The Use and Abuse of Authority

All authority comes from God, so it must be used in God-honoring ways. Here we have contrasting examples of men in authority.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 36-37; Philemon

Selected Verses

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.  Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. 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,  yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. Philemon 8-10

Reflections

Jeremiah received a message from God for the people of Judah. By God’s instruction, he had his scribe Baruch write the message down on a scroll. Since Jeremiah had been banned from the temple area, 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 King 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 reign 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, 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).

Think about it

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 to His authorities when appropriate. Use your authority with grace and restraint.

Free to Lead like Jesus

Today we see the stark contrast between the godly leader and the selfish, insecure leader.  We are called to follow the One who leads us to glory.

Today’s Reading

First Chronicles 11-13; John 9:1-23

Selected Verses

In times past, even when Saul was king, it was you who led out and brought in Israel. And the Lord your God said to you, “You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over my people Israel.”  1 Chronicles 11:2

His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess that Jesus to be the Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.  John 9:22

Reflections

Godly leaders seek to do His will, and therefore are free to act with courage and give clear direction to their followers.

Saul, the first king of Israel, failed on many levels in his leadership. He failed to encourage faithfulness to the Lord and obedience to the Law of God. Worship of God seems to have been neglected under Saul  (1 Chronicles 13:3).  Even while Saul was the king, it was David who gave real leadership to the nation.

Although David was loyal to him, Saul did not trust David and wasted much of his time and energy trying to assassinate him. In the end, David became king in a joyous coronation that reunited the kingdom of Israel (1 Chronicles 12:38-40).

In Jesus’ day, the Jews showed some of the same leadership weaknesses as Saul. Jesus’ power and popularity threatened them. They adamantly resisted the mounting evidence that pointed to His identity as the Messiah. These leaders used their authority to squelch discussion and intimidate the citizenry.  They ruled that “if anyone should confess Jesus to be the Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.” Just as Saul demanded that everyone side with him against David, so the Jewish authorities also drew a line insisting that the people choose between them and Jesus.

Think about it

Godly leaders encourage those they lead to seek the Lord, to know His Word, and to follow Christ. A godly leader, like King David, knows that God is the real King of His people. They recognize that human leaders never exceed the position of princes. Are you free from the slavery of pleasing people or the jealousy of holding on to your position?  Are you able to use whatever leadership authority you have to encourage faithfulness to God? Consider how you can facilitate godliness in those the Lord has allowed you to lead.

Manipulative Leaders

The problem of devious leaders is not new. Is there nothing we can we do about manipulative leaders?  No.  We can do more than just complain.

Today’s reading

II Samuel 15-16; Luke 20:27-47

Selected Verses

So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.  II Samuel 15:6b

And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples,“Beware of the scribes.” Luke 20:45-46a

Reflections

How easily impressive, charismatic leaders with seeming power and wisdom lead people astray!

Absalom carefully mounted a campaign that would rival that of any of our current crop of politicians.  He spent money to equip himself with a chariot and horses and a company of men to run before him.  Then he made it a practice to station himself where he could talk to people who had legal problems.  He worked the crowds doing the grassroots campaign thing.  He made promises about the great improvements he would bring if he were in formal leadership.

In short, he stole the hearts of the people.

Then the day came when he made his move.  David’s support collapsed like a house of cards, and Israel followed Absalom as their new king.  It almost worked, and except for the providence of God it would have worked. The point is people are fickle and can easily be won over by a powerful person making compelling promises of a better life.

In Jesus’ day, the scribes were viewed with awe.  They were dignified, seemed to be spiritual, disciplined in piety.  Everyone recognized them.  At the same time, they used their knowledge of the law to take financial advantage of unsuspecting widows.  Jesus warned His disciples to beware of them.

Think about it

The problem of devious religious and political leaders is not new.  Certainly, both the Church and our nation need leaders of character and integrity, but those who rise to high positions are not always to be trusted and never to be trusted blindly.

Pray for our leaders both in the Church and in society.  Beware of those who veer off from God’s truth.  Do not be led astray.  Study the Scriptures and seek God’s wisdom.  And remember: we are not home yet.  Jesus Christ is the only true leader who is never manipulative.  Someday His Kingdom will come in full and He will be our truly wise and powerful and beneficent leader.

