Introduction to the Biblical Exercise of Authority

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To under take this project required much more study than I anticipated. The language of scripture contained 200 different semantic contexts applicable to the subject. Exercising authority involves at least three major language domains, they are: 1. Help, care for; 2. Guide, discipline, follow; and 3. Control, rule. The domain ‘Help, Care for’ contained 50 contexts. The domain ‘Guide, Discipline, Follow’ contained 43 contexts. And the domain ‘Control, Rule’ contained 107 contexts.

The scope of this study is huge. One article will not suffice. This subject matter is rarely mentioned in any literature I researched. However, the question of how authority was exercised in New Testament times is answered in scripture. The evidence is abundant and easily understood. This article barely touches the subject.

This article has three sections. They are: Authority Exercised: The Mission; Authority Exercised: The Model; and Authority Exercised: The Map. It is hoped that three words will trigger the essence of this message in your memory: Mission, Model, and Map.

Authority Exercised: The Mission

Jesus and Mission

Jesus our Lord came to this earth with a mission. He was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. (Matt 15:24) Among Israel He came seeking the lost. (Luke 19:10) He came to serve, not be served. (Mark 10:45) He came to give His life as a ransom for many. (Matt 20:28) He came as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. (John 1:29)

Jesus came to prepare the people of God for the redemptive kingdom which was at hand during His lifetime. This redemptive kingdom was predicated upon Him being offered as a sacrificial lamb. The hour of His glory was connected to the cross of Calvary.

All of His teaching, all of His ministry and all of His work were connected to His mission. No clearer determination of His fulfilling His mission is recorded in scripture than His final trip to Jerusalem. (Read Luke 9:51; 13:22; 17:11; 18:31-33; 19:11, 28, 41) He was determined to go to His death in Jerusalem. His mission must be fulfilled and He had all authority in heaven and on earth to complete it.

The Disciples and Mission

Unlike Jesus, the disciples did not have inherit authority within them. Their authority was derived from Jesus. And unlike Jesus, they did not have a part in deciding what their mission was to be. On the contrary, Jesus having all authority in heaven and on earth gave them their mission.

We disciples today like the disciples of the 1st century A.D. have no inherit authority and have no part in deciding what our mission is going to be. The authority we do exercise comes only because of the mission given to us by Christ. All authority delegated to disciples of Jesus Christ are directly connected to the mission He gave us to fulfill. We have no authority from above except as it relates to the great commission.

The Mission Defined

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. (Mark 16:15-16)

And He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.(Luke 24:46-47)

These three passages reveal our single mission. Everything we do as ministry or everything we do as work must be connected to the mission. Otherwise, lost focus and failure to accomplish the mission will result.

From these texts let us answer very basic questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

Who is to fulfill the Mission?

The scriptural answer is ‘them’. Jesus spoke to them. He said to them. The ‘them’ in each of these texts were the apostles. But more to the fact is that they each one were a disciple of Jesus. Who is to fulfill the mission today? Disciples fulfill the mission. However, the disciples formed a community belonging to Christ.

A disciple is person following another in the sense of adhering to the teachings or instructions of a leader and in promoting the cause of such a leader. The apostles were committed to adhering to Christ’s teachings and promoting His cause. Nothing could be more needed today among us as followers of Christ.

A community is a unified body of people; a group of people with a common characteristic living within a larger society. These eleven disciples and a handful of others committed to Christ formed the community of Christ. They were unified and held in common the reality of being devoted to their Lord Jesus Christ. They would lay down their lives in service to His cause and mission. This community was distinct from the society in which it dwelt.

A disciple is to fulfill the mission with Christ and other disciples continually expanding the community of Christ.

What is the mission?

The scriptural answer is ‘make disciples’. We are to take a people from where they are in a pagan society and lead them to adhere to the teachings and instructions of Jesus Christ and promote His cause. In doing so, they become a part of the community of Christ of which He is the preeminent leader.

