In the later years of Solomon’s reign, he made conditions for the Israelites extremely harsh. The people referred to his reign as a heavy yoke. In the period after Solomon’s death, the void in leadership resulted in a division between the people of Israel. In hopes of bettering their working condi- tions, the people wanted to have a man named Jeroboam made king instead of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. They were so fed up with Solomon’s rule, Rehoboam had to flee to the city of Shechem, afraid for his life.
Jeroboam came to Rehoboam in Shechem with a deal. “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now there- fore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you” (1 Kings 12:4). In response, Rehoboam asked for three days to seek counsel.
Initially, Rehoboam went to the older advisers who served under his father. Their advice? “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever” (1 Kings 12:7). They called Rehoboam to be a servant leader who ruled for the good of the people.
The Bible records, “But [Rehoboam] abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him” (1 Kings 12:9). When the third day came and the people of Israel came to hear Rehoboam’s answer to their request, he said, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions” (1 Kings 12:14). Rather than choose to be a servant leader, Rehoboam demanded to be served. The result? A kingdom divided and thrown into chaos for decades.
As king, Rehoboam had a responsibility to serve and lead his people well. Instead, he abused the authority given him and ruled selfishly. Rehoboam’s downfall was ultimately the result of a com- plete disregard for the true meaning of authority.
Authority equals responsibility. Those of us who are leaders have responsibility, which means we have the opportunity to respond faithfully and steward what we are given for God’s glory. We are entrusted with the blessing of authority in order to be a blessing to our people.
The most blessed man ever to walk the earth was Solomon. He appeared to have it all—wealth, wisdom, a strong military, food and drink, women, and more. But he lacked one thing: a legacy. At the end of his life, when it was time for his son Rehoboam to assume the mantle of responsibility, Rehoboam instead brought devastation to his people and his kingdom.
As leaders, we too have the power to drive an organization towards health or towards disaster.
For me, this rings strongly true when I think of my family. I want to lead my family well, and I want to leave a good legacy. At times, I am afraid I won’t be able to do this. The temptation to be like Rehoboam is strong; to place my career over my family, leading so that I am served rather than lead- ing to serve—choosing myself over my family.
Rehoboam’s life reveals a challenging truth: a single decision or indiscretion can determine your legacy. When I am tempted to sin (or do sin), it has the potential to destroy my legacy. But it also allows for the opportunity to further establish my legacy through repentance.
Thankfully, grace changes everything. My wife and kids are incredible blessings. God has trans- formed a life headed towards a terrible legacy into a life with hope for a legacy that honors Him. He’s teaching me to obey him, which is essential for impacting the future, because how we view and respond to authority will determine the legacy of our authority.
Whether it’s a founder, a chairman, a president, a CEO, an executive director, or a senior pastor, most organizations give somebody the final say. However, the majority of people exist somewhere below the top of the org chart.
So two questions arise: What does it look like to be called to a role that supports the primary leader? And, if you’re the primary leader, what does it look like to faithfully lead those entrusted to your oversight? We must be able to see ourselves as both servant and leader. Some days we’re taking out trash; other days we’re in charge of the most critical project of the year. How can we lead and serve simultaneously? How can we be good stewards of authority, and also submit to authority in a way that honors God and others?
A successful organization builds a vision that allows everyone to participate. The struggle is that we all want the glory, praise, and attention that comes from being in charge. The human craving for recognition and power is deep and unquenchable. However, there is hope that we can learn to lead and serve without being controlled by this longing. And this hope is rooted in an understanding of the biblical foundations of authority.
AUTHORITY IS GOD’S DESIGN
Like it or not, authority is God’s design. It is modeled after his own nature.
We love authority if we’re the ones who have it; we despite it if we’re under it. Ever since the Garden of Eden, humanity as a whole has been on a hell-bent quest to eschew all authority—God-given or not (Genesis 3:1-6).
I struggle with authority like everyone else. I’m selfish and want to make my own decisions. I want to be my own sovereign god. This shows up in some amusing and revealing ways.
For instance, I hate potlucks. I don’t know who cooked the food. I don’t know how clean their kitch- en is, or if they have cats (is there hair in that chocolate cake?). I can’t control it, so I eat what my family brings. Or I go for the fried chicken because it was fried. I don’t want to relax and trust oth- ers—even in something so trivial.
A potluck is just a simple example. Behind my desire to architect the perfect meal is really a heart unwilling to submit to anything that strips me of control, to authority—even a meaningless potluck.
Authority is not the problem. Our stubborn hearts are the problem. Our response to authority is rebellion, made all the more devastating because authority is actually a beautiful gift. Both authority and its corollary—submission—emanate from the core of God’s identity. To exercise authority and submission is to image God. Theologian Bruce Ware goes so far as to say, “An authority-submission structure marks the very nature of the eternal Being of the one who is three.” (Ware, Bruce A. Father, Son, & Holy Spirit).
Within the Trinity, God exercises and submits to authority with perfect joy. He invites us to do the same, while also showing us how. This means that leaders need to be both in and under authority, willing to take the lead and willing to follow. How are you resisting authority in your life? Where is submission a challenge for you?
