Jesus once praised a Roman centurion for his faith in Jesus’ authority: “He [Jesus] marvelled at him [the centurion], and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Luke 7:9).
The centurion had sent the elders of the Jews to ask Jesus to come and heal his servant, who was near death. Jesus agreed to go, and while He was on His way to the centurion’s house, the centurion sent friends with this message:
“Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof: Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (Luke 7:6–8).
The centurion’s role in the Roman army set him within the ranks of a chain of command. He was a man under the authority of others, and he also was responsible to give direction to those under his authority. If the centurion was given a command, he could command those under him to assist in carrying it out; with that command came the power and resources to complete the task. As everyone fulfilled their responsibilities, they would accomplish the goals of the emperor.
Because the centurion was under the authority of the emperor, he had the emperor’s authority over those under him. The centurion realized that God’s Kingdom was also structured with a chain of command—the man realized that because Jesus was under God’s authority, He had God’s authority over the spiritual realm. On this basis, the centurion knew that upon Jesus’ authoritative command—whether given in person or from a distance—the sick servant would be healed immediately. Jesus marveled at the centurion’s faith and granted his request. “And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick” (Luke 7:10).
In addition to the centurion’s understanding of the chain of command and his faith in God, his behavior demonstrated several qualities of good leadership:
1. The welfare of those under his authority should be a top priority of a good leader.
This account does not begin with a record of the centurion touting his own power but rather with an account of his love for and commitment to those under his authority: “A certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die” (Luke 7:2). The centurion’s deep concern for the welfare of his servant is reflected in the intensity of his appeal to Jesus: “When he heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant” (Luke 7:3).
The Jewish elders confirmed the centurion’s concern for those under his authority. They urged Jesus to respond to the centurion’s request, saying, “He [the centurion] was worthy for whom he should do this: For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue” (Luke 7:4–5). When an authority is sincerely concerned about the welfare of those under his care, those under his authority will more readily submit to his leadership.
2. An authority’s power should be an afterthought.
When a person in authority is primarily concerned that other people recognize his position and respect his power, he is misusing his authority. An authority should focus on his responsibilities under God and how he may honor other authorities. The centurion obviously was most concerned with procuring healing for his sick servant; he was not primarily interested in promoting himself or his authority.
3. An authority must view himself as being under authority.
The centurion did not first say that he was a man in authority, but rather, “For I also am a man set under authority” (Luke 7:8). This declaration communicates humility and expresses a sense of accountability to God and others for the use of that power.
Those in leadership should see themselves as members of a long line of individuals who are responsible for serving and protecting others. Leaders should recognize that they are under authority as well, and they will be held accountable for how they exercise their power as well as fulfill the responsibilities given to them.
The centurion understood the absolute authority of Christ. The centurion knew that the principles he had observed in the chain of command in the Roman military would be true in Christ’s Kingdom. May God grant us such faith in the unseen realities of the Kingdom of God!