How can one with specific authority from God in the lives of others (i.e., employer-employee, parent-child, elder-church member) who has been given the authority to perform specific tasks in God’s authority structure, successfully apply the law as he attempts to fulfill his responsibilities “beneath him” in the kingdom of God? How can he know that his rule will reflect the delegated, righteous rule of Jesus Christ in His kingdom and not degenerate into harsh authoritarianism on the one hand or lenient permissiveness on the other? Upon learning how one should rule–always with compassion yet firmness, never lowering the standards of God’s law yet administering it with sacrificial love—the actual doing of it seems to a self-aware ruler a very difficult if not impossible job.

Nevertheless, the natural response of the earnest Christian is to look at the task commanded by God and strive, by diligent effort, to measure up to the standard of performance demonstrated by Jesus, the perfect ruler, and laid out for us clearly in the Bible. However, that logical reaction is a prescription for failure and leads to a deadly trap, resulting in discouragement and defeat on the one hand or pride and arrogance on the other.

Who can measure up to the example of Jesus and the impossible demands of the injunctions in the New Testament? Who, in attempting to join with the Lord in His ruling responsibilities, does all things “heartily as to the Lord and not to men;” [1] who can “bless those who persecute you;” [2] who does “nothing through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind . . . esteem(s) others better than himself”? [3]

We generally read these verses and don’t really even attempt to picture ourselves actually obeying what they command! Are we to just try harder and get as close to the standard as possible, knowing that we will never be successful in measuring up? Or do we measure success by comparing our results to others around us, congratulating ourselves if we see ourselves as superior to them or berating ourselves if we are less successful? How can the one who rules approach his task with any confidence whatsoever? [4]

First, the one in authority will be genuinely successful, producing in those under his rule a desire to follow him rather than chafing under his leadership, only as he walks by faith in his own relationship with God. In other words, on a daily basis the law continues to perform its internal function of killing him, as we discussed last week, removing him from the performance ladder, and bringing him to faith. He continually embraces his own relentless, pervasive sin—his continual failure to live up to an impossible standard–repents and casts himself helplessly upon the grace of God. As he lives in this manner, then, and only then, is he ready to rule well over what is beneath him. Then, and only then, can he apply the law in its external use properly in the lives of those over whom he has been given authority.

How many of us had parents–Christian or non-Christian–who never admitted any wrong-doing themselves, employers who never showed any weakness or uncertainty or church leaders who never acknowledged any sins or problems because they felt they had to have all the answers? This brand of leadership does not elicit eager followers. Intuitively, we don’t want to follow “perfect” leaders but repentant ones—leaders who readily see and confess their own weaknesses and sins and who are quick to repent, showing us rather than telling us as their followers how to do the same.

I find myself responding to authors, speakers and other leaders who share freely their failures and weaknesses. I am eager to hear what they have to say, for I know they have experienced the work of the cross in their lives and that death will produce life for me. On the other hand, those who speak only of their successes and present a picture of being the authority on how to live (“Just watch me and I’ll show you how it’s done!”) and never let me see their besetting sins are hypocrites and are simply transferring information rather than life. I already have more information in my head than I know what to do with. I want to learn from those who bring life, the life of faith that springs from the death of failure and weakness.

When one who has been given ruling responsibilities knows he has been “forgiven much”–that he is indeed a wicked sinner in experience, not just theologically, and has embraced that sin–he will cease blaming others and excusing himself. He will know that he is saved and sanctified totally by the grace of God who has forgiven all his sin. Only then will he be able to “love much.” [5] Only when he genuinely sees the depths of the wickedness of the sin Jesus has forgiven in his own life will he experience the love that allows him to “lay down his life” for those over whom he rules, just as Jesus did and as He admonishes us to do. Unconsciously, without trying, he has now become a servant leader, sacrificing his own wishes, welfare and convenience for those under his authority.

His relationship with his family members, employees, church members, etc., mirrors God’s relationship with him. He is the initiator with his love; those under his authority respond by submitting their lives to him and willingly following his leadership. His faithful application of both law and gospel (grace) in the sphere over which he has authority has led them to want to please him, to want to do as he says, and not to chafe under his rule. His rule over others is characterized by the grace that God has shown to him. He is able to now capture the hearts of those over whom he rules so that they yield to his leadership, not because they ought to, need to and must, but because they want to!

Next week we will discuss what happens when those over whom we must rule still do not yield willingly to our authority, in spite of our best efforts to walk in repentance as servant leaders.

[1] Colossians 3:23
[2] Romans 12:14
[3] Philippians 2:3
[4] Following is but a brief summary of this very important topic. For a much fuller discussion on ruling in the family see my book The Family, God’s Weapon for Victory (Rice, WA: Sentinel Press, 2002) pp. 313-318.
[5] Luke 7:36-50

Recommended further reading:

Robert Andrews: The Family-God’s Weapon for Victory
Rousas Rushdoony: The Institutes of Biblical Law
Wilhelmus a Brakel: The Christian’s Reasonable Service