GOD’S CHAIN OF COMMAND
There is one God, who is three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Trinity is perhaps the greatest mystery in the universe—one we can only approach, describe, and understand by faith. The Bible does not use the word “Trinity” to describe the Godhead, but Scripture clearly teaches that all three members exist in eternity (none were created) and all partici- pate in creation (Gen. 1:2 cf. Gen. 1:26 cf. John 1:1–3). They have in common the divine nature, which theologian J. Scott Horrell describes: “the generic essence, universal property, or attributes of Godness manifest equally in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Each member is equally God while remaining a distinct person with a distinct station and roles:
- The Father is God (Matt. 6:9–10; 1 Cor. 15:28; Eph. 1:3). He occupies the “position and authority, supreme among the Persons of the Godhead,” 6 for he appointed Jesus as King (Ps. 2:5–9), and he sends the Son (John 17:8) and the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). As Dr. Ware points out, God the Father is also described as our provider, protector, savior, help- er, and guide. 7 Each of these attributes outlines a position of power.
- The Son is God (John 1:1–3; 15:5; Phil. 2:9–11; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:1–2). Jesus reigns at the right hand of the Father (Heb. 12:2) as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (1 Tim. 6:15). His placement at “right hand of God” is significant because it implies that Jesus is both in and under authority. He is under the Father’s authority, but over Creation. The Bible also describes God the Son as High Priest (Heb. 8:1), Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4), the head of the Church (Eph. 5:23), and Lamb of God (John 1:29). All of these imply authority, except for the last, which refers to the submissive role of Jesus.
- The Spirit is God (Acts 5:3–4; 1 Cor. 2:10–11; Heb. 9:14). Theologian J.I. Packer sum- marizes the Spirit’s role: “The distinctive, constant, basic ministry of the Holy Spirit . . . is to mediate Christ’s presence to believers.” (J.I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit). God the Holy Spirit enables regeneration of our hard hearts (John 3:3–8) and continually sanctifies us and empowers us to be- come more like Jesus (2 Cor. 4:6). He also inspired the writing of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21). In these ways, the Spirit is under Christ’s (and therefore the Father’s) authority, but over us.
The hierarchy of God—with the Spirit submitting to the Son, the Son submitting to the Father (John 14:25–26), and the Spirit submitting to both—may seem primitive or out of place in the land of “We the people”. But the Trinity proves that perfect peace, love, equality, respect, joy, and freedom can exist within a culture of authority and submission. There is no complaining or jealousy among the Trinity, just joy-filled submission. If our Creator submits willingly within the Godhead, then I sug- gest our problem with authority is not the perceived injustice of submission, but instead our proud, unwilling hearts. In fact, submission should not be considered demeaning, but rather godly.
The next night, they took us out to the fanciest restaurant in town. It didn’t feel like it was out of grace, but more out of a desire to buy our love and avoid painful disciplinary conversation. This is just one example of how I was allowed to go unchecked in my belief that I was my own best authority. Real authority was absent from my life—so I ruled myself, because I could. It wasn’t until years later, when I became a Christian, that I saw my ungodly view of authority and how my stubborn heart cringed at submission and craved control.
This sort of baggage isn’t easily offloaded. But regardless of our upbringing and biases, we are all created in the image of this God (Gen. 1:27), who has authority over himself and also submits to himself. This means our highest purpose is to submit to our Maker, trust his Word, enjoy the grace of his rule and reign, and learn from him rather than try to usurp him.
The roles and relationships found within the Trinity serve as our only perfect example of what hu- man relationships can and should be. We must embrace God’s Trinitarian Leadership in order to wield authority as a beneficial tool and not a dangerous weapon. We must also submit to it as a sanctifying means of grace, not an oppressive yolk to be brushed off or abandoned altogether, which is equally destructive (Judges 21:25; Prov. 19:18).
AUTHORITY WITHOUT BAGGAGE
Many of us carry emotional baggage that we received at a very young age from authority figures. Sadly, more kids are raised with and influenced by their parents’ absence than they are by their parents’ presence. Maybe they never knew their father, or their parents were divorced, or their parents were too busy spending their time on “more important” things, like work or hobbies. On the other side of the spectrum, many children grew up in families filled with anger and abuse. Few of us grew up with a family that demonstrated the blessing of godly leadership.
Influenced by our sin and the sin around us, it can be difficult to understand undistorted authority or willing submission. The only way we are able to do this is through observing the Trinity. We have to pick up the baggage from our bad experiences and lay it down in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Instead of fixating on what we dislike or hate about authority, we examine their interactions and find what we can love about authority. Within the relationship of the Godhead, we can see authority marked by what it should be: humility, love, and generosity.
AUTHORITY FOR THE GLORY OF GOD
The humility, love, and generosity that flow through God’s authority are not arbitrary expressions of benevolence, or capricious acts of manipulation to win our allegiance. Instead, the authority of God magnifies the glory of God.
Self-glory is a problem in human authority, as with the leader who establishes himself as some sort of demigod. For a perfect being, however, who exists as the very definition of goodness, love, and truth, God’s glory represents the triumph of his perfect kingdom. John Piper writes, “The deepest longing of the human heart and the deepest meaning of heaven and earth are summed up in this: the glory of God. The universe was made to show it, and we were made to see it and savor it.”
Even in glorifying himself, however, the humility, love, and generosity of God are evident. The Spirit glorifies the Father and the Son, and the Son glorifies the Father. God the Father is the ultimate destination of all glory, and justifiably receives it all. Yet remarkably he shares it, by receiving the glory due him through the glory given to the Son.
All three Persons of the Trinity are filled with joy at the giving and receiving of glory from each other. Their mission is mutual glory for their own joy and the joy of mankind, not personal enrichment. They suffer no envy or jealousy. Each receives glory, and each shares it readily with the others. God is glorious.
Jamie Munson is an author and business leader. This post was excerpted with permission from his book, Authority: The Leader's Call to Serve. Check out his books, or follow him on twitter @jamiemunson, or read his articles on JamieMunson.com.