When is the mission to be fulfilled?

The scriptural answer is ‘as you go’. As a disciple lives out their life, they are focused on making disciples of those people with whom they interact. The mission is to be fulfilled in the present time, now, today. It is to be fulfilled everyday. It is to be a natural part of life as a disciple.

Where is the mission to be fulfilled?

The scriptural answer is ‘all nations [ethnic groups] in the entire world’. Christ’s mission is a world-wide mission covering every ethnic group under the sun. It is a global mission. Disciples are to be willing to teach anyone and everyone.

Why is the mission to be fulfilled?

The scriptural answer is ‘the people of the world are condemned and must come to repentance to receive remission of sin; they must hear and obey the gospel to be delivered from their sins.’ Eternity is in the balance for every soul and Christ’s mission is the only hope for the souls of men. Disciples must fulfill this mission to rescue the souls of men.

How is the mission to be fulfilled?

The scriptural answer is by ‘repentance and remission of sins being proclaimed through the preaching of the gospel’ and ‘teaching them to observe all that Jesus had commanded them.’ Two words need to be understood: preach and teach.

Kēryssō – preach: to publicly announce religious truths and principles while urging acceptance and compliance. This is announcing in the public market place with a goal of one making a decision to follow Christ. This word is translated preach in Mark’s gospel and proclaim in Luke’s gospel. This is accomplished by skilled disciples.

Didaskō – teach: to provide instruction in a formal or informal setting. This is accomplished in an organized setting as well as at a dinner table. It can occur anywhere at anytime by anybody.

Authority Exercised: The Model

There are two models from which authority is exercised in the New Testament. One model of authority led to the human institutionalization of the community of Christ which divided the community. The other battled for the unity of the community of Christ at all costs.

The Model and Mission

The model for the exercise of authority originates from Jesus Christ. As disciples we are to adhere to the teachings and instructions of our Lord. The exercise of authority does not develop naturally, i.e., one’s doing what comes naturally with authority, but develops from being trained to be like the Lord Jesus Christ. How one should exercise authority is as much a part of discipleship training as is character development!

The reality questions before us now are, did Christ have specific teaching and instruction concerning how to exercise authority? Did He demonstrate the model for us to follow concerning authority? If so, can we be true to our mission and disregard His model? Is there a New Testament pattern for exercising authority?

The disciples’ misconception

Jesus came to be sacrificed as the Lamb of God. His kingdom was to be a spiritual kingdom predicated upon His death. His kingdom was to be an eternal kingdom, never to be destroyed, left to another people, nor have a different King. However, this reality was far from the people’s expectation.

They expected a ruler to dominate over their enemies; to rule with a rod of iron. They expected a glorious kingdom as never had been seen before within the kingdoms of men. They expected a physical kingdom the King of which would be their Messiah.

All of Israel marveled at Jesus, but as His ministry and work continued, He failed to meet their expectations. Even John the Baptist began to question His identity. No doubt Jesus knew of the people’s concerns about Him.

Toward the end of His ministry, before His crucifixion, Jesus asked His disciples a question.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16)

The people did not yet confess that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus was not fulfilling their expectation of what the Messiah was to do. They thought He was anyone but the Messiah.

Peter’s answer was correct, but he did not get the answer from the crowds. Scripture tells us he received the answer from His Heavenly Father.

And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17-19)

In this context of clarifying the identity of the Son on Man, Jesus introduces the reality that these disciples were going to exercise authority. Peter will be given the keys of the kingdom. The keys represented authority and responsibility. His authority was limited to bind only that which was already bound in heaven; to loose that which was already loosed in heaven.

Then Jesus tested the understanding and hope of His disciples. Not who, but what was the Son of Man to do? If Jesus had asked His disciples what the Messiah was to do when He came, what would have Peter said?

