I often hear of protests and riots after a leader has made a decision. Even in the church sometimes people complain constantly if they dislike their spiritual leaders. I believe this lack of submission to authority in our culture is causing a lot more problems than we realize. No one is perfect, yet somehow we expect our leaders to be. Yes, they should be held to a higher standard, because of their positions. But they should also be given a measure of grace—especially from Christians. Let’s consider these verses more as we think about our society and how well we personally do at submitting to authority.
- Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submitto them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”
- Ephesians 5:21 says we are to “…be subject to one another in thefear of Christ.”
- Under that same Ephesians 5:21 command, Ephesians 6:5-9 further explains, “Slaves, be obedient to those who are yourmasters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.”
The Bible says we as Christians are to submit to our leaders. Submission can be misconstrued in today’s society. So what does that mean to submit to a leader? Well, it never means to sin for them or with them—even if they ask us to. Submission to authority also does not mean enduring abuse. Even this submission to authority has its boundaries. It also does not mean we are not allowed to voice our opinions if we disagree with something. Overall, with today’s understanding of words, I believe the words “respect” and “trust” are a few good descriptors of this word submission. Yes, we should “obey” our leaders as much as possible—especially regarding the law. Obviously, even when the law conflicts with the laws of God, we are to still respect our leaders, but we can respectfully ask to be exempt if this occurs.
Before we move on to some examples, consider the verses above. The passage in Ephesians 6 is speaking of slaves and masters. A problem occurred at that time because both slaves and masters were being saved and attending church together. Then the masters were treating their slaves at church as if they were at “work.” Yet the slaves were probably responding disrespectfully because the masters were out of line. Do not imagine slavery in this passage as we know of American slavery. From my understanding, it was more of a worker/boss relationship. People hired themselves out as slaves for various reasons. Or it might be easier to imagine it as a field worker or laborer versus someone in chains without any rights at all. (Obviously some slaves at that time were probably treated worse than others.) However, in looking at this passage from today’s perspective, it’s a safe analogy to view the slaves as workers and the masters as bosses. It’s the same idea.
So how should we respond to our leaders today?
- We should assume the best in those in authority.
For instance, we should assume when they make decisions that they have considered all the options and made the best decision. Before being quick to be critical, we should think, “I’m sure they know what they’re doing, even if I disagree with the decision. If I were in their position and knew what they knew, I might have chosen that way too.” If we have a knee-jerk response, it should be something like this, assuming the best in them first.
- We should respect their position.
This means realizing the stress and/or responsibilities that they face. Ultimately, they answer to God as those in authority over us. We too answer to God in how well we respect and submit to them in their authority. For example, we might think something like, “I wonder why he was short with me? He must be stressed. Maybe the last thing he needs is to be confronted about something this trivial, but instead needs encouragement and to be shown grace! Instead of getting upset about this, I wonder how I can encourage him…”
- If we disagree with something they have done, we should pray about it before acting out!
If I am troubled by something I see in someone in authority, after praying about it, I usually feel the Lord confirm to me that I am not the person to deal with the issue—or at least not now. It’s OK to disagree and it’s always appropriate to take that concern to the Lord. It’s not right to go blab or gossip about why you know more than a certain leader to a zillion other people about it before taking it to the Lord. This just spreads dissention and it allows a root of bitterness to grow in our hearts toward that person. Not only that, this kind of action goes against what Ephesians 6:5-6 says about us being obedient to those in authority, “…in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” In other words, even though outwardly we may be “obeying,” if we do it with a bad attitude in our hearts, God sees and is displeased. Ultimately, we obey our leaders as unto the Lord, not men.
- If even after much prayer, you feel the Lord leading you to be the one anointed to approach this person in authority, we should still do it while assuming the best in them and with much respect.
Esther gives us a great example of this in her book. She approaches the king with her request and multiple times says “If it pleases the king…” (Esther 5:4, 5:8, 7:3, 8:5, 9:13). She constantly kept his concerns ahead of her own, but also respectfully honored his position in her approach!
Today that might look like us saying something along the lines of, “I was wondering if it’d be OK, if I could hear the reasoning behind why we chose this option.” Or if you’re deeply concerned about an issue, something like, “I’m concerned about how this decision is going to affect…would you mind explaining that aspect of the decision to me?” Even both of those examples might be too forward and if asked at the wrong time or in the wrong way, can come across as extremely disrespectful. Be sure to also pray about how to approach the person in authority in a respectful way.
Something happened when someone in authority did something that bothered me. After praying about it, I felt the Lord let me know I was not to be the one to do anything about it. Instead, I felt the Lord lead me to write a thank you note to someone else in authority who did something I really did appreciate. God let me know that that would be much more worth my time, so that’s what I did.
Another time, someone in authority at my church did something that I was particularly bothered by. It was not a matter of sin necessarily, but I felt it was especially insensitive to a certain group. After praying about it and journaling about it, I felt the Lord tell me, “not you, not now.” Like, I was not to be the person to bring that up at that time. So I left it there, trusting the Lord to handle it. A couple months later, I was filling out a type of questionnaire our church had asked all of its’ members to fill out. One open ended question on it asked specifically something like, “Is there anything you’re bothered by?” I bowed my head and prayed. I felt it would be dishonest if I did not mention the thing that had bothered me earlier. I prayed about how to say it, and wrote in the survey as respectfully as possible what I thought and what my concerns were.
Low and behold, a few months after that, I was having a meeting with someone at the church about something completely unrelated. He brought up that he was the person who read through all the survey answers. He also mentioned how he had been the person who made that decision that bothered me so. My heart sunk, but yet I had obeyed the Lord! He explained why they had made the decision they did and asked my opinion on how a similar issue had been dealt with more recently. I told him my opinion, but also remember saying at some point, “I trust our church’s leadership.” He also asked if I had heard concerns from anyone from that particular group of people I felt might have been hurt. I said I had not, and confessed that it might not be as big of a deal as I perceived it to be, but that he should ask someone from that group how they perceived the decision at the time.
Often I think our disagreements are not heard because we go about protesting in a disrespectful way. I have often struggled (especially in my heart) with submission to authority—but it’s something the Lord has worked with me on greatly! I feel this is a good example of how following the Lord with our concerns honors Him and those He put in authority over us. We’re not to blindly submit. We are to use our minds. But submission does not always have to mean agreeing. We are to do our part of submitting to authority as they do their part to honor the Lord in leading us.