Authority: How Does it Work?
There seems to be growing interest in the subject of authority these days. I read the other night where an exasperated woman said she was “claiming her authority” over a desperate situation, as if this might help resolve her problem. I think statements like this reveal part of the problem with our understanding of authority. Most of us know we’ve been given authority from God, but we don’t know how it works.
One thing to consider is the relational aspect of authority. It is often (though not always) the case that authority is permission granted to one person to represent the interests of another person who prefers not to manage their affairs personally. Authority is granted by one person and exercised by another. This arrangement makes authority dependent upon a relationship of trust.
The authority that a person receives usually gives them the freedom to make decisions without requiring special permission before exercising their authority. Authority is permission to act without permission. The exercise of authority is generally at the complete discretion of the one to whom it was granted, even if the exercise of authority is not wise, or beneficial to the one they represent. The one who has been granted authority has the right to make both good and bad decisions. Generally, the wise exercise of authority provides an opportunity for promotion to a higher level of authority, while the poor exercise of authority leads to a reduction or complete removal of it.
The concept of authority is illustrated in the kingdom parables where Jesus spoke about servants who were given charge of their master’s affairs while their masters were away. (For example, see the parable of the faithful and wicked servants in Matt 24 and the parable of the talents in Matt 25.)
I’d like to illustrate how authority works in everyday life:
A shift supervisor who works at a factory has authority over the operations on his shift, which might include personnel management, scheduling, ordering supplies and resolving employee disputes. But his authority is restricted to the hours that he is at work and to the specific factory he works at. He doesn’t have the same authority during another supervisor’s shift or at a different factory. His scope of authority is limited and it is also relational. It was granted to him and can be revoked by the manager of the factory if trust is eroded.
The manager of the factory has similar authority. It is likewise limited to the factory he works at, and it is relational. The CEO of the company is the one who grants his authority and it can be removed at the CEO’s discretion. The CEO has similar authority. It may have been granted by the company’s board of directors, who were appointed by the shareholders. His authority gives him the right to make major decisions involving the company’s interests and it can be revoked at their discretion. Everyone in the chain has authority that is given to them by someone else. Any of them can be promoted if they exercise their authority well, or have their authority removed if they exercise it poorly.
Christians have been given a multitude of different types and levels of authority. As God’s personal representatives on earth, our authority encompasses many areas, but unlike in the world where people are given authority over other people, we are not given such authority. Some people will disagree, but the New Testament believer is subject only to the authority of Christ. We do not have other humans in authority over us. While we may have teachers and people who encourage and train us, these individuals do not exercise authority over other believers. Authority that is exercised over individuals is the model that has been used throughout history by governments and military institutions. It was specifically this model of authority that Jesus said would not be allowed among His disciples.
Instead, Jesus gave us authority over such things as sickness, disease, and storms, and each of us is given authority to speak on certain subjects. (That will be discussed in my next message.) Some of us are given authority to influence the communities of music and art. Others are given authority to influence the fields of physics and chemistry, while still others have authority to represent God’s interests in the field of medicine. These are just a few examples of the areas of society in which God grants us authority to operate. As we identify the areas of authority that God has granted to us and as we represent His interests in accordance with His desires, our level of authority increases.
The relationship we have with God is the key to it all. We must begin by asking Him what areas we’ve been given authority in. That requires us to develop the ability to communicate with Him. Next, we must learn how He wants us to exercise our authority in those areas. Again – this requires a deeper relationship. As our relationship grows, we’ll be given more details about how He wants us to exercise the authority He gives us with wisdom and righteousness.
Thanks for sharing PM, this helps bolster what the Lord has spoken. The Lord spoke to me last night and this morning on this very topic, leading me to Matthew 8:5 with the Centurion who spoke on authority, and how if Jesus spoke healing, that it would be granted to the Centurion’s servant through the authority the Centurion himself had, having received his own authority from Jesus. How much more so for us, God’s children and servants. The Lord showed me recently He is giving me a special gift of healing, which is in effect one form of His authority that He is granting to me to exercise in His name, and so I now represent Him as an ambassador able to give others this thing (healing) which He has given to me.
Old adage: Manage things, lead people. Points to the outworking of authority. Speaking spiritually, Trying to use authority over people is witchcraft.
This is a great set of thoughts, brilliantly described. Good job. The children of God need to continue to deliberate this together. We have so much more to learn about how our individual authorities interact corporately. What does receiving a man of God because he is a man of God, or a prophet because he is a prophet – look like? How do we submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, and still maintain individual authority? Do we really have any authority if we refuse to receive the authority of a brother or sister? Clearly we have a lot more to discuss, but this article helps point the conversation in the right direction.
Kerry, I believe honoring a man of God, a prophet, etc looks like this. If you honor a prophet as a brother, you receive a brothers reward, but if you receive him as a prophet, you receive a prophets reward! By standing under the anointing of another who is walking in the gifts (prophetic, healing, etc.) you can receive the same anointing. Standing in honor of someone else’s gift, allows you to receive an inheritance from them.
Good to hear, loved this.
PM thanks for articulating this. It it a subject that I have been wondering through, trying to understand what it’s all about.
You have put it in words very clearly, the meaning & boundary of ones authority.
It was a pleasure to read & even the last paragraph about relationship with God was something I hadn’t considered.
Thanks for placing this message. I love the part that says; the New Testament believer is subject only to the authority of Christ. We do not have other humans in authority over us. While we may have teachers and people who encourage and train us, these individuals do not exercise authority over other believers. This is what is going on right now thoughout the middle east and South Africa.
Thanks for posting. I like pretty well all of your articles. I can’t think of one that I came across that I didn’t like. At times, I question what you are saying and let it sit with me for a while so that I gain a better understanding of what you were expressing. I’ve learned from you and for that, I’d like to thank you. I still have a long way to go. However, that I am learning, I’m thankful for. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and understanding with us and for expounding on these subjects even further at a future time.
Thanks for being a regular contributor to the discussion. I love your comments. 🙂 I hope I continue to challenge and encourage you as we walk the road together.
Could authority be paraphrased as one’s main area of influence?
I think so.
you did it in 5 paragraphs.. quite succinctly. . the last thing i read on authority was in 2009 by John Bevere.. will print and post 🙂
Thank you for the great post. A lot of people don’t understand the difference between power and authority, so I provide the following examples:
Authority is the right to effect change. For example, a policeman has the right to issue a ticket.
Power is the ability to effect change: a motorist has the ability to exceed the speed limit.
Power is usually exerted, where as authority is always conferred.