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Series: Summer with John

Passage: Proverbs 3:1-6

Speaker: Dan Doriani

Sermon for Sunday, June 21, 2009
Dr. Dan Doriani


Romans 13:1-3, Proverbs 3:1-6

Years ago, Debbie and I were in Oregon and went to see Crater Lake, a mountain lake formed when a volcanic mountain blew its top thousands of years ago. We hiked around till we came to a sign that said, "Trail closed. Dangerous terrain ahead. Do not pass this sign." But the scenery beyond the sign was breathtaking; the path looked safe. What do you think happened next?

Why do we want to rebel? Why do students think they know more than their teachers? Why do players think they know more than coaches, nurses more than doctors, laborers more than foremen, salesman more than sales manager?

We need our authorities. God ordained the authorities of this world and wants us to yield to them. Yet we resist. We will explore that today, beginning with the authority of God.

1. The authority of God

In the Bible, the most common name for God is Lord. The Old Testament says God is Lord. The New Testament says Jesus is Lord. That means "God has the power to direct the whole course of nature and history as he pleases." He also has the authority, the right, to do so, for He created the world and knows best how to govern it. We should trust His authority.

When He speaks, we should believe it is true.

When He promises, we should believe He will do it, and act accordingly.

When He commands we ought to obey.1

God knows the world. He has the broadest, deepest and highest viewpoint to watch it. He knows why He made the world and what it is supposed to be or do. He sees all things and evaluates them perfectly.

I was often lazy as a child. My father saw this and grimly lectured me about what would happen if I didn't shape up. In college and grad school, I did work hard, but he never seemed to notice. Then when I was twenty-eight, he gave me a charge at my ordination. His first sentence stunned me: "I know you will be diligent." He had noticed that I wasn't lazy any more! We hadn't seen each other much for eight years. How could he know? But parents know. Even a distant parent can see what's happening with an adult child. Surely, therefore, God, who sees and cares for all things, can see what is happening in His world.

We should yield to God's authority because He creates and sees all. "Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker." God is the potter, we are the clay (Isaiah 45:9-11). But more than that, The Lord has authority over us through a relationship. He redeemed us, entered a covenant with us: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:2-3). This is how the Bible usually presents the Lord: “I redeemed you, therefore…"

But God is so great that His mere word carries authority. "You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord" (Leviticus 18:4-5). If He says it, that's enough. We must do what the Lord says (Luke 6:46). Jesus says, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). We must obey His law, believe His word and claim His promises.

If the Lord God is the supreme authority, then we have no higher loyalty. We heed no other voice. He is Lord of all: "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). We can question God; Abraham, Job and David did. But we must accept His answers, let Him have the final word. 2

Jesus has the same authority. He taught with authority – like no other. He commanded evil spirits and they obeyed him. He commanded the wind and the waves and they obeyed. He commanded a paralytic; "Get up, take your mat and go home." He has the very authority of God. (Matthew 7:29, 8:8-10, 8:16, 8:26-27, 9:6).

2. We resist authority

Experts say (and it seems like a sensible generalization): If you were born during the depression or World War II, it's easy and natural for you to respect authority. You may even be glad to be under authority. You can tolerate it even if the authority figure isn't especially deserving.

But baby boomers don't like authority – unless they are the authority. Then authority is fine. Baby boomers have a fair share of rebellion in their veins.

Generation X and Y (millennials) are willing to submit to certain kinds of authority. They like coaches and mentors, leaders who are respectable and have a lot to teach them. They willingly yield to authorities that, in their view, deserve respect. That probably applies to all of us.

These are sweeping generalizations and may be only lightly helpful. When I listen to these studies, it can sound as if the analyst thinks questions about authority are new, as if everyone happily yielded to authority before 1920. But Adam and Eve questioned God's authority at the start. We always question authority.

Sometimes we need to resist authority. The apostles were commanded by Israel's authorities to stop preaching about Jesus, his death and his resurrection. The Jewish council "commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus" on pain of jail and a beating.

Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:18-20). They refused to obey men if men commanded them to disobey God. We must do the same.

If you are under an authority that commands you to do evil or submit as they do evil to you, do not obey. Stand up to the bully. If you are afraid, enlist the help of a friend or another authority. If you can't resist, run. Flee to safety. Jesus told the apostles, "When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another" (Matthew 10:23). If someone is hurting a child or a defenseless person under your protection, you must resist or flee. Don't obey, don't suffer in silence. [It's sad that a sermon must say this, but it is necessary].

But sometimes we resist for no reason. The airport gate agent says, "Regions one and two may board the plane now. Everyone else remain seated, please." Immediately everyone gets up except for three people re-reading the Harry Potter novel that will be a movie next month. This leads to the next point: Despite important exceptions, the general rule is: Submit to the governing authorities. God ordained them for your good.

