Living Under Authority - RR272C5
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Our help is in the name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker, for He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Let us pray. O Lord, our God, Thy dominion extends to heaven and earth, and to all things, therein; and we, Thy people come into Thy presence to give Thee Thy due praise. Give us ever joyful and grateful hearts, that we live, move, and have our being in Thee; and that Thou are He Who didst make heaven and earth, and hast ordained all things for Thy glory and for their fulfillment in Thee. Give us grace to walk in terms of Thy holy purpose, to rejoice in Thy grace, and to trust in all Thy tomorrows. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Our scripture this morning is from Colossians, the first chapter, beginning with verse 12 and continuing through verse 23. Our subject: living under authority— living under authority. Colossians 1:12-23, “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son: in Whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him: and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature that is under heaven; for I, Paul, am made a minister.” [00:03:48]
Our subject is living under authority, and our particular concern is the 13th verse of Colossians 1. It is important for us to know the nature of authority, to know what constitutes true authority and false authority. Most people have a preference for a superficial, surface solution, which will make life easier; hence, they avoid the essential question of authority. Moreover, our age has a penchant for seeing alternatives in terms of ridiculously obvious ones. We are told, for example, by some (and I hear it regularly) that the federal government is the legitimate God-created authority, and, therefore, we have a duty of obedience. True, but what are the limits of it? That is the question: where does it begin and end? Moreover, we must say further that neither Republicans nor Democrats can command obedience, as though they were the state. The better question would be, the better alternative is: does the federal government always and in all things have a legitimate authority over us? And this is the question that our day, in particular, needs to ask. [00:05:36]
To give an idea of the kind of abuse of texts in the...
To give an idea of the kind of abuse of texts in the Bible that deal with authority, there is the favorite text with many husbands, Ephesians 5:22-23, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is head of the church.” Now, I submit from very unhappy experience that many men are in the church and are nominally Christians, because they like such verses. It’s a good way of keeping the woman in line. After all, she goes to church and takes it seriously; then she feels the duty of obedience. This gives such nominal, hypocritical Christians security in their waywardness, and freedom in what they do. But more than a century ago, Charles Hodge, in commenting on this text, made it clear what it means, and I quote, “She is to be subject in everything. That is, the subjection is not limited to any one sphere or department of the social life, but extends to all. The wife is not subject, as to some things, and independent of the others, but she is subject, as to all. This, of course, does not mean that the authority of the husband is unlimited. It teaches its extent, not its degree. It extends over all departments, but is limited in all, first, by the nature of the relation; and, secondly, by the higher authority of God. No superior, whether master, parent, husband, or magistrate can make it obligatory on us, either to do what God forbids, or not to do what God commands. So long as our allegiance to God is preserved, and obedience to man is made a part of our obedience to Him, we retain our liberty and our integrity.” In other words, as Hodge said, all authority under God is conditional, and no authority can long exist apart from him. [00:08:27]
Now, this raises some obvious questions...
Now, this raises some obvious questions: what authority does a godless or a pagan state have over us? At times in the past, popes dissolved the authority of subjects. The New Testament term for legitimate authority, or power, because it means both, is exousia. It is normally resolved—that word, exousia, authority—for Godly authority. But we have two uses of the word which depart from this: Satan is declared by scripture to have authority under God and by God’s permission. In Luke 22:52, our Lord says that Satan has been given power, authority, to crucify Christ. Now, it is this word which appears in Colossians 1:13, because what Paul says is the Father has delivered us from the power, the legitimate authority, of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son. In other words, what we are plainly told here is that we were under legitimate authority when we were under Satan. Now, we are under the legitimate authority of Jesus Christ, because we have been transferred from the one realm to the other by the atonement of Jesus Christ. Our sin-bearer Christ has delivered us, thus, from one authority to another. We are now separated from Satan’s authority. [00:10:44]
But what if the state is godless and a band of robbers...
But what if the state is godless and a band of robbers, as Augustine said, a Mafia, because Augustine made it clear that every civil government that is not under God is no more than a Mafia: the medieval era in terms of this vindicated, at times, tyrannicide. However, I think historians tend to forget the medieval scholars who did not agree with tyrannicide. Paul says, “Let every man abide in the same calling, wherein he was called,” in I Corinthians 7:20; and again in verse 23, “Ye are bought with a price. Be not ye the servants of men.” As I’ve said more than once, our way, according to scripture, is regeneration, not revolution. [00:11:52]
Now, let’s shift our emphasis to the non-civil realm...
