Many of us have intense relationships with the idea of, or even simply the word, “authority.” Most intense are probably those of us who simply hate authority. Others might describe their feelings towards authority as more of a love-hate relationship. My guess would be that very few simply love authority. To be more specific, what most people have a problem with (if they have a problem) is submitting to authority, specifically when they don’t understand or agree with why they must submit.
To be sure, there are plenty of examples throughout our world and culture which demonstrate abuses or misuses of authority and submission. Specifically for teenagers – the demographic I’m blessed to spend most of my ministerial time serving. It’s often very tempting to conclude that any and all authority is at least suspicious (if not totally bogus) because of the potential for abuse. However, I fear that following that line of thinking leads many of us to just throw the baby out with the bath-water.
I was recently given a really helpful paradigm for thinking about authority and submission that I’ve found useful in many spheres of my life. Instead of focusing on the negative, this paradigm is trying to lay out some biblical principles regarding how authority and submission should look, using God as the example for both authority and submission. After all, who better to demonstrate how something should work than its maker?!
Take a look at Exodus 2:23-25 and think about God’s example in demonstrating authority there.
The scene is of Israel in bondage in Egypt, crying out to the Lord for deliverance. God, in the position of authority, does some particular things in response to their cry. Verses 24-25 explain that God heard their cry, remembered his covenant with them, saw the people of Israel, and that he knew. The “knowledge” there implies action, or that he knows what to do and will also do it.
Following God’s example here, we can say that good authoritative leadership does 4 things:
- Remembers the covenant with the other party
- Sees the others involved
- Finally acts
These four steps can be applied to any relationship involving authority and submission: on teams, in the workplace, in marriages, between parents and children, etc. I suspect that much hardship and difficulty could be avoided if those of us in authority would take care to do steps 1-3 before pulling the trigger on taking action.
Next, take a look at Matthew 26:36-39 And think about Jesus’ example in submission there.
The scene here is of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion. Jesus, in the position of submission, expresses to his disciples how extremely distressed or “sorrowful” he is, he asks God for a different plan of action, and then famously prays, “not as I will, but as you will.”
Following Jesus’ example here, we can say that good submission does 3 things:
- Gives honest feelings
- Gives honest desires
- Gives trust
Once again, these three steps can be applied to any relationship involving authority and submission: on teams, in the workplace, in marriages, between parents and children, etc. Instead of resorting to other tactics like being passive aggressive, or trying to take authority, I suspect that much hardship and difficulty could also be avoided if those of us in positions of submission would express our honest feelings and desires, and also our willingness to trust and submit to the one in authority.
Is this a bullet-proof fix for any struggle with authority and submission? Certainly not. But it is a helpful way to think about approaching our relationships and roles in a way that will hopefully honor the other party and the Lord at the same time.