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We are living in a culture that either ignores authority or outright defies it. This culture has, in many ways, permeated the church, with some that justify things that years ago would never have been considered (some examples are adding instrumental music to worship, the use of women preachers, deacons and elders, adding praise teams, . . . ). Why has this happened? Most importantly,  what must we as the church do to make sure that we are following what God says, not the world’s subjective standards?

Authority must be determined either subjectively (internally, within man, according to feelings and hunches, thoughts, and ideas) or objectively (externally, that which is outside of man).

Jesus saw both choices as the only possibilities to determine authority. In Matthew 21:23-27 it is written, “Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?”

But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John—where was it from? From heaven or from men?”

And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus and said, “We do not know.”

And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”  

Jesus made it clear that authority for matters, either religious or otherwise, come either from man or from God. When Jesus rebuked them and showed them how they were wrong, do you think if they had another source of authority that they might have used that against him? Obviously, they would. 

  Authority in the religious world is not subjective. Many times, the Scriptures talk about man trying to go by his own thoughts for the authority in their lives. Notice the following passages that warns us about this:

  1. 1.Jeremiah 10:23 O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps. 
  2. 2.Proverbs 14:12 “There is a way that seems right to man, but the end thereof is the way of death.”
  3. 3.Acts 23:1 Then Paul looking earnestly at the council, said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day. In Acts 26:9, as he spoke to King Agrippa, he said, “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 
  4. 4.In the days of the Judges it was said that “In those days there was no king in Israel, everyone did that which was right in his own eyes.” (John 17:6).

Notice these passages that show us that man has “always tried to be his own authority and establish his own standards.” Those passages include:

  1. 1.Man’s thoughts and “think so” – Isaiah 55:8-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are my ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than you thoughts.”
  2. 2.Man’s feelings – Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?
  3. 3.Man’s reasonings – Proverbs 14:12 “There is a way that seems right unto a man, but its end is the way of death.
  4. 4.Man’s traditions – Matthew 15:3-6 “He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honor your father and your mother’; and, He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus, you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.”
  5. 5.Man’s wisdom – 1 Corinthians 1:21 “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. (see also 2 Corinthians 2:1-13)
  6. 6.Some judge what is right or wrong by the majority. God warned the children of Israel “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil. . . (Exodus 23:2). In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus warned in the Sermon on the Mount, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
  7. 7.Some humans believe the standard for their lives is all about pleasure.  Galatians 1:10-11 states, “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ. But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which is preached by me is not according to man.
  8. 8.The opinions of our families and ancestors also become a standard by which we live. Jesus warned in Matthew 10:37-39 “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me, is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”
  9. 9.Some talk about dreams and visions they may have had, yet Paul stressed to the Galatians, who were turning away from the gospel, that even if an angel brings another message let him be accursed. Notice Galatians 1:8-9 “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now again I say, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.”
  10. 10.Others live by the doctrines of men, and again Scripture warns us of these. In 2 John 9-11 John wrote, “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him, for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.

Beloved, the wisdom from men is not from above, but is earthly, sensual and devilish (James 3:15). When we teach the doctrines of men, which have their origin with men, we do not follow God’s way, but man’s way. Such worship is vain – Matthew 15:7-9.

The wisdom of the world that originates with man is foolishness in comparison to the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-26). 

As we close, let us understand that in the spiritual realm we must have a higher source of authority that is not human, but divine. It must come from God, not men!

Adapted and borrowed from Gene Taylor, A Study of Authority in Religion.

Your Obituary Has Not Yet Been Written

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel awoke one morning to read his own obituary in the local newspaper:

“Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who died yesterday, devised a way for more people to be killed in a war than ever before, and he died a very rich man.”

Actually, it was Alfred’s older brother who had died; a newspaper reporter had bungled the epitaph. But the account had a profound effect on Nobel. He decided he wanted to be known for something other than developing the means to kill people efficiently and for amassing a fortune in the process. So he initiated the Nobel Prize, the award for scientists and writers who foster peace. Today he is more widely known for the Nobel Peace Prize than he is for inventing dynamite. Nobel is quoted as saying, “Every man ought to have the chance to correct his epitaph in midstream and write a new one.”

As I read this quote, I was hit with a very arresting thought: My obituary has not yet been written. Whatever it is that men think of me, I still have the opportunity to make it better. Whatever mistakes I have made in the past, the possibility still exists for me to correct them. Whatever it is that I have yet not done, but should have, I still have time. As long as God gives me life and liberty, I can make of it something meaningful and lasting. As long as I have breath and desire, I can do my part to improve myself, my family, my neighborhood, the church, even the world.

Everyone still has the opportunity to correct his epitaph, up until the day he dies. Of course, the best thing that could ever be written in our obituary is that we were a faithful Christian. And certainly there are many wonderful things we can add to that. If you awoke this morning and are able to read this, there’s still time to make sure that is the case.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:15-17, ESV).

Edd Sterchi
Broadway church of Christ
Campbellsville, KY

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