Proverbs week 4: Authority


Advice to those in positions of authority


Love and faithfulness keep a king safe; through love his throne is made secure. - 20:28

A large population is a king's glory, but without subjects a prince is ruined. - 14:28

The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases. - 21:1

When a king sits on his throne to judge, he winnows out all evil with his eyes. - 20:8

The lips of a king speak as an oracle, and his mouth should not betray justice. Honest scales and balances are from the LORD; all the weights in the bag are of his making.  Kings detest wrongdoing, for a throne is established through righteousness. Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth.- 16:10-13

These are more proverbs of Solomon, copied by the men of Hezekiah king of Judah: It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings. As the heavens are high and the earth is deep, so the hearts of kings are unsearchable. Remove the dross from the silver, and out comes material for [a] the silversmith; remove the wicked from the king's presence, and his throne will be established through righteousness. - 25:1-6

When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a man of understanding and knowledge maintains order. A ruler [a] who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops. - 28:2-3

It is not for kings, O Lemuel—  not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. - 31:4-5


Advice to those under authority


Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law resist them. - 28:4

remove the wicked from the king's presence, and his throne will be established through righteousness. - 25:5

A king's wrath is a messenger of death, but a wise man will appease it. When a king's face brightens, it means life; his favor is like a rain cloud in spring. - 16:14-15

A king's wrath is like the roar of a lion; he who angers him forfeits his life. - 20:2

A king's rage is like the roar of a lion, but his favor is like dew on the grass. - 19:12

When you sit to dine with a ruler, note well what [a] is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony. Do not crave his delicacies, for that food is deceptive. 23:1-3

Fear the LORD and the king, my son, and do not join with the rebellious, for those two will send sudden destruction upon them, and who knows what calamities they can bring? 24:21-22

Do not exalt yourself in the king's presence, and do not claim a place among great men; it is better for him to say to you, "Come up here," than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman. – 25:6-7


New Testament passages on authority


Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. - Rom. 13:1-7


Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.  Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. - 1 Pet. 2:13-16


Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." Acts 4:18-20


Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood." Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men!" - Acts 5:27-32


They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. - Acts 5:40-42


When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. - Mat. 7:28-29


"For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man." - Jn 5:26-27


"which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." - Eph. 1:20-22



Wisdom for kings


The king's position and security depend on the well-being of his subjects (20:28, 14:28). 

The king's position and security depend on his justice, honesty, and administration of righteousness (16:10-13,25:4-5,28:3).

A king should protect the poor (28:3, 31:5)

The king should be wise (16:10, 25:2)


Wisdom for subjects


Seek the king's pleasure (16:15, 19:12, 25:6-7).  For your own sake!  His pleasure means honor and blessing.

Fear the king's wrath (16:14, 20:2, 19:12, 24:21-22).  For your own sake!  His anger means death

Watch yourself in the king's presence (23:1-3, 25:6-8).  The king's approval should be your greatest concern.  Do not exalt yourself or indulge yourself.


Discussion question: what is the role of a king?


The king represented God to the people.  Note that the king was not God to the people; he only represented God.  In fact, the history of the kings of Israel show very clearly how hopelessly short of this calling most of the kings fell.  God forsaw this problem and warned the Israelites very clearly what a failure a human king would be (1 Sam. 8:11-18).  Nonetheless, ideally the king had a very exalted role among the people.  Consider the language of the second set of proverbs.  Similar language is being used of obedience to the king and obedience to wisdom.  Even more clear is the parallel in 24:21-22.  Clearly, the king is not God, but he stands in the place of God to administer God's justice on earth. 

How should the king administer his role?  With the knowledge that he has a Master in heaven to whom he will have to answer (Eph. 6:9).  God gives very explicit instructions to the kings (Deut. 17:16-20) to submit to God's law and not to Lord their position over their fellow Israelites.


Discussion question: How should the people respond to the king? 


With obedience and honor.  Certainly with obedience, since the king wield's God's authority.  But similarly, with honor since God has given him that authority (see Psalm 2).


Authority in the New Testament


Discussion question: As Christians, how do we relate to political authority?


Essentially, in a very similar way to the ancient Israelites.

1.  Respect.  All authority, even secular political authority, has been ordained by God and therefore deserves our respect.  We should not look to the ruler and his qualifications, but look to his office.

2.  Obedience.  Paul links rebelling against authority to rebelling against God (Rom 13:2).  There is some subtelty here, but this is the general principle.  If we rebel against authority, we will rightly face consequences.

3.  Fear.  God has given the government authority to punish wrongdoing.  Christians should not expect themselves to be exempt (or really even want to be exempt!).  Political law is put in place to restrain our wickedness and to encourage goodness.

4.  Honor.  Again, because of they remind us of God's authority, human authority figures should be honored.  Yes, they are only human beings and no we should not ever give them our ultimate allegiance.  But we should honor the very fact that they have authority similiar in quality (if not in magnitude) to God's authority.


Discussion question: Are there exceptions?  What about rulers who abuse authority to do evil and oppress others?


Are there exceptions?  Sort of.  If obedience to human authority directly conflicts with obedience to God, then we must obey God.  Why do I say sort of?  Because we need to understand that God has commanded us to obey human authority.  In other words, we usually obey the king because we are obeying God.  We disobey the kind only because we are obeying God.  We are not really making a choice to disobey the king, but rather to obey God.  The king's authority is real, but it is derivative.  When his derivative authority conflicts with God's real authority, there is no question of our allegiance.  Although this condition might seem like it makes things very murky, I think it might be helpful for us (as Americans with an inborn streak of independence) to be cautious about disobeying political authority.  In general, the biblical examples of disobeying secular authority (Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, John and Peter) were surprising.  They certainly disobeyed the political authority, but they never called for uprising or revolt, nor did they even insult the rulers.  With respect for the position, they simply affirmed their obedience to God and accepted the consequences.  So how do we discern the right path to take?  I really don't know.  Any ideas?


Discussion question: How do we deal with a world in which authority is often corrupted?  And in which power is so corrupting?


1.  Recognize that all authority is ultimately God's, and we will all have to give an account of how we have used or abused whatever authority we have (Lk. 12:42-48). 

2.  Recognize that ultimately, Christ has all authority in heaven and earth.  No matter how it looks like evil has triumphed, it will be thrown down in the end.  All things are now under the sovereignty of Christ.  All of the shadows of authority that were so perversely corrupted in the Old Testament and in our present world merely point to the true King, who speaks as an oracle, whose mouth does not betray justice, who detests wrongdoing and loves righteousness, who cares for the oppressed, and through whose love his thrown is kept secure.  Therefore "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him." - Psalm 2:12


Discussion question: what wrong ideas make it difficult for us to obey or delight in a biblical conception of authority?


Discussion question: how can we apply this lesson if we are in positions of authority (as we all are)?


Discussion question: how can we apply this lesson if we are under authority (as we all are)?