Authority is defined as the right to command to act, but it also means the right to act. A supervisor who has authority over his employees has the right to command or direct their activities. On the other end, the employee can be said to have authority to perform an activity if he has been granted the right. Really it is no different spiritually. God inherently has all authority – the right to command to act – by right of who He is. On our end, we are concerned with authority because we want to know if we have the right to act, the right to do a thing. Let us consider the idea of respect for the authority of God, starting with two cases with Moses.
“Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.’ So, as the Lord commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died.” (Numbers 15:32-36)
Here a man is brought to Moses who had violated the law of God. But what will they do with him? They put him under guard “because it had not been explained what should be done to him.” There we see the respect for God’s authority. In other words, until they knew what God’s will was in the matter, they would not act. That’s a concern with authority – the right to act. Once the Lord made clear to Moses what should be done, the congregation acted in accordance with that will of God.
In another case, some men who were defiled by the dead body of a man asked Moses and Aaron why they were kept from observing the Passover. Moses’ answer was “Stand still, that I may hear what the Lord will command concerning you” (Numbers 9:8). Again, Moses showed them and us a respect for the authority of God – His right to tell us what to do, as well as our recognition that we cannot know what to do without the word of the Lord. In this case, the Lord then spoke to Moses how that one who was unclean on the Passover may keep it the fourteenth day of the second month. Only when the Lord had spoken on the matter could Moses tell the men what to do, and only then could it be done by the authority of God.
Some would say things are different today. Whether rejecting the idea of there being any law of Christ, or suggesting it is not about what you do but “it’s all about your heart,” they would say “things have changed.” But is it still the same today? Do we too need to stand still that we may hear what the Lord wills? The New Testament answers yes. Jesus asked, “But why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). In other words, if Jesus is going to be our Lord then we will do what He says – that is, what is authorized by Him. Thus we are concerned with authority – what the Lord has said and our right to act based on that. “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). Paul says that not only what we do but what we say must be just what the Lord Jesus has authorized. If we go and say or do things that He didn’t authorize, how do we think we can say it is in His name? I recall a funeral where a thing that was done in the service, in my estimation, could not be said to be done in the name of the one being honored. Why would I say that? Because the thing done was diametrically opposed to what the sister in Christ had believed and openly professed in her life. If she had been alive, I would expect her to have said, “you’re not doing that in my name,” because it was not what she wanted.
So just like the days of Moses, in these last days where Jesus Christ is Lord, we are taught to respect divine authority. Like the days of Moses, it means that we will not presume a thing is ok to do, but we will instead seek the word of the Lord on the matter before we act.
How much of the world’s religious error would be prevented or corrected if men would stop, first ask and determine what the Lord has spoken, and then and only then act? These principles speak to all of us. We must weigh word and deed against the word of God because like Moses demonstrated and as Jesus and His apostles taught, Christians are concerned with authority – what God by inherent right has commanded men to do and therefore what man has a right to do.