Now, let’s shift our emphasis to the non-civil realm, the church. When does the church’s legitimate authority cease? Can we say that a church, which denies the atonement and the incarnation and the virgin birth, and affirms abortion and homosexuality and euthanasia, is a true church? In every community we have buildings and groups that call themselves churches that are marked by such evils. Not too long ago, a Catholic friend told me that on a recent trip to one city, he turned to the yellow pages Sunday morning to see where he could go to church, and he found listings, Catholic Churches Conservative, and then another listing, Catholic Churches Liberal. I do know that in that very same city where he found such listings, I had an hour and a half or two-hour debate on a radio talk show with a Catholic doctor, who favored abortion and euthanasia. But let’s carry the argument a step further: there are many churches which claim to believe the Bible from cover to cover, but are dead churches. When I say dead, I mean dead in the sight of God, because they will have, very often, a large crowd, a beautiful choir, all kinds of activities every day of the week; but in a Christian sense, they are dead. I am regularly told by members of these churches that neither the pastor, nor the board of deacons, or the sessions, or other consistory, or whatever the governing body may be, will not allow any reference to abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, communism, or anything else that they term controversial. Sometimes, the people who tell me this will add, “I happen to know that my pastor’s against those things, but he wouldn’t dare open his mouth.” Are such churches alive? In some churches, it’s considered bad taste to refer to sexual offense—in fact, I know a pastor who lost his pulpit for bringing up the subject—or to cite the Ten Commandments. Such churches want Christ only as their Savior, not as their Lord, and such a separation is false. [00:15:23]
We have to remember that in the Parable of the Last...
We have to remember that in the Parable of the Last Judgment, our Lord is dealing, not with the world at large in that parable, but with church members, who presented themselves as belonging to Christ, as members of Him. No doubt, they all believed they were good Christians, because they could repeat the Creed, and went to church regularly. But He says, “I never knew you.” Why? “Because your faith was without works, it was dead. I was sick, naked, poor, in prison, and you did not visit me.” It is interesting that so many churches will stress the love of Jesus very real; but go through and list in separate columns all the texts in which our Lord speaks about love, and all the texts in which He speaks with judgment. The texts in which our Lord speaks of the sins of men far outweigh the texts which speak of love. After all, man is a sinner, and He does need to have his sins pointed out; and our Lord does it, over and over again. [00:17:05]
Now, Paul declares in the ...
Now, Paul declares in the 23rd verse of Colossians 1 that this gospel of salvation has been preached to every creature which is under heaven, to all creation. Lightfoot said, and I quote, “The statement is given in the broadest form. All creation, animate and inanimate, being included, as in Revelation 5:13.” It is interesting, by the way, that Bishop Lightfoot sees this statement all the same as hyperbole; but we cannot limit the Bible to our ability to understand. Now, Paul, in verses 19-32 of this chapter of Colossians, goes on to say that this gospel has been preached widely. Why? To present you holy and unblameable, and unreproveable in His sight. God is working to reclaim the whole creation, and we are saved to fulfill God’s purposes. In I Timothy 2:4, Paul says that God’s purpose concerning salvation is that all men in their salvation might attain the knowledge of the truth. The object of God’s purpose is salvation, that we might know the truth. But the word for knowing the truth is epignosis, participating in. It is not merely abstract knowledge; it is knowledge that you make a part of your life, and you live. [00:19:10]
Now, this appears in Revelation ...
Now, this appears in Revelation 2 and 3 in our Lord’s letters to the seven churches, because what He tells these churches can be summed up best in what He tells the Laodicean church. He does not say “your doctrine is false”; what He does say is that they are neither hot nor cold, and, therefore, He will spew them out of His mouth. He does not rebuke any of the churches for being anything other than failing to live up to their knowledge. They are sitting back; they are majoring in evil, studying the workings of Satan; or they’re exploring this or that offbeat idea; but none of them are essentially false in the faith. They are false in their day by day living; and so, unless they change, they will be no more a church. [00:20:37]
Now, the Lord speaks in all seven instances as the...
Now, the Lord speaks in all seven instances as the legitimate source of authority in the church, and there can be no apostolic foundation apart from Him. No church is a true church, nor does it have a godly authority, apart from Him. The Lord is the legitimate source of authority in all the churches. Moreover (and we’re wandering, perhaps, but we’re bringing in all the considerations of living under authority), the doctrine of the glory of God is essential to the concept of authority. The root meaning of glory is heaviness, weight. So, when the scripture speaks of the glory of God, it speaks of it as the center of creation, the ultimate point of gravity or authority. Now in Ezekiel 10, we have a vision of the temple; and Ezekiel says the glory of God left the temple and went to Babylon, where some of the initial captives were. Moreover, Jeremiah tells us that people were trusting in the temple as the source of their authority, because God’s temple was there, and it had a surface resemblance to truth. So Jeremiah says in Jeremiah 7:4-11, “Trust ye not in lying words, saying, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are these. For if ye truly amend your ways and your doings; if ye truly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor; if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever. But, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, we are delivered to do all these abominations? Is this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the Lord.” Now, they were under a curse, because, while they were formally correct, perhaps, they had turned away from God in their practice. [00:24:01]
We can begin now, with these things in mind, to draw...
