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Friday, February 07, 2014

Insufficient Authority

This is not a subject I write about easily, but it’s one to which I believe many Christians can relate.

Giant, massive disclaimer: By what I’m about to say, I am not in any way judging or condemning the efforts of serious Christian parents or spouses I know or know about. Still less would I pass any judgement on the parenting and relationship efforts of Christians in circumstances I don’t fully understand.

I am constantly astounded at my own inability to accurately size up other people’s business. What regularly throws me for a loop are these little factoids that pop up in conversation that make you completely reverse your previous set-in-concrete assessment of someone you know, like “Did you know she has a brain tumor?” (No, really, I’m not making this up.)

But since I have very little idea who reads these thoughts other than immediate family members, believe me: I have no particular axe to grind and no particular family situations in mind.

I’m just thinking here.

We know that the Lord taught quite explicitly that choosing to follow him would, for some of his disciples, drive wedges into families that had previously been close. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” the Lord said, and added “a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

Paul spoke about the inability of a Christian in an unequal yoke situation to know how it is going to turn out: “Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?”

That’s it, we don’t know. We can’t know.

While we can be 100% sure that our prayers are being heard (assuming the conditions under which the Lord “hears” prayers from his children are being met in our lives), we cannot be at all certain how our children or partners will respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in convicting them of sin, righteousness and judgement. 

Unless we’re hardened (sorry, “ardent”) Calvinists, we have to concede that at some point, it’s their call.

So when we look at our children or our partners that are not going on for the Lord, or not the least bit interested in the things that mean the most to us, there may be an impulse to think (with great sadness, of course) “Well, we did the best we could, but he/she is an adult and responsible for his/her own decisions and ‘a person’s enemies will be those of his own household’.” As if it’s the gospel that accounts for any differences between us.

And that may certainly be the case, assuming we really did the “best we could”.

But I wonder if there isn’t another factor to consider.

Years ago an older Christian friend was leading a Bible study and I happened to be present. This was his text:
“But the centurion said, ‘Lord, I am not worthy for you to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, “Go!” and he goes, and to another, “Come!” and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this!” and he does it.’ Now when Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who were following, ‘Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel …’ ” (Matthew 8:8-10)
Then my friend coughed up a one-liner that stopped me cold. He said, “You see, you have to be under authority to have authority”.

Well, duh. That should’ve been obvious. I’d just never seen it before.

The Lord commended the great faith of the centurion because he had grasped something about the Lord that the Pharisees and religious teachers of Israel, with all their education in the Mosaic Law, had entirely missed.

He understood that the Lord was here on this earth as a “man under authority”.

This is what the Lord Jesus claimed over and over again, isn’t it? He said, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me”. He said, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me”. And again, “… the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise”. 

And of course, being a “man under authority”, he was granted authority: “… [God] has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man”, and “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”.

You see, you have to be under authority to exercise authority.

It was even true of the Lord Jesus Christ. Try getting your head around that.

When I don’t see the results of persistent prayer in the lives of the family members I love, there is the possibility, of course, that it is the natural outcome of the divisive nature of the gospel and the consequence of free will, or the loved one’s innate sinful nature.

But maybe, just maybe, is it possible that I lack authority in prayer or family leadership because I decline, in some area of my life, to put myself fully under the Lord’s authority?

Have you ever encountered a wife who genuinely desires the salvation of her husband but just can’t seem to give up managing him? A father who loves his children but indulges habits that make him inconsistent and perhaps give the appearance of hypocrisy? A mother who can’t stop screeching at, or nagging, her unsaved children though she loves them dearly? A husband who …

You get my drift. These are people not fully under authority.

Might one of them be me?

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