October 22, 2017

Escaping the Subtle Abuse of Spiritual Authority

Luke 20:1-8 (NASB)

On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?” Jesus answered and said to them, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell Me: Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?” They reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

In the New Covenant, God resides within the people of God. “Joy is the flag flown high from the castle of my heart, for the King is in residence there.” In institutional religion, any action or teaching that disrupts the institution is deemed dangerous. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, He cleansed the Temple of money changers and then began teaching in the courtyard. Listening were religious leaders, including chief priests, scribes, and elders who asked Jesus, “By what authority… who gave you this authority?” (v. 2).

  1. Institutional religious leaders seek spiritual authority over people.
    Rather than thanking Jesus for making the sacrificial system more affordable to the people by moving out the greedy money changers, the religious leaders (who got a cut of the profits) were very angry.
    1. Authority over people means “do what I say because of who I am.”
      The most dangerous kind of authority of all is spiritual authority. Do what I say because of my special relationship with God; I’m over you spiritually. This religious authority is inbred.
    2. Those with “spiritual authority” only recognize others with the same authority.
      It’s a tight control of who’s in and who’s out. It was universally accepted among leaders in Jesus day that authoritative teaching required previous authorization. To teach with authority required some sort of ordination, called Semikhah, to the office of Rabbi. There was no ordination outside what the Sanhedrin conferred. The religious leaders knew Christ was coloring outside the lines.
    3. A telltale sign of abusive spiritual authority is the desire for a large following.
      If my desire is to rule over people, then I measure my success by how many people I rule over. “Don’t disrupt my authority.” “Do what I say or face punishment from God.” “Listen to me!”

  2. True leaders in Christ’s Kingdom see themselves as servants, not spiritual authorities.
    As Jesus makes His way to Jerusalem to die for us, a dispute arose among the disciples as to who would be the greatest. Mrs. Zebedee asked Jesus that her sons might sit by Him in the Kingdom. “The rulers of the Gentiles lord over people, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave” (Matthew 20:24-27).
    1. Servants work for the good of others – they are selfless, sacrificial and not self-seeking.
    2. Servants are content to serve and don’t strive to rule – they know themselves to be servants.
    3. Servants aren’t interested in being called leaders – they just care that people are helped.

  3. Follow Jesus’ example on how to escape the subtle dangers of spiritual authority.
    You may say, “But I like people telling me what to do spiritually!” There’s the real danger. Religious institutions mitigate against listening to the Spirit. The Institution becomes primary in your life. Jesus came into the Temple and worked for the people and spoke to the people the gospel of grace. So how did Jesus escape the subtle dangers of religious authority? It’s a process worth imitating.
    1. Jesus asked a question to the religious authorities – “I will ask you a question” (20:3). Never cease asking questions of those who seek to rule over you. Also, expect them to answer.
    2. Jesus knew from where real spiritual authority comes – “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?” (20:4). John prepared the way for the Messiah. Real authority is all about the Person and work of Jesus, not the success of the messenger. John the Baptist had been killed.
    3. Jesus continued to do and say what the people needed – “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things” (v. 8) The verb “do” is continuing action. Christ is the Head of His Church.

You can view the video for this sermon HERE.