We can begin now, with these things in mind, to draw some conclusions, concerning authority. The whole world is always under authority. No man can escape living under authority. The man who claims he is not living under authority is deluding himself; but the question is: whose authority, Satan’s or God’s? Our Lord makes clear that God has given Satan some authority, authority over those who refuse to be under God’s authority. We are delivered from Satan’s authority by the atonement. If we are unfaithful to the Lord, the glory of God leaves God’s ostensible people, because they are lukewarm; and they are handed over to Satan. This is not all; even the godly, when erring, when stubborn, proud, or self-willed, can be briefly given over to the authority of Satan. Our Lord obviously loved Simon Peter; yet he tells him, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Now we cannot say that Peter was not yet converted, because the point here—the use of the word “converted”—means that you come back to a true perspective, because our Lord says that “I’m praying that your faith does not fail.” He was obviously a man of faith, a converted man; but he was given over to Satan’s authority legitimately, because he had gotten out of line; he was trusting in his power, in the strength of his character, and unwilling to see his weaknesses. [00:26:41]
We cannot escape authority. We are either under the Lord’s, or Satan’s, authority. The world of our day is very much under authority, but under the wrong kind. Formal correctness has its place, but not as a substitute for faithfulness. The great statement by Micah, in Micah 6:6-8, “Wherefore shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed thee, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Notice what it is that Micah caricatures—formal correctness. Sacrifices of rams and lambs and oil were legitimate; but a desire for formal correctness always overdoes everything. So he exaggerates it with “thousands of rams”, or “ten thousands of rivers of oil.” Those who have a formal correctness, only, are very much given to overdoing their formal correctness, their formality, because they have nothing of substance behind it. Then Micah caricatures it further: since it is their doing, their formality, let them sacrifice their children; nothing they do will please God. And he says this formalism is what marks Molech worship; it is an externalism and nothing more: “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” [00:29:26]
How do we obey authority? The Lord has written, “He who has a key has authority.” But all too many Protestants and Catholics, alike, begin with a conclusion, and then reason backwards; and this is wrong. Formal correctness is not enough. Baptism can be performed properly. For example, infant baptism: it can be done according to the Trinitarian formula; it can be done in a church that has all the marks of a true church; but what if it is not accompanied by a belief in Christian nurture and Christian education, where all the things involved in the baptismal vow are disregarded. What meaning does baptism then have in that church, or communion? Now in the second volume of Institutes, I dealt with the relationship, one known from Old Testament times, between communion and community. How can there be true communion where there is no community? You see, the Christian is not the end of the line for grace, but a generating point for action: “to whom much is given, of him much is expected,” and the life of application is not a life of delegation. So, religiosity cannot be substituted for faithfulness. [00:31:26]
The marks of a true church can mark many a sleeping...
The marks of a true church can mark many a sleeping or dead church. For that matter, what are the marks of a true state? The USA, the USSR, Switzerland, the Vatican, San Marino, Mexico, Libya, Lichtenstein, Canada, Red China, Cuba, and others all call themselves true states; which is a true state? According to the dictionary definition, they all are. According to a formal definition, they all are. The dictionary defines a man as a human being, or an adult male of the human species, but it doesn’t say that there’s a difference between a dead man and a living man. Definitions don’t cover that fact.
The marks of a valid church are good and necessary marks, but does a dead church have any authority? For that matter, can a dead and buried husband control a living wife legitimately; or a dead, not yet buried, husband: can he control his wife legitimately? Our Lord says, “By their fruits shall ye know them.” More is meant by “good fruits” than being merely alive and breathing. Satan has God-given authority. When we are indifferent to God’s authority, when we do not bear fruit unto God, we pass under Satan’s authority. Our Lord says in John 15:1-2, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” The castaway branch may be formally correct, but it bears no fruit. We cannot define our faith in terms of our neighbor; or our church in terms of another church, as did the Pharisee praying in the temple, “I thank Thee, God, that I am not like unto thee.” We cannot have a humanistic definition; our standard must be the Lord’s, and He requires a living faith and the fruits of faith. Thus, our fruits, our works, will clearly manifest the authority in which we live and move and have our being. We are always under authority; but whose authority? [00:34:46]
Let us pray. O Lord our God, Thou hast translated us from the authority of the powers of darkness to the authority of Thy Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. May this ever excel us in His service, ever fruitful unto Him, that we may not be transferred, as individuals, as churches, and as nations, back to the authority of darkness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Are there any questions about our lesson? No questions?
Well, let us our heads now in prayer. And now go in peace; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost bless you and keep you, guide and protect you, this day and always. Amen. [00:36:16]