Obedience does not come easy to any of us, especially not to young men. Part of our sinfulness is our desire for autonomy. Autonomy means literally self-law. We want to be a law to ourselves. We do not want anyone else as a law in our lives.
But, the Bible makes crystal clear that obedience to lawful authority is a basic foundation of a godly life. So, what are the lawful authorities in our lives? And what are the limits of our obedience to them?
The first lawful authority in our lives is God himself. He’s the supreme lawgiver and has supreme authority over us. What he says goes. He does not offer suggestions, he does not consult us, he does not negotiate. He commands and expects obedience. Unquestioned total obedience.
His moral law is summarized for us in the ten commandments. But that ten point summary is expounded and applied further in the book of Proverbs, by Jesus, and by the Apostles. The Bible teaches that obedience to God’s law, within the context of a saving relationship with him, brings God’s blessing into our lives and disobedience brings God’s curse.
The second lawful authority in our lives is our parents. We are commanded to honor our parents and we are commanded to obey our parents. Three things here. First, we are to obey our parents in the Lord. That means we obey them insofar as their commands are based on God’s Word. Second, obedience brings the blessing of longer and better life. There are exceptions to this but it is generally true. Third, while parental authority should always be respected, when we marry we “leave our father and mother’s authority” but not our responsibility to care for them.
Church, State, and Employer
There are three other lawful authorities in our lives: ecclesiastical authority in the church, civil authority in the state, and vocational authority in our employment (unless we are self-employed of course). All three of these are legitimate authorities in our lives which we are to respect, honor, and obey.
What happens when we are commanded to do something by human authorities that is against divine authority? First, we should try to change the minds of our parents, our church leaders, our bosses, or our politicians. We do this respectfully and wisely. However, if they persist to command us to do something forbidden by God or forbid us to do something commanded by God, we say with the Apostle, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). This should happen very rarely though. The vast majority of cases of disobedience are not because the laws are against God’s but because they are against our wishes and wills.
We must obey parents, elders, civil authority, and bosses as though they are God himself. In many ways, our attitude towards these lawful authorities reflect our attitude towards God. We are called to think highly of them, speak well of them, avoid criticism where possible, and render them all due obedience.
I challenge you to reflect this in your attitude, your thoughts, your words and actions. “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17).
Real men obey lawful authority.
1. What is the evidence of love for God? (John 14:15). Explain that connection and how it works out in the Christian life.
2. What are ways in which we can honor our parents (a) when we are children, (b) when we are adults, and (c) when they are old.
3. How do these verses work out in everyday life? Ephesians 6:4-6 and Colossians 3:22-25.