Authority and Responsibility
© C. O. Bishop 2/2/2019
Colossians 4:1 (comparing Colossians 3:18-25 and others)
1Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.
In my opinion, this verse is actually part of the previous passage (Colossians 3:18-25): The chapter divisions were not put in place until about 1,300 years after the letters were written, and there is no evidence that the chapter and verse divisions are divinely inspired, though they are very handy as points of reference. It seems to me that this verse belongs