So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. -1 Peter 5:1-3
My wife and I just welcomed our second child into the world. We decided to name her Hazel James after trying out a different name for about thirty minutes. There is something odd about telling people the name of a newborn child. Part of you almost feels like you are lying, like the “power” vested to parents in the right to name the child is almost too much to fathom. I recall a similar feeling the first few weeks as a newlywed introducing Hannah as “my wife.” The reality was almost too much to handle and the new title (from which I vowed to only be released by death) was too lofty to grasp.
The best I can come to terms with these feelings is to explore the tension between being under authority and also in authority.
In Luke 7 Jesus heals the servant of a high ranking soldier. Despite having around 100 soldiers under his authority, humbly, he refers to himself as “a man under authority” (Lk. 7:8). He also recognizes a similar quality in Jesus, who despite exercising His authority over both disease and death in this narrative, is in complete submission to His Father. Jesus is so impressed with the faith of this gentile man that He marvels. Amazingly, the only other time Jesus is said to marvel in the Gospels is at the unbelief of Israel (Mark 6:6).
Authority is a fickle and dangerous thing. Easy to corrupt. We know little else about this soldier, but we get a glimpse into a man who wields authority well. His soldiers respect him, they do as he asks (if his word in the text is to be believed). Additionally, he cares for the well being of his servants. After all, he is asking Jesus to heal one of them. Finally, he is cautious about approaching Jesus, respectful of His time and faith (not approaching Him directly as one outside the faith).
How do you wield the authority entrusted to you? You may babysit for a toddler once a week or be the president of a fortune 500, but how do you steward over those God has put under you in authority? Do you recognize yourself as one under the authority of God and hence use your authority over others humbly and gently?
That’s what this centurion did and it made Jesus marvel. That’s what Jesus did and it pleased God. As God in the flesh He was given all authority on heaven and earth, yet, He submitted to the Father’s will. God also charges the leaders in His Church to do the same by not “domineering” over those in their charge (1 Pet. 5:3). The authority vested to leaders is a fragile one, we utilize it cautiously recognizing that ultimately it was given by God. It can also be taken away and we are tragically reminded of this when we see megachurch pastors losing their churches.
Slowly, I adjust and get used to the responsibility of authority. I don’t feel so goofy telling people my daughter’s name even though my wife and I “just made it up.” Because authority, the power to make things happen, takes a growing into. But ultimately, it is just a small reflection into the heart of a God who loves to allow finite and fallen man the opportunity to see His glory by inviting them into His story and calling them into His mission. With His authority He sends us out:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold,I am with you always, to the end of the age.” -Matthew 28:18-20
Be careful how you wield your authority. But also, be confident. Remember He is with you in both the success and the failure.
[Photo Credit: Sean Nolan’s personal collection]