Recognizing and obeying those in authority brings security and order to a family, church, workplace, or society. Each person looks to the leader for direction and accountability, and the leader provides guidance for working through questions or problems that arise. The one in charge is ultimately responsible for the activities and productivity of the group.
The Source of All Power and Authority
By virtue of Who He is as Creator of all things, God is the sovereign Ruler of the universe. He has all power and all authority, and He entrusts roles of leadership and responsibility to individuals in the family, the church, the workplace, and the government. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation” (Romans 13:1–2).
A Balance of the Four Biblical Authority Structures
God has designed a balance of human authority among four areas: family, church, government, and employment. Each authority is to be accountable to the other authorities so that, if power is abused, there can be appropriate interaction between authorities. The purpose of this balance is to avoid one authority assuming greater jurisdiction than God intended and also to establish a checks-and-balances system.
Within each area of human authority, there is a specific order of responsibility. This structure does not express superiority or inferiority. Understand that each role in the order of authority is necessary for the success of the relationship.
- Family: Husband—Wife—Children
God entrusts husbands with the leadership of the family unit. A husband is to love his wife as he loves himself and as Christ loves His Bride, the Church. A wife is to submit to the leadership of her husband, coming alongside him as a helpmate—his companion and helper created perfectly to meet his needs. Parents are responsible to train their children, and children are to honor and obey their parents in the Lord. (See Ephesians 5:21–6:4 and Proverbs 6:20–21.)
- Church: Church leaders—Church members
Within the church, the leadership of pastors, elders, and teachers, under the headship of Jesus Christ, is essential for the health of the Body of Christ. Believers are to honor and respect leaders and to submit to one another and walk in humility. (See Ephesians 4:11–16, Hebrews 13:17, and I Peter 5:1–11.)
- Employment: Employers—Employees
Employers are challenged to act with equity and care as they oversee employees, patterning their behavior after God Himself, Who is their authority. Employees are responsible to serve well, doing their work wholeheartedly, as unto the Lord. (See Colossians 3:22–4:1 and I Peter 2:18.)
- Government: National leaders—Local officials—Citizens
In Scripture we are instructed to respect and obey government authorities and ordinances and to live honorably within our communities. National leaders and local officials are responsible to punish evildoers and honor those who do well. (See I Peter 2:13–17 and Romans 13:1–5.)
The Significance of Jurisdictions
Within each structure of authority, God has given set jurisdictions. These jurisdictions help us to understand our roles within the levels of responsibility. Jurisdiction is defined as “(1) the power, right, or authority to interpret and apply the law; a matter that falls within the court’s jurisdiction; . . . (2b) the power or right to exercise authority. (3) the limits or territory within which authority may be exercised” (Merriam Webster Dictionary, Est. 1828). Merriam Webster adds that jurisdiction would be the precise synonym for the “official power exercised within prescribed limits.”
In society, jurisdiction is seen in the following examples. Parents have jurisdiction over teaching, protecting, and providing for their children. In churches, pastors and elders have jurisdiction over the preaching, teaching, and shepherding of the congregation. An employer has jurisdiction over caring for his employees and ensuring they have what they need to do their jobs. An employee, while under the authority of his employer, also has jurisdiction over his individual responsibilities in the position to which he is assigned. In government, the various authorities, such as kings, presidents, governors, and mayors, have jurisdiction over their kingdoms, countries, states, and cities.
As each person fulfills the specific responsibilities that are within their jurisdiction, the result is order, clarity, and peace. (See I Timothy 2:1–2.) Each one doing his job contributes to the success of the whole. Understanding jurisdictions helps one in respecting the people in authority over particular areas. As a person realizes the concept of jurisdiction, he is better able to determine what his own responsibilities are. Transgression, confusion, or potential harm happens when someone steps from his area of jurisdiction into a jurisdiction that belongs to God or others.
The Need for All to Be under Authority
Everyone must be subject to God-ordained authorities, even the individuals who are in positions of authority themselves (see I Peter 5:5). Each one also is accountable to God for his actions, whether he is in authority over others or in a position under authority. God is not prejudiced by culture, education, position, or wealth, and He will judge each person according to His righteous standards.
Human authorities are accountable to God for how they exercise their authority. They are responsible to provide protection and direction for those under their care, to lawfully punish those who do wrong, and to praise those who do well.
Those under authority are accountable to God for their responses to authority. Since God has placed authorities over each of us, we honor Him and His own authority as we submit to those He has placed over us.
When Appeals Are Necessary
God knows that many situations will arise in which those who are under authority will need to make appeals. When a human authority fails in his duty, goes beyond his jurisdiction, or commands wrong or unlawful things to be done, those under his authority should normally appeal to that authority directly. The person can explain why he cannot violate God’s laws. If the authority rejects the appeal, or if the safety and well-being of the one making the appeal is uncertain, then the person should make his appeal to a higher human authority. Although the ultimate appeal is to God Himself, Who will judge all men according to His own righteousness, prayer for His wisdom, guidance, and blessing in the matter of appeal should be at the beginning of and throughout the appeal process. Remember that under no circumstance should a person violate God’s law. Accountability is a foundational premise on which all relationships are built. As children of God, children of earthly parents, parents of their own children, employees, employers, and citizens or leaders of communities, each one must wisely carry out his jurisdictional responsibilities, both as an instrument of authority and as one who is submitted to authority. Thus, God’s design can be implemented in a person’s relationship with Him, with his family, his community, and his nation.