“Do as I say, not as I do!” Ever heard that? I’ve said it as a parent in those moments when the type of behaviour I desire from my kids is not matched by my own follow-through. I’m aware of these unintended hypocrisies. We all have them, even if we expect from others an unceasing consistency we cannot attain ourselves.
The temptation based upon our naked and frail humanity as just outlined is to thereby dismiss positional authority as something merely patriarchal, ancient and irrelevant.
A police officer has every right by virtue of his position to stop you for speeding, even if he probably presses by the speed limit and rolls through the occasional stop sign.
A math teacher has every right to grade your exam, even if she didn’t ace every algebra equation through high school and university.
And, yes, even a stumbling parent like me has every right to say, “Do as I say!”
We have, often because of disappointment with “titled” ones, dismissed positional authority. This is both understandable and unfortunate, for positional authority has its place. Even Jesus thought so. “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you,” he said (Matthew 23:2–3a).
The authority of God rests outside of humanity. His Word is truth and where God has appointed authority for his own sake, it is to be respected and obeyed, as Jesus points out.
The misstep of those who follow is to chastise too quickly positional authority. This can be hard to accept but should not be carelessly abandoned. After all, if we do, we ironically claim for ourselves the most dangerous positional authority: self-proclaimed, self-appointed power to overrule. Positional authority is to be heeded because of the One who ultimately wields and grants it, regardless of whether the bearer is consistently worthy thereof.
However. The temptation for those in positional authority is to proudly demand respect and followership. Jesus continued in his reflection on those teachers in their comfy seats: “But do not do what they do, for they do not practise what they preach” (Matthew 23:3b).
Jesus clears the haze on authority and guides us into the nature of something more transforming than positional weight: spiritual authority.
True spiritual authority is a mantle not granted, but earned. True spiritual authority is a life witness gained often through suffering and unseen obedience, not the right of those who can pontificate or claim a corner office.
True spiritual authority is not simply to be heeded, but followed. In fact, it is absolutely attractive.
We must heed positional authority, but we crave spiritual authority. We need it. It is ultimately the mantle of Jesus himself, an ongoing uncovering of the incarnation. A people on mission with God in a culture and world in love with loud voices and proud titles need not add to the noise. Our claims of brilliance, authority and even “anointing” would simply add to cacophony.
What we need – what the world needs – is spiritual authority. And, amazingly, this can be the precious reward for any who hear and obey the Word of the Lord. This is the authority, the power and influence that is weighty and cannot be argued with. It is that type of life that shames those who oppose it because there is nothing bad to say (Titus 2:8).
Now, that is true, covert, revolutionary authority. Let us, people of the King of Kings, walk in this way for the glory of God and the sake of
—Phil Wagler calls Gracepoint Community Church in Surrey, B.C., home and is Training & Team Health Team Leader for MB Mission.