Here is what scripture recorded for us:

From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” (Matthew 16:21-23)

From Peter’s expectation, Jesus could not die. But this was the very reason Christ came. He came to die as the Lamb of God. Peter’s misconception made him an adversary of Christ. The misconception was formed from a wrong mind set. (see, The Mindset of Christ, below)

There were two competing views of the kingdom: one material-political; the other spiritual-redemptive. Do you suppose that authority would be exercised differently in a spiritual kingdom than in a material kingdom?

The disciple’s view of a material kingdom prompted the disputes they had among themselves concerning greatness in the kingdom. There were at least two occasions this dispute erupted.

An argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest.(Luke 9:46)

And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.(Luke 22:24)

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, sought directly the number one and number two positions in His kingdom. This resulted in the 10 other disciples becoming indignant toward them.

James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.” (Mark 10:35-37)

Hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John. (Mark 10:41)

Why would the disciples jockey for positions in the kingdom if it wasn’t for status, power and authority? It appears that the disciples understood the institution of government within a worldly kingdom. It is true in government that the closer to the top one attains the greater their status, power and authority.

The kingdom of Christ is nothing like the kingdoms of men. Christ addressed the disciples’ misconception on different occasions.

The Lord’s teaching

At Capernaum (about a year before the cross)

They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest. Sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me.” (Mark 9:33-37) At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; (Matthew 18:1-5) An argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest. But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart, took a child and stood him by His side, and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great.” (Luke 9:46-48)

Jesus teaches that greatness in His kingdom is based upon having neither power nor authority to control. But greatness is based upon having a servant’s heart becoming least so that the weakest in society has a great priority with those in authority. Authority and power are to be exercised through serving all from the least to the greatest. His teaching has little appeal to those in power or those seeking positions of power in those institutions based on power. This teaching showed that the disciples were grossly mistaken in their understanding of power and authority within the kingdom of Christ.

During Perean Ministry (a few weeks before the cross)

When James and John sought to sit on the Lord’s right and left hand, Jesus taught about the exercise of authority.

Hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John. Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. “But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”(Mark 10:41)

Jesus gave the disciples a crystal clear contrast between the kingdoms of the world and His spiritual kingdom. The word pictures He paints for His disciples are dramatic.

Worldly Kingdom Christ’s Kingdom
Rulers (to rule or govern, with the implication of preeminent position and status) – lord it over them Great among you – your servant (to take care of, by rendering humble service to)
Great men (persons of important or high status) – exercise authority over them First among you – a slave to all (pertaining to a state of being completely controlled by someone or something)

Jesus was very clear about the way NOT to go! Disciples are not to seek to rule from a preeminent position or status. Disciples are not to lord it over others. Disciples are not to seek to be persons of important or high status. Disciples are not to exercise authority over others.

This teaching ran counter to everything the disciples knew or had experienced in their lifetime. It was radical to them. I’m sure they wondered how any government could operate with these parameters.

However, Jesus was also very clear about the way to go. Greatness among disciples comes by taking care of others, by rendering humble service. Being first comes by being completely controlled rather than being in control.

This teaching runs counter to political nature. The key to understanding the teaching of Jesus is Jesus Himself. He is the mentor of all who follow Him as leaders. Jesus came to serve, not to be served. He modeled His own teaching.

In the Temple court (Tuesday before the cross)

The Pharisees were good examples of worldly rulers who lord it over others and exercised authority to control others. They were the exact opposite of what Jesus wills for leaders in His kingdom to become. Knowing what the Lord had been teaching His disciples, we have a better understanding of what He said to the disciples and crowds in the Temple court. He gave the disciples their roles and the structure of authority within His kingdom. Theirs were nothing like the roles and structure within the religious institution of Jerusalem.

“But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. “But the greatest among you shall be your servant. “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (Matthew 23:8-12)

A community with One who is the Teacher and Leader, everyone else brothers with opportunities of humble service; this describes the kingdom of Christ from the teaching of its King. When will the disciples get it? When will they understand the paradigm Christ is giving them for success, greatness, and getting things done with people? The kingdom of Christ is nothing like the kingdoms of the world nor is power and authority exercised in His kingdom like it is exercised in the kingdoms of the world! The real question today: will we get it?

