When Exercising Authority, Imitate the Christ
SOME years ago, an experiment in human behavior produced intriguing results. Those taking part were divided into two groups. One group were appointed as guards and were put in charge of the other group, who were assigned to be prisoners. What happened?
“Within a few days,” it was reported, “most of [the guards] had become abusive and bullying, meting out frequent punishments, while the prisoners had become cowed and subservient.” The conclusion that researchers came to was this: Almost anyone can fall into the trap of misusing authority.
Authority—Use and Misuse
The proper use of authority, of course, can be a force for good. It can provide suitable direction and can result in physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits. (Proverbs 1:5; Isaiah 48:17, 18) As the above-mentioned experiment showed, however, there is an ever-present danger of going beyond what is reasonable in the exercise of authority. The Bible points to this danger and says: “When anyone wicked bears rule, the people sigh.”—Proverbs 29:2; Ecclesiastes 8:9.
Abusing one’s authority is harmful, even if it is done with a good motive. Recently, for example, a religious teaching order in Ireland publicly apologized for the way some teachers had abused their authority over children in their care. No doubt, the objectives of many of these teachers were noble, but the methods used by some were extremely damaging. One newspaper reported that “many children [were] scarred in some way by the excessive violence and harshness of approach of many teaching brothers.” (The Irish Times) How, then, can you exercise authority so as to get the best out of others rather than alienate or hurt them by word or deed?—Proverbs 12:18.
“All Authority” Given to Jesus Christ
Consider the example of Jesus Christ. Shortly before his ascension to heaven, he said to his disciples: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth.” (Matthew 28:18) Did that somehow strike fear into the disciples? Did they feel that Jesus would now reflect the same spirit as the Caesars of Rome, who were renowned for crushing dissent or revolt?
The Bible record emphatically answers no! Jesus Christ wields authority in the same way that his Father does. Though Jehovah is rightfully the almighty Universal Sovereign, he desires willinghearted service from his subjects, not mindless, fearful, or servile obedience. (Matthew 22:37) Jehovah never abuses his authority. A dramatic vision given to the prophet Ezekiel shows this.
In this vision, Ezekiel saw four angelic creatures who upheld God’s sovereignty. Each had four faces. “As for the likeness of their faces,” writes Ezekiel, “the four of them had a man’s face with a lion’s face to the right, and the four of them had a bull’s face on the left; the four of them also had an eagle’s face.” (Ezekiel 1:10) These four faces represent the four perfectly balanced cardinal qualities, or attributes, of God. These are identified in God’s Word as: love, represented by the man’s face; justice, represented by the lion’s face; and wisdom, represented by the eagle’s face. These three attributes work together with the fourth—power, as shown by the bull’s face. What does all of this mean? The vision shows that Jehovah never exercises his unlimited power and authority in a way that is out of harmony with his other cardinal qualities.
In imitation of his Father, Jesus Christ always wielded his authority in a way that perfectly harmonized with love, wisdom, and justice. His disciples found great refreshment serving under Jesus’ authority. (Matthew 11:28-30) If any one attribute characterizes both Jehovah God and Jesus Christ, it is love, not power or authority!—1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 John 4:8.
How Do You Exercise Authority?
How do you measure up in this regard? In the family, for example, do you control things by weight of authority even when this means insistence on your own personal whims or fancies? Do the others in your family comply with your decisions out of fear or out of love? Is superior force the deciding factor? These are questions that family heads can consider with a view toward upholding theocratic order in the family arrangement.—1 Corinthians 11:3.
What if you have a degree of authority in the Christian congregation? To check whether you are handling it properly, measure yourself against the following principles inspired by Jehovah God and exemplified by Jesus Christ.
“A slave of the Lord . . . needs to be gentle toward all, . . . keeping himself restrained under evil, instructing with mildness those not favorably disposed.”—2 Timothy 2:24, 25.
Some individuals in the early Christian congregation exercised great authority. Timothy, for example, could even “command certain ones not to teach different doctrine.” (1 Timothy 1:3) We can be sure, though, that Timothy reflected godly qualities in all that he did, for he undoubtedly acted in harmony with Paul’s counsel to instruct “with mildness” and to “be gentle toward all” in the discharge of his Christian oversight. Because he was relatively young himself, he was to behave like a respectful son to older ones and a caring brother to younger ones. (1 Timothy 5:1, 2) Under such loving care, the Christian congregation reflects the spirit of a warm, loving family, not that of a cold, heartless business corporation.—1 Corinthians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 2:7, 8.
“The rulers of the nations lord it over them and the great men wield authority over them. This is not the way among you; but whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister.”—Matthew 20:25, 26.
Worldly despots “lord it over” others by imposing their will on them and insisting that they do things in a certain way, threatening sanctions if they disobey. Jesus Christ, however, emphasized serving others and not pressuring them. (Matthew 20:27, 28) He always treated his disciples in a loving, caring manner. When you follow Jesus’ example, it is much easier for others to cooperate with you. (Hebrews 13:7, 17) It also makes it much easier for them to ‘go the extra mile’ if they can, doing so willingly and not under some kind of compulsion.—Matthew 5:41.
“Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not . . . lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock.”—1 Peter 5:2, 3.
Overseers today realize that they are accountable for the spiritual welfare of all in the congregation. They take this responsibility seriously. In caring for the flock of God, they strive to do so willingly, eagerly, and in a loving manner. Like the apostle Paul, they work hard to build up and strengthen the faith of those in their charge, not to act as masters of their faith.—2 Corinthians 1:24.
When there is a need to offer appropriate counsel, elders do so in a spirit of mildness to readjust an erring one or to help a fellow Christian to progress spiritually. They bear in mind the apostle Paul’s reminder: “Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted.”—Galatians 6:1; Hebrews 6:1, 9-12.
“Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely . . . Clothe yourselves with love, for it is a perfect bond of union.”—Colossians 3:13, 14.
How do you deal with any who might fail to measure up perfectly to Christian standards? Do you make allowances for their imperfections, as Jehovah and Jesus Christ do? (Isaiah 42:2-4) Or do you insist on applying the letter of the law in every case? (Psalm 130:3) Remember, it is fitting to show gentleness where possible and firmness only when required. Acting with love will help to forge strong bonds of mutual confidence and trust between you and those over whom you exercise authority.
If you are entrusted with any kind of authority, work hard to imitate Jehovah God and Jesus Christ in the exercise of it. Recall the marvelous picture the psalmist painted in describing the way in which Jehovah exercises his authority over his people. David sang: “Jehovah is my Shepherd. I shall lack nothing. In grassy pastures he makes me lie down; by well-watered resting-places he conducts me. My soul he refreshes. He leads me in the tracks of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Similarly, of Jesus, we read: “I am the fine shepherd, and I know my sheep and my sheep know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I surrender my soul in behalf of the sheep.” What better models can we possibly have of the loving exercise of authority?—Psalm 23:1-3; John 10:14, 15.
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Jehovah’s use of power is always in perfect harmony with his justice, wisdom, and love
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At times, elders must give loving counsel to erring ones
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Paul counseled Timothy to behave like a respectful son and a caring brother
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Jesus Christ exercises his authority in a wise, just, and loving way