Spiritual Authority … To Appeal or Command?

On either side of the equation, spiritual authority is not an easy thing. Submitting to authority requires humility alien to our prideful hearts. And using authority well requires a selflessness equally alien. For parents and and husbands and elders, for people given spiritual authority over others, what do we do with that authority?

…though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you…
Philemon 8-9

Rehoboam may be the best example of the worst use of authority in Scripture (see 1 Kings 12). Ascending to the throne after his father Solomon, he had to ponder (like all leaders) what type of leader he was going to be. Authoritarian? Gentle and winsome? He had two sets of counselors pulling him in two directions. The first set – those who had served Solomon’s great building projects with their blood, sweat and tears – urged him toward gentleness and kindness. The second set – Rehoboam’s hotheaded peers – urged him toward greater control, reigning through authority and fear. He chose the second and the nation of Israel was immediately split in two. There are times for kings and leaders to command; but there are also times to not command.

Next to Jesus, Paul may be the Bible’s best example of how to handle spiritual authority with wisdom and care. No one could accuse Paul of being weak, timid or unwilling to say hard things. But rather than writing letters filled with orders and commands (which his apostolic authority gave him the right to do), he wrote letters filled with sound arguments, passionate care, and a Jesus-centered winsomeness. The verse quoted above is a perfect example. In writing to his friend Philemon, Paul had the apostolic authority to order the release of Onesimus from slavery. But for “love’s sake,” he chose the path of appeal.

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Source: Church Leaders