During the Passover Meal (Thursday night before the cross)

The very night of Jesus’ arrest and led to trial, the disciples had a dispute among themselves about which one was regarded to be greatest. One more time Jesus addressed their misconception about His model of leadership and authority. The disciples had heard most of this teaching before.

And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ “But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. “For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves. (Luke 22:24-27)

Becoming like the younger is a new word picture in Jesus’ teaching. Yes, sir the younger should always show and practice honor and respect to their elders. Jesus communicates at this time that the greatest among the community of Christ is to serve with honor and respect the least within the society. Once again Christ runs counter to the culture and teaches His disciple to follow His example.

The Mindset of Christ

I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. John 5:30

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. John 6:38

If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. John 7:17

Then Jesus cried out in the temple, teaching and saying, “You both know Me and know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know. John 7:28

So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. John 8:28

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. John 8:42

“For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. John 12:49

“Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. John 14:10

The mindset of Jesus constantly sought the mind of His Father, rather than the mind of those He came to serve. This is a fundamental element of His model of leadership and the exercise of authority. He came with an unchanging mission. He never wavered from that mission. Not a single time did He adjust the mission to be compatible with those who misunderstood it.

The Apostolic teaching

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would continue the teaching the disciples would need after His ascension. They then would be in fact teaching what was revealed to them from Christ through the Holy Spirit.

“These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. (John 14:25-26)

“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. “All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you. (John 16:13-15)

We would expect, then, that the apostles and inspired writers of the New Testament to teach without fail the Christ’s model of leadership and the exercise of authority. In other words, Christ would guide the apostles in the function of leadership and expand His teachings through the Holy Spirit as different situations occur with the apostles.

The apostles would function in leadership with different personalities but the model of leadership was not optional. Jesus commanded the model of leadership He wills for them to follow. Leadership in the kingdom of Christ is a matter of discipleship training.

The Apostle Peter

Peter was personally asked by Jesus to shepherd and feed His sheep. Why? Peter denied the Lord three times. Jesus asked Peter three times, do you love Me? Since Peter’s love for Christ dominated every aspect of his life, he would indeed shepherd and feed the flock of Christ. He did so not from a position of power and authority but from a position of a servant tending another’s concerns. Every exercise of authority demonstrated by Peter in the New Testament was connected to the mind and mission of Christ. This truth is seen in the writings of Peter.

1 Peter 5:1-4

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

elders (n) a person of responsibility and authority in matters of socio-religious concerns, both in Jewish and Christian societies
shepherd (v) to lead, with the implication of providing for—‘to guide and to help, to guide and take care of.’
exercising oversight (participle) to have responsibility for the care of someone, implying a somewhat official responsibility within a congregation—‘to minister unto, to be responsible, to care for.’
not lording it over to rule or reign over, with the implication in some contexts of ‘lording it over’—‘to rule, to govern, to reign over.’
Allotted to your charge what has been assigned as someone’s responsibility to take care of—‘responsibility to care for.’

Peter’s teaching inspired by the Holy Spirit is identical to that of Jesus Christ our Lord. All elders, who are chosen by both men and God, have responsibility and authority. They have the authority from Christ to fulfill their role within the community of Christ. The role of an elder has specific responsibilities to fill and limitations not to exceed. Elders are stewards of the flock of Christ and will give an account for those allotted to their charge.

Elders are to serve by guiding while helping and taking care of those allotted to their charge. They are to minister unto and care for disciples without ruling, governing, reigning over, and such things as these.

The Apostle Paul

Why is Paul regarded as a great Christian; perhaps as one of the greatest of all time? His life’s story is extraordinary. He once caused havoc among the community of Christ, but became the apostle to the Gentiles. His hatred for Christ and His followers is well documented. The complete transformation of his heart is proof positive of the living Christ reigning from heaven.