Authority: Rejected and Abused

Authority was an issue in David’s time and in Jesus’ day. In one case legitimate authority was abused and in the other legitimate authority was rejected.

Today’s Reading

II Samuel 13-14; Luke 20:1-26

Selected Verses

Now therefore let me go into the presence of the king, and if there is guilt in me, let him put me to death.  Then Joab went to the king and told him, and he summoned Absalom. So he came to the king and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom.  II Samuel 14:32b-33

But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’?  Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”  Luke 20:17-18

Reflections

David ruled as the duly anointed king of Israel.  He had authority to apply the Law of God in the land, to bring justice.  However David failed to take any action after the rape of his daughter, Tamar, by his son (her half-brother) Amnon.  He was angry, but he did nothing.  Absalom plotted the murder of Amnon.  David took no action against Absalom and eventually reinstated him.

As we shall see tomorrow, Absalom exploited the desire for a king that would act justly in the land to mount an insurrection against his father (II Samuel 15:4-6).  David had raised sons similar to himself, an adulterer and a murderer, and he apparently found it hard to be consistent as a ruler and as a father.

Jesus assumed authority to teach and preach and heal.  His popularity threatened those in power.  They attempted to trap Him into some chargeable offense that would end His influence.  In this passage they asked Him directly the basis of His authority.  We know how that turned out.  Then Jesus taught a parable showing that their rejection of Him and His authority would end in their own destruction.  Rather than take to heart His warning, they re-doubled their efforts to arrest Him.

But Jesus is the rightful King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:11-16).  He is not blinded by any sin of His own.  He executes justice perfectly.  Those who reject His authority will suffer the consequences.

Think about it

Let us submit to the One who sits at the right hand of the throne of God and give Him our worship and obedience (Philippians 2:5-10).

Leadership Lessons from Jesus and Joshua

Leaders are frequently challenged by high stress situations and high maintenance people. God’s Word gives guidance for effective leadership.

Today’s reading

Joshua 16-18; Luke 5:1-16

Selected Verses

So the men arose and went, and Joshua charged those who went to write the description of the land, saying, “Go up and down in the land and write a description and return to me. And I will cast lots for you here before the Lord in Shiloh.”  Joshua 18:8

But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities.  But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray. Luke 5:15-16

Reflections

Both Jesus and Joshua model how effective leaders handle high stress situations and high maintenance people. There are two important guidelines here for effective leaders.

  1. Effective leaders empower people to solve their own problems, as much as possible. Joshua gave the responsibility to the seven landless tribes to survey the territory, to write a description of the remaining land dividing it in seven portions, and to report back to him for allotments. Earlier, Joshua told the tribe of Joseph (Manasseh and Ephraim) to clear their land rather than asking for more territory.
  2. Effective leaders take time for prayer even during high stress times. Jesus’ ministry was becoming more widely known and the crowds came with endless needs for healing and teaching. It was not a bad thing that they saw Jesus as the one who could both heal them and teach them, but there were limits to what one person, even Jesus, could do. Jesus modeled for us the need to take time alone in prayer.

Think about it

In whatever leadership roles you fill, are you following these two guidelines as you face pressure and the expectations of others?  A mother recently told me how much joy she has seeing her young son assume more responsibility for getting himself ready for bed. In our church, we train and empower gifted people to teach Sunday school classes. This process adds quality to our classes and their members.

The biggest danger is the tendency to operate purely on human wisdom and to fail to take time alone for prayer. Evaluate your life today. Make the needed changes so that you handle high stress situations and high maintenance people in wise and godly ways.

When Leaders Fail

Does the failure of leaders in the Church prove that our faith is false?  Today we meet leaders who failed and what God did about it.

Today’s reading

Numbers 18-20; Mark 7:1-13

Selected Verses

And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”  Numbers 20:12

 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”  And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!  Mark 7:8-9

Reflections

In both readings today, we find grievous examples of leaders abusing or misusing their authority for personal advantage.  Some who criticize biblical faith will point this out as evidence that our faith is erroneous because some characters in Scripture were inconsistent and hypocritical.

Moses failed as a leader by using God’s power to gain glory for himself.   In striking the rock to bring water for the people, he failed to show that it was God’s work and he took the credit due to God.  He paid the price of dying before the nation was able to go into the Promised Land.

