. We will reduce the friction that is prevalent in many families. And we will enjoy the benefits of warm, loving association with our Christian fellow believers. Most of all, our godly subjection will result in a good relationship with Jehovah, the Supreme Authority.
TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE
How does Jehovah exercise his authority?
Who are “the superior authorities,” and how do we remain in subjection to them?
What responsibility does the principle of headship place on each family member?
How can we show submission in the Christian congregation?
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SUBMISSIVE, NOT SUBVERSIVE
Through their public preaching activity, Jehovah’s Witnesses point to God’s Kingdom as mankind’s only hope for true peace and security. But these zealous proclaimers of God’s Kingdom are by no means subversive to the governments under which they live. On the contrary, the Witnesses are among the most respectful and law-abiding of citizens. “If all the religious denominations were like Jehovah’s witnesses,” said an official in one African country, “we would have no murders, burglaries, delinquencies, prisoners and atomic bombs. Doors would not be locked day in and day out.”
Recognizing this, officials in many lands have allowed the preaching work of the Witnesses to proceed unhindered. In other lands, bans or restrictions have been lifted when the authorities realized that Jehovah’s Witnesses are an influence for the good. It is as the apostle Paul wrote about obeying the superior authorities: “Keep doing good, and you will have praise from it.”—Romans 13:1, 3.