Saul arose to the highest levels of power in the religious institution of his day. His persecution of the followers of Jesus elevated him. But the mission of Christ was victorious. Saul’s name was changed to Paul when he became a soldier of Jesus Christ. Christ freed him from the guilt of persecuting Him. Paul was thrust into leadership being an apostle of Christ.

Even though Paul was not in circle of 12 who witnessed personally the life and teachings of Christ, the Holy Spirit revealed to him the model of Christ in leadership and the exercise of authority.

2 Corinthian 1:23-24

But I call God as witness to my soul, that to spare you I did not come again to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm.

Corinth, to say the least, was a troubled fellowship. They had many problems that needed strong leadership to guide them to Christ’s desired goal for them. They were carnal and immature. Paul was such a leader.

The discipline which was necessary caused both Paul and the fellowship pain. This text reveals to us that Paul intended to travel to Corinth but did not in order to spare them additional pain. He wrote the letter instead.

These verses also reveal to us the heart of Christ as it relates to exercising authority. Paul stated, “Not that we lord it over your faith.” This means that Paul claims not to rule, to govern, nor reign over their faith. Paul then stated the very opposite instead. “But we are workers with you,” he wrote. The contrast is ‘human ruler’ versus ‘fellow worker’. Paul modeled exactly what Jesus taught. The exercise of authority takes place serving among others to accomplish the mission of the one and only Lord.

2 Corinthians 4:5

For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.

Paul, in the context of possessing freedom from the Old Covenant, speaks about the relationship between leaders and followers in the community of Christ. Leaders are not to be like a schoolmaster controlling the lives of those under its care, but are servants. The schoolmaster system was put away by the coming of Christ.

We do not preach ourselves as lord, but Christ Jesus as Lord. There is one Lord who is to rule, to govern, and to reign over the lives in the community of Christ. Everyone else is a part of a brotherhood of disciples. The leaders among the brotherhood do not possess a following belonging to them. On the contrary, “We preach ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.” The leaders in the community of Christ belong to those led.

Leaders in the community of Christ have received authority from Christ, not to rule or govern in His place, but to serve those who belong to Him. Their serving the community is defined by His mission for the community, thus their service is for His sake.

2 Corinthians 11:18

Since many boast according to the flesh, I will boast also. For you, being so wise, tolerate the foolish gladly. For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face. (2 Corinthians 11:18)

Paul uses irony in its highest form in this context. The Corinthian fellowship was naïve, carnal and immature. They boasted upon their tolerance. They were wide open to everyone and everything. Their minds were so wide open their brains may have fallen out. Paul points out their so called wisdom led to five instances that occur when one is lorded over.

1. Domination – you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you.

2. Exploitation – you tolerate it if anyone devours you.

3. Entrapment – you tolerate it if anyone takes advantage of you.

4. Haughtiness – you tolerate it if anyone exalts himself over you.

5. Insult – you tolerate it if anyone hits you in the face.

‘Lording it over’ people occur in the kingdom of Christ when citizens tolerate it. Jesus made it clear it was not to be so among his followers.

Looking back over these five indictments, we notice, first of all, their similarity — all represent actions or attitudes of domineering, callous lords, bent on having their own way, with this end justifying any means used. Indeed, the last four indictments could be regarded as elucidations of the first. Someone who has been reduced to slavery would expect to be exploited, taken advantage of, treated arrogantly, and physically abused. Second, the conduct of the intruders is the antithesis of shepherding service. Paul doubtless hoped that his converts would make the obvious comparison between his way of operating and that of the rival missionaries. He was their servant, not their lord (4:5); he had remained financially independent (11:7–12); he had refused to act with unscrupulous cunning (4:2); he did not lord it over them and their faith (1:24); he was committed to protecting them from spiritual violation (11:2).[1]

Hebrews 13:7-8, 17

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:7-8)

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17)

I include Hebrews to the Pauline verses because if Paul is not the author, the author is definitely influenced by Paul. Paul indeed may be the author of Hebrews. That being stated, this passage without doubt reveals that leaders are given authority to exercise to which disciples are to respond. The question which must be answered is a translation issue.

