Use and Abuse of Authority

All authority comes from God, but it must be used in God-honoring ways.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 36-37; Philemon

23 As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. 24 Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. 25 Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. Jeremiah 36:23-25

Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, 9 yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— 10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. Philemon 8-10

There is a stunning contrast between King Jehoiakim and the Apostle Paul when it comes to their use or abuse of authority. Notice the differences. There are lessons to be learned.

Jeremiah received a message from God for the people of Judah. By God’s instruction, he had Baruch, his scribe, write the message down on a scroll. Since Jeremiah had been banned from the temple area (by order of the king?), the prophet sent Baruch to read the message to the crowd gathered to worship on a fast day. Word came back to the king’s servants about this reading and they investigated further. As these officials of the king listened to Baruch read, they were gripped with fear (Jeremiah 36:16). They knew the king needed to hear the message, so they arranged to take the scroll, send Jeremiah and Baruch into hiding, and have the scroll read to Jehoiakim.

The king listened to the reading, but had the scroll cut into sections and burned. Such was Jehoiakim’s abuse of God-given authority. He would pay for it with the end of his royal lineage and a shameful death without so much as a pauper’s burial.

Paul, on the other hand, shows great restraint in the use of his authority over Philemon. He appeals to his friend to take kind and forgiving action toward his slave, Onesimus. In God’s providence, Onesimus had met Paul and, through him, met Christ. Paul wrote to the Colossian church, possibly about the same time, as to the proper attitudes of a master toward a slave (Colossians 3:22-4:1).

As king, Jehoiakim discouraged his officials from what appears to be an initial desire to obey God’s word. Paul encourages obedience to his friend but without being heavy handed.  Beware of ungodly authorities. Beware of the abuse of authority. Submit to God and, when appropriate to His authorities. Use your authority with grace and restraint.

What and Whom to Avoid

Today’s reading: 2 Timothy 4:9-Philemon 25

My selection: Titus 3:9-11

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

My reflections: Paul warned both Timothy and Titus about avoiding foolish controversies and here he warns Titus also to avoid divisive people.  Jesus taught His disciples how to handle sin in the church (Matthew 18:15ff), which in extreme cases of resistance to correction should result in excommunication.

Pastors and elders must know not only what to do but what not to do.  There are many distractions such as controversial issues, stirred up weekly on blogs and social media, that have no merit. There are people who are bent on dividing congregations, often by criticizing the pastor (see 2 Corinthians 10-13).  Paul said, basically, “do not suffer fools gladly.”  According to Jesus (in the Matthew passage cited), there were to be two warnings and then, if there is no response, you administer excommunication and have no further contact with the person until or unless there is clear evidence of repentance.

My challenge: If you are a pastor, are you avoiding the distractions of foolish controversies that are unprofitable and worthless? Beware of being distracted by the latest novel theological idea floating around in cyberspace.  Do you and your elders deal decisively with people who attempt to divide or distract the congregation?  If you are a church member, are you a source of unity or of division in the congregation?  Beware of seeking to show your intelligence by stirring up debates on worthless topics.

Pray that your role in the body of Christ will always be one of promoting the truth of the gospel and the unity of the saints.

Tomorrow’s reading: Hebrews 1:1-6:12

A Warning to Preachers and Churches

Today’s reading: 1 Timothy 6:3-2 Timothy 4:8

My selection:  2 Timothy 4:1-4

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

My reflections: Paul’s letters advise and warn Timothy about how to fulfill his pastoral ministry in Ephesus, but it also holds much instruction and admonition for Christians in general.  It is obvious from the warnings given to Timothy that he was not an infallible super-Christian.  Nor were his congregants models of holiness and integrity.

Timothy might be negligent in preaching truths that would challenge his hearers.  He needed to be faithful to the Word especially when it ran counter to the thoughts and actions of the people.  On the other hand, Timothy, having told the church the uncomfortable truth, might be impatient to see them think and act accordingly, but he was to have complete patience.  Further teaching might be needed.  Change does not come easily even to those who are sealed with the Holy Spirit.

A congregation might be guilty of rejecting truth that would challenge them.  Sound teaching runs contrary to human passions.  When church attenders hear and reject difficult truth, they either leave or try to replace the preacher with someone who will tell them what they want to hear, “chicken soup for the soul.”

My challenge:  Pastors, beware of soft-pedaling God’s truth or of impatience with those you shepherd.  Church members, beware of resisting the truth that runs cross grain to your flesh. All of us will have to answer to God for our faithfulness, or lack thereof, in heeding His Word.

Tomorrow’s reading:  2 Timothy 4:9-Philemon 25