Jesus condemned the Pharisees who, though they were highly esteemed for strict adherence to the law, created a legal loophole in order to avoid fulfilling their financial responsibilities to their parents. He told them they put their traditions above God’s law.

Think about it

All leaders are sinners, including Christian leaders.  This does not mean they should not be respected and followed when they lead us in God’s ways.  It does mean they need God’s grace and mercy just as much as other believers who have less visibility and prominence.  James warned would-be teachers that they will be subject to stricter judgment (James 3:1-2).  The fact that all Christian leaders sometimes fail to measure up to God’s standards and a few leaders fail grievously does not negate the truth of the gospel which announces that we are only saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Support godly leaders through prayer, proper respect, and encouragement, but do not follow them blindly.  They are able to err, and they may at times need to receive correction from those who follow them. Never assume any mantle of leadership lightly. If you are a leader, be mindful of your responsibility before God.

Authority Abused

The chief priests and elders pretended concern about Jesus’ authority, but what was their true motivation?

Today’s reading

Exodus 27-28; Matthew 21:23-46

Selected Verses

“For Aaron’s sons you shall make coats and sashes and caps. You shall make them for glory and beauty.  And you shall put them on Aaron your brother, and on his sons with him, and shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests.  Exodus 28:40-41

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Matthew 21:23

Reflections

God instructed Moses to establish the priesthood of Aaron for His people, Israel.  They were duly installed within the law governing the priesthood.  At the time of Jesus, the priests had exercised this authority for centuries.

It seems appropriate that the chief priests and the elders should be concerned about anyone teaching among the people.  Was this teacher from God or merely speaking on his own?  Their concern was appropriate but their attitude was not.  They jealously guarded that authority given to them in the Law of Moses.  They were ready to silence anyone whose teaching was not from God.

Jesus’ popularity was a threat to the priests control, just as John the Baptist’s had been.  Jesus wisely uncovered their hypocrisy showing that they were more fearful of getting into trouble with the crowds than in protecting the people from false teachers.  They pretended to be concerned about Jesus’ source of authority, but their true motivation was to maintain their own authority and power at all costs.

What began “for glory and beauty” had become ugly and corrupted. A showdown was imminent in which the Jewish and Roman leaders of that first century society would join forces to stop Jesus.

Think about it

We should be warned here to hold any proper authority we have (in the church, in the home, in the marketplace, in government) as a stewardship from God. It is to be used for His purposes “for glory and beauty” but not to be held at all costs.  Do you use your authority for God’s glory, and not your own? Think about it.

 

Instructions for a Servant

Paul’s Instructions

Paul gives solid, practical advice to his protégé, Timothy.  It’s guidance we all need if we would serve the Lord faithfully.  In my reflections on this passage in Cover to Cover, I commented on three general principles:  preach the gospel, practice what you preach, and hope in God.  I need frequent reminders of these instructions.  How about you?

Today’s reading: 

1 Timothy 1:1-6:2

My selection:

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.  Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness;  for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.  The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.  For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.1 Timothy 4:6-10

For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

 

Weekend readings May 28-30, 2016

Here are our scheduled readings for the weekend.  The book of Nehemiah tells the story of a wise leader who changed his nation for God’s glory through prayer, faith, and obedience.

Saturday, May 28 — Nehemiah 1:1-4:23  Exemplary Leadership

Sunday May 29  — Nehemiah 5:1-7:72 Work Done with the Help of God

Monday May 30 (Memorial Day in the USA) – Nehemiah 7:73-10:39 The (Often) Missing Element in Prayer

See you on Tuesday!

For more on these passages see my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 Days available on Amazon in either Kindle ($4.99) or print format ($12.99).

The Blessing of God through Children

In Bible times, an abundance of children was considered a good thing.  Today we meet a man who was blessed by God with a large family and with important responsibility in the kingdom of Israel.

Today’s reading: 1 Chronicles 24:1-26:19

The ability to conceive and bear children is not totally in our control.  It was even less so in ancient Israel so parents considered offspring to be tangible evidence of the blessing of God.  Obed-edom was blessed with eight sons and his grandsons were able rulers in their family.

How blessed are the parents who are able to see successful grandchildren! This may not be your lot, but believers can certainly mentor children and youth in the church as virtual parents and grandparents.

[For more reflections on this passage see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].