Should the word translated ‘led’ in v.7 and ‘leader’ in v.17 be translated ‘rule over’ as in the NKJV?

Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:7-8, NKJV)

Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17, NKJV)

The Greek word in both verses (v7 and v17) is ‘hegeomai’ and has three different connotative meanings.

First it means to be of an opinion or have a judgment as in Acts 15:19. Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God. (NKJV)

Second it means to rule over as in Acts 7:10 (and delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house., NKJV) Or Luke 3:1 (Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene. NKJV)

Third it means to so influence others as to cause them to follow a recommended course of action as in Luke 22:26 (But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. NKJV)

Of the three connotations, in view of the model Christ gave the apostles and the apostles’ teaching in totality, the third connotation harmonizes best. The first is too weak for the strong leadership needed to guide the community of Christ in its mission. The second connotation harmonizes with an institutional context and has secular elements.

The four imperatives in these three verses will help us understand the author’s intended meaning: remember, imitate, obey, and submit.

Remember! Recall to memory those who influenced you to follow Christ. Recall to memory those who have spoken the word of God to you. Recall specifically their faith and consider the outcome of their conduct. Sear that image in your memory! Why?

Imitate their faith! Their faith was the power of their transformation into the image of Christ. Jesus Christ is the same today as He was back then when they taught and led you. Follow their faith as they followed Christ and their outcome becomes yours. This is the essence of a discipleship centered mission.

Obey! Generally obedience is an extension of hearing. One hears a command and then responds or disobeys. But the word translated here does not come from the family of words related to hearing and obedience. This word comes from the family of words related to conviction and evidence. It means to be a follower of someone in the sense of having put one’s confidence in a leader. How do you convey this meaning in a single word for word translation? The one ‘obeyed’ has shown evidence that following him leads to following Christ. One has confidence and trust that the leader belongs to and follows Christ to fulfill the mission given to the community of Christ. Obedience to leadership in the community of Christ always comes back to the mission and the model of Christ Jesus.

Submit! This text is about submission to the guidance of the leader. The leader in view is one focused on the accomplishment of the mission. This is an obedient submission. Follow the directives of the leader because of one’s trust and confidence the leader has proven capable of receiving. This is the only effective relationship between the leaders and the community of Christ.

Did Christ have specific teaching and instruction concerning how to exercise authority? Absolutely. Did He demonstrate the model for us to follow concerning authority? In every way He did model it. Can we be true to His mission and disregard His model? Is there a New Testament pattern for exercising authority? You decide.

Authority Exercised: The Map

When one maps out the life and ministry of Jesus, it is clearly recognized that Jesus fought against a fierce foe for the hearts and minds of people. Beliefs, doctrines, and traditions had become ingrained into the thinking of the most of the nation. Jesus brought grace and truth to combat a very powerful and corrupt institution. 

The Institutional Map

After the exile in Babylon and prior to the birth of Jesus, the Jewish society institutionalized many aspects of their society. The synagogue had become an institution in their communities. It was well ordered and structured to fulfill the role it was created to perform.

The council known as the Sanhedrin functioned in three areas: relationships among the people (cult), justice, and finance.

When a people institutionalize something they incorporate it into a structured and highly formalized system. This the Jewish people did with the Covenant they had with God. They patterned the council after the seventy God told Moses to assemble with him in Numbers 11:16.

