Authority and Righteousness

Proverbs 16:12 offers a challenge to anyone in a position of authority over others, especially parents. This verse teaches that righteousness is what establishes authority. While a multitude of theories and books offer differing takes on how to be an effective leader, the Bible offers this one basic concept. Implicit in the biblical concept is the idea that all authority is derived from God; it is not earned. So, the focus on righteousness is also a focus on the One who granted the authority in the first place. The appeal to God’s authority, accomplished by yielding to him in righteousness, establishes a person’s individual authority. This leads to two practical applications.

First, humility is the foundation of authority. In the context of exercising authority, humility means that the leader is to serve others by serving God. So, for the one exercising authority the first priority is to consider what God wants accomplished–not what suits me or my needs. Humility in authority means referencing the will of God first. It means that irritation, outbursts of anger, open disappointment and indifference to those under authority are not acceptable means of leadership. Rather, humility in authority, especially parental authority, is demonstrated by an overriding desire to see those in your care delight in following God. That desire includes your choice of words, the tone of your speech, and even your countenance. Humility in authority means that you embrace your God-given authority as a rich privilege and opportunity to point others to the wonder of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Second, since authority is given by God to bring about his purposes, you can appeal directly to God for the strength to wield this awesome responsibility. If your purpose in authority aligns with God’s you can confidently appeal to him for the strength you need. The position of authority is often lonely. But if you see your authority as an opportunity to bring honor to God by pursuing him in righteousness, then you know that you are not alone.

In this light, manipulation is not helpful, no matter how noble your purpose. Why should a brother be concerned about considering his sister before himself? Why is it important that children obey the first time they are told, doing exactly what they were asked with a pleasant spirit? It is because these things bring honor to God. And bringing honor to God is what your parental authority is all about.

Here is the scenario I asked you to think about in the last post. A mother is seeking to encourage her child to always pick up his toys when he is finished playing. The child is having trouble with this, so Mom offers the following proposition:

Sean, if you are good today and pick up your toys after each time you play with them, Mommy will buy you an ice cream cone tonight.

At first glance this doesn’t seem so bad. If Sean complies, the toys are picked up and he is delighted to have his favorite ice cream cone. Everything appears to be good. But what is the real lesson learned in this situation? To answer this we need to include one more facet to this scenario: why should Sean pick up his toys the next day? A daily trip to the ice cream shop is probably not what Mom has in mind. And Sean is probably not going to be thrilled to learn that yesterday’s ice cream cone should be his motivation for obeying today. Or, let me add one more factor. Suppose Sean picked up his toys all day long and then forgot the last time he played with them. Is a whole day’s worth of obedience canceled out by one moment of forgetfulness?

What Sean has learned is that he should do what is right because he will receive some tangible reward for his efforts. What is really happening here is that Mom is engaged in collective bargaining with her son. I will do this for you if you do this for me. This also brings an even larger question into play: why do YOU obey?

Again, give this some thought. We will look at this and answer Michelle’s comment in the next post.

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