Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
A researcher at the Royal Society of Medicine in the UK published a paper called “The Spoilt Generation.” He ties the alarming rates of child depression, teenage pregnancy, obesity, violent crimes by adolescents, and more to a basic lack of respect for authority (Daily Mail). The Cato Institute published a study simply entitled, “Respect For Authority.” One of its most basic findings is that the public believes social instability follows disrespect for authority (Cato).
What do you think? Have you noticed a decline of respect in society for parents, teachers, the police, employers, and others in a position of authority? Most of us would agree it’s happening, and that it is not good. Peter warns about it in the most sobering of terms, speaking of the unrighteous who face eternal punishment as those who, in part, “despise authority (2 Pt 2:10). Jude offers a very similar warning, describing those who turn God’s grace into permission to do whatever they please (4), and this includes their “rejecting authority” (8). So why do we often have a problem with authority?
We have a problem with rebelliousness. Saul, the earthly king, had a problem with rebellion (1 Sam. 15:23). Paul writes Timothy, discussing why the Law of Moses existed. It was for unrighteous people, and at the top of that list were the lawless and rebellious (1 Tim. 1:9). Rebellion is insubordination. It characterized the period of the Judges, when everyone did what they thought was right to them (17:6; 21:25). As we look at crime in our current society, we see the fruit of rebellion. CNN reports a 33% increase in homicides in major U.S. cities from 2019 to 2020, and now it is up another 24% since the beginning of 2021 (CNN). Yet, cities like Baltimore no longer prosecute drug possession, prostitution, and other low-level offenses. In California, shoplifting has in some places ceased to have any legal ramifications. How many looters in major U.S. cities have never served a day in jail or paid a penny in fines? Romans 13 clearly condemns this. Paul says “whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves” (2). Most of us would condemn this nationally, but do we struggle with rebellion against authority closer to home? Do we struggle with it against employers, elders, and parents? Rebelliousness can be milder than murder and more limited than against government. Do we only submit if we accept what they lead us to do? Do we maintain meekness and gentleness only if we agree with them? Rebellion is not the mark of a disciple of Christ; such have a different master.
We have a problem with respect. Paul says, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Th. 5:12-13). Esteem, as a verb, is found 28 times and means to think, consider, or regard. Paul is telling the church how to regard their leaders (“very highly in love”) and why (“because of their work”). Interestingly, the noun form of this verbs is often tied to various types of leadership–“Ruler” (Mt. 2:6), “leader” (Lk. 22:26), “governor” (Acts 7:10), “chief” (Acts 14:12) and “leading men” (Acts 15:22). But in 1 Thessalonians 5:13, it is a verb and means to engage in the intellectual process of thinking of them with the highest respect. The word “esteem” deals with our character generally and not just how we treat elders and any other leaders. Philippians 2:3 says, “With humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” But Peter speaks of some who “count it a pleasure to revel in doing wrong” (2 Pet. 2:13). Respect is a matter of how you set your mind. If we don’t have it in our hearts to respect those in authority, it can’t help but show in the way we speak to them or about them. Our children learn how to treat authority figures by watching and listening to us. What are we teaching them?
We have a problem with our religion. “Religion” is only found four times in the New Testament. It means appropriate beliefs and the devout practice of our obligations (Louw-Nida, 530). How do we properly express our religion? It is not just about worshipping the way God commands. That’s a vital part, but only one way. Paul tells us what his pre-Christian religion looked like (Acts 26:5). He tells us about the false religion of some, ruled by their fleshly minds (Col. 2:18). James uses the word “religion” twice, in James 1:26-27. He teaches that pure, untainted religion is proven or disproven by your thoughts, words, and deeds. When I show disdain toward those in authority in or out of the church context, I’m telling everyone who witnesses it about my religion. I am making an impression on them that will either lead them closer to God or farther away from Him. Whatever I tell them about the one(s) in authority, I am telling them far more about me. If they follow my lead, will they stumble (cf. Lk. 17:1-2)?
Our problem with authority is ultimately a problem with God. When Paul tells Rome that those who resist authority oppose God’s will, he was talking about a government ruled by wicked Caesars who murdered Christians. When I disapprove of or disagree with those in positions of authority, in the nation, church, workplace or home, I must respond how God says respond. I must leave the rest to Him.