The council was composed of three groups: the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes.  The high priest served as president of the council.  He was, next to the procurator, the most powerful man in the land. He had an executive committee assisting him to carry out his responsibilities. The committee was comprised by the captain of the temple who commanded the temple guard. Often the captain was a candidate for the position of high priest. Also there were five or so aristocratic priests who dealt with judicial matters. And there were three or four priests who served as treasurers. The Sanhedrin was the highest authority in the land. They welded great power and control over every aspect of Jewish life.

The synagogue toed the line issued by the Sanhedrin. The synagogue was ruled by a board of elders with one elder presiding as the ‘ruler of the synagogue’. There also was an attendant of the synagogue who was responsible for the valuables kept in the synagogue.

Men entered through the main entrance while women enter in by a secondary door leading to the place designated for them to sit. They did not sit with the men in the synagogue. Women were not allowed to enter into the dialogue, or ask or answer questions in the synagogue. They sat in the back of the building. In the center was a raised platform with stairs. The men would ascend to the platform using one set of stairs and descend from the platform using a different set of stairs. ‘Moses Seats’ faced the congregation and were occupied only by the more important scribes and Pharisees. There was a clear channel through which authority and power was exercised. The common man was dominated by the institutions.

The problem with the institutions of Israel was the fact they created systems to feed the greed for power and wealth; thus making traditions which in fact make void the will of God.  The people’s hearts were moved far from God making their worship in vain.

What do you think would happen if men institutionalized the New Covenant? I submit to you that the New Covenant was institutionalized slowly in the later parts of the 1st Century thru the 3rd Century. The result was what the Catholic Church became. It is highly structured with a highly formalized system. It has created systems to feed the greed for power and wealth. It has untold numbers of traditions contrary to the Word of God. It became so corrupt that many tried to reform it only to break away and form a separate institution of religion.

The church became identified by the cathedrals build on the backs of common people. Buildings became the institution within society where the power and influence of religion had its seat of authority. Men in churches became as powerful as kings over nations. The reformers failed to reform the corrupt institution. They instead instituted a separate religious institution in protest against the catholic religion. They were classified in society as Protestants named their institutions with various names, i.e., Lutheran, Calvinist, etc. As time went by different fellowships denominated themselves with the names which identified them, i.e., Baptists, Methodists, etc. with each being a distinct institution.

The Restoration Movement seeks not to reform deviant churches but to restore the church of their day back to the original identifying marks of the universal church found in scripture. But here is the point of focus. What in essence was the Body of Christ governed by Christ through the New Covenant before it was institutionalized by man?

The Non-Institutional Map

When a people institutionalize something they incorporate it into a structured and highly formalized system. What does a non-institutional community of people look like? They are loosely structured and basically informal. They have as little structure as possible to carry out their mission. They are as informal as possible so that the greatest number of people can relate to the community. A non-institutional community is not bound by the confining parameters of an institution. It does not think out side the box; there is no box.

The Body of Christ in scripture is a loosely structured informally organized community of believers. The Apostles function as apostles serving the community of believers. Shepherds function as shepherds serving the community of believers. Appointed Servants function as servants serving the community of believers. Teachers function as teachers serving the community of believers. Disciples were being served by being trained and matured to make disciples. The whole body in every place functions to carry out its mission.

The non-institutional map for the community of Christ is bound by its Divinely given mission and Christ’s model. Authority and power should not be abused because all authority belongs to Christ.  His disciples take seriously His teaching, His mission, and His methods, don’t we? He taught and commanded the following which relates to structure and formality: “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. “But the greatest among you shall be your servant. “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (Matthew 23:8-12)

The Title The word The meaning
Rabbi ῥαββί a Jewish teacher and scholar recognized for expertise in interpreting the Jewish Scriptures
Father πατήρ a title for a person of high rank—‘Father, the Honorable, Excellency.’
Leaders καθηγητής one who provides instruction and guidance—‘teacher, instructor.’