3. God ordains this world's authority structures

Romans 13 makes the essential point over and over. "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God."

Many of us want to object right away: What about self-serving and unjust authorities? What about evil and abusive authorities? I have personal experience with abusive authorities and every pastor spends time with many people who have suffered from evil authorities. Let me say it plainly: If an authority commands something that is wicked, that violates God's law, do not obey.

Authority was a central issue in the 16th century Reformation. Public debate of theses was part of the German Roman Catholic church in 1517. Martin Luther proposed a debate about the sale of indulgences - paper decrees, signed by church authorities, declaring that anyone who purchased one had recent and future sins forgiven. One peddler said these papers, signed by a pope, released people from purgatory allowing them to go straight to heaven. Luther was irate. He said if the pope can release people, he should do it for everyone for free and not sell it to peasants who can't afford it while the funds go to cathedrals in Rome. He questioned the church authorities.

We thought he did so within the system, But the authorities disagreed. Within a year or two, the pope issued a decree stating that Luther was dangerous, that his writings were heretical and must be burned. He must stop writing, recant, and repent or be excommunicated. When Luther received the decree he said, "They burned my book, I shall burn theirs" and tossed it into the flames.

Most German Catholics agreed with Luther; most Italians agreed with the pope. Gradually, Luther realized that the question was not "Which church authorities are right?" but "What does Scripture say?" If the church says one thing and the Bible says another, then we must heed God's authority, His word, His free offer of the gospel. Luther agonized, but decided this was a time to resist authority.

But we are quick to resist authority; we jump at the chance. Evil authorities are the exception, not the rule. Most of the authorities in our lives are flawed but respectable. Some are outstanding, others merely competent, but most are OK. They may do the right thing because of their faith or virtue, because they fear God or because they are afraid that the police or regulators will punish any misdeeds. But most are reasonably competent and many are wonderful.

So why are we so quick to ask "When can I resist?" One reason: Because we want to resist. We want to stake out our right to refuse them. Hear Paul then: "He who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves" (Romans 13:2). Most of the time, when we're upset with an authority, it is over lesser things: their plan seems selfish or foolish or demanding. Their voice or style irritates us, nothing more. In that case, submit to the authorities. I struggle with this, too. Maybe it's my nature. I also learned to resist authority because I had no other alternative at times.

Our culture fosters rebellion, too. We live in a mobile society. If someone dislikes something, they can take a new job, move to a new town. We are a consumer society; the customer is king. Leaders learn to pander. Even churches do this. A couple of years ago, one church put out a mailer with this tag: "God is offering you a way to make your life everything you truly want it to be." See, even the church has no authority – just an opportunity to help religious customers.

That is why it's a challenge, but we need to compare our disposition to Scripture. The English Puritans did this in 1600-1640. The English church (which was one nationwide Protestant church) had a dispute. The majority focused on rituals and sacraments. Most pastors simply read sermons that the hierarchy handed them. Leaders discouraged doctrinal debates, especially on Calvinism. The Puritans objected.

They said worship should focus on Scripture and Christ, not ritual. They thought all pastors should be able to preach from Scripture. The authorities responded with force: they shut down Puritan printers and moved prominent city pastors to the countryside.

The Puritans searched Scripture to see what they should do. They found something we need to consider: the Lord ordained many authority structures and that the authorities often weren't especially deserving or meritorious. Sometimes God simply appointed them. Consider the patriarchs. God chose Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph to lead his people. Were they especially deserving? Some yes, some no.

Later, the Lord chose Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt. His flaws? He stammered when he spoke and he had a violent streak. Even his own brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, had a hard time respecting him.

When Israel became a nation, leadership wasn't based on merit. God ordained that Aaron's descendants should serve as priests. Priests had great tasks: prayer, sacrifices and teaching. But men who loved ritual, prayer or teaching didn't apply. God appointed the sons of Aaron. Later, the Lord ordained that all kings come from the line of David. David and Solomon were great men, but many of their sons were not. God chose David's line because He chose them.

God chose Israel's prophets to speak for Him and they seem like men of great faith. But he also chose judges to deliver Israel, but the judges... Gideon was cowardly, nearly paralyzed by doubt in the beginning. Samson was a fearless warrior, but waist deep in affairs with pagan women. God chose each man for His reasons, but neither had much merit.

Jesus chose the twelve apostles – not an especially noble group either. Only after the birth of the church do we hear that the church must search for leaders who are mature, tested, gifted and filled with the Spirit.

The lesson is clear: We must respect authorities because God appointed them – whether their merit is clear or not. Even if a worker does know more than the boss, the boss still deserves respect and obedience because God appointed him. This is what we owe to authority. But this is Father's Day, so let's consider the authority of a father and its right use.

4. The authority of a father

The first task of a father is to accept his God-given authority. God appoints fathers to lead, just like prophets and priests. Godly fathers must lead and direct their children, their family. We should aim to use authority constructively. Use it lovingly so people find it easier to yield to your authority.

This is easier said than done. It's customary in America to teach our children to be independent, fearless. We train our children to speak up for themselves, even to adults. That seems to undercut authority. 3

And lots of families are indulgent. Children thrive under loving leadership, but when a child wants to resist, he/she can always point to a family where all is easy.

What shall a father do? Lead naturally. Soak yourself in God's word and in godly wisdom so you can direct your children [Moses] "as they walk in the way" - around the table at night, as they drive around town, go shopping, or work at home (Deuteronomy 6). But we must believe that God called us to lead and prepare for it.

Too many men arrive home at night worn out by work and the commute home. They flop on the sofa or a chair and cruise the internet or the paper or the television for news, and tune out the family. Their bodies have arrived, but their minds took the wrong exit. That's OK for thirty minutes, but we need to rouse ourselves. It isn't enough to bark out an occasional order and then sink like a sloth into hours of TV. Neither does it meet God's standards if we spend all night working or reading on the computer. That's not good enough.

Abuse of leadership authority causes more severe problems, but refusal to engage and lead is more common. Wake up. Lead your homes. Never dominate with heavy use of authority, but neither shall we abdicate or forfeit our authority.

Don't say, "I don't know how. My wife is wiser than I am." So what? I'm glad your wife is wise but that gives you no right to shirk your duties. Figure it out. We have men's ministries and discipleship classes all the time ready to help you. Call the office, read the announcements, go to the website to find them.

If you grew up in a good home, if you know the Bible, if you love to lead and help people grow, that will help you become a better father. Yet even if you had no advantages, if you are a father, you are still responsible to lead. If God appoints leaders, it means, first, we must never strive to usurp another person's authority. Second, we have no right to neglect the authority God gives us. We must accept the roles God gives us.

That doesn't mean you can be authoritarian. That is the quickest way to lose respect: To say things like "You will do that because I say so" and "I'm the boss around here." We lead for the good of those under us. That means good plans and directions, but it means leading by persuasion, not force. The gentle father wins his family's ear and heart. 4

The Puritans proposed an interesting test case. Suppose a man wants to move his family to another town. His wife disagrees. What shall he do? First, try gently to persuade her that all will be well. If that fails and she is simply stubborn, go ahead and move. But if she is sincerely convinced it's a mistake, then a wise husband will not move, lest he violate her conscience.

So much for general principles. Here are some particulars, from Proverbs 3. "My son, do not forget my teaching" implies that the father is teaching. He also commands, "Keep my commands in your heart" (Proverbs 3:1). The goal is to keep the son faithful, in the covenant family. You are not a father? Look for times to be fatherly at work, for a neighbor or a relative.

There is a reason to listen, to heed a wise father. His words "will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity." Long life and prosperity means more than rich and happy. This is covenant language. The Hebrew for prosperity is "Shalom" – not wealth but inner contentment, and joy from the Lord. Long life in the land is part one of eternal life for all who believe in the Lord and follow him in a world that has many other paths of life (cf Proverbs 2).

Next, "Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on… your heart." These are virtues, but more. Love and faithfulness are the core virtues of the Lord, the virtues that drive the gospel. He loves His children, He feels compassion for them. He is faithful. He never leaves, never forsakes us. These are the core virtues a father would teach his son, the sum of all.

Love and faithfulness are the opposite of selfishness and infidelity – dangers on Solomon's mind. A father must warn against vice. If the son remembers love and faithfulness, he will win the favor of God and man. These virtues are so attractive that all will think well of him.

Third, the wise son will "trust in the Lord" and (literally) "know Him." Know the Lord's authority. Know Him personally, through prayer and meditation. Follow His law and teaching, not whatever way seems wise to you.

Again a promise: God will make your paths straight or "smooth." This is not a promise of no trouble, endless ease. Yet as general rule, a life full of love and faithfulness, leads to fewer problems, more blessing.

Authority is a challenging topic. We are prone to resist – whether for good or bad reasons. Pride, willfulness, and rebellion get in the way. We need to repent of that, and stop leaning on our own understanding. Trust the authoritative Lord who ordained the authorities of this world, above all, our Lord Jesus.

1 John Frame, Doctrine of God, pages 80-81
2 Frame, Doctrine, pages 84-89.
3 Gladwell, Outliers, chapters 3-4
4 Cleaver, Godly Form, pages 104/206; Rogers, pages 110/265.