  • The Father
  • Christ, the Lord and Master
    1. The Teacher – expert interpreter
    2. The Leader – guidance thru instruction
    • All are brothers
      1. (Without Titles of Distinction)
      2. Servants of one another

The above is the most basic map for the structure of the community of Christ given in scripture. This is the structure for the whole Body of Christ in the inhabited earth. This is the structure for the whole Body of Christ in the North American Continent. This is the structure for the whole Body of Christ in the United States. This is the structure for the whole Body of Christ in the state of Mississippi. This is the structure for the whole Body of Christ in Chickasaw County, Mississippi. This is the structure for the whole Body of Christ in Houston, Mississippi. This is the structure of the whole Body of Christ in any local congregation belonging to Christ when congregated. Many congregations do not equal multiple Bodies. There is one Body in Houston, Mississippi and it is structured as above.

Here is the point of focus: servants of the same Lord cannot rule over other servants. Who are you that you can rule over another’s servant?

What is the relationship, then, we are to have with one another? To answer this question, we need to bring in two elements: Mission and Function.

  • The Father
  • The Mission
  • Christ, the Lord and Master
    1. The Teacher – expert interpreter
    2. The Leader – guidance thru instruction
      • All are brothers
      1. (Without Titles of Distinction)
      2. Servants of one another
      3. Assigned Functions

Authority and function are always tied to the mission. The Mission of the whole Body of Christ is to make, train and mature disciples of Jesus Christ. The Mission of each individual disciple within the Body of Christ is to assist in making, training and maturing disciples of Jesus Christ by the service they render.

There are many functions but only one mission. No one has authority to change the mission. No one has authority to limit another to carry out a function which is related to the mission being carried out.

The break down occurs when the church is made into an institution. How do we know when this occurs? It occurs when individuals are controlled by institutional controls.

Does anyone need permission to have a Bible study in their home? Does anyone need permission to have a gathering in their home to pray for people they are involved with in evangelism?  Does anyone need permission to do something in secret so that the Father who is in secret may reward them?

Here is the truth; people in authority within the Body of Christ in any location only have authority to serve others in their growth and maturity in Christ. No one has the authority to control or limit anyone in regards to the mission being carried out.  No one has the right to lord over another; we are to be servants one to another.

Here is the difference that makes a difference: The structure and organization of a non-institutional community serve the mission of the one who owns the community, while, the structure and organization of an institution serves the identity and existence of the ones who created the institution.


The sum of the matter is concluded with two questions. This essay hopefully has shaped the answers. First, how do I personally exercise authority in relation to others in the Body of Christ? Second, how do others in the Body of Christ exercise authority in relation to me?

Reality communicates that one is the Lord and Master. Only one has preeminent authority to rule, command and lead the Body of Christ. Jesus mapped out the flow of authority clearly in His teaching. All disciples are a band of brothers carrying out the mission of their Lord and Master.

Reality communicates that Divine mission establishes Divine authority. In order to carry out the on-going mission, disciples are to function in various roles. Each role is directly linked to the mission and the function of each role is empowered to fulfill its work. Shepherds shepherd. Teachers teach. Servants serve. Evangelist evangelizes.

Reality communicates that those possessing authority to fulfill a role in the Body of Christ follow the model of Christ.  He came to serve. He came to offer Himself as a sacrifice to benefit those He came to serve. He taught specifically a model to follow in exercising authority. Shepherds serve those they shepherd. Shepherds do not rule those they shepherd. They have no right or authority to rule only serve.

How does one personally exercise authority? One recognizes first that authority is linked to roles and mission. One then serves others using the authority to do so for their benefit. Hopefully, they respond to that service by a following Christ more fully in growth and development. One responds to the authority of others by accepting their service to help them in their growth and development.

The model of Christ in exercising authority leads all disciples to use their resources and power to serve in aiding the growth and development of others. Authority to serve not command is the model.

Christ’s Mission – Christ’s Model – Christ’s Map – Our Adherence

[1]Harris, M. J. (2005). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians : A commentary on the Greek text (786). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Milton Keynes, UK: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.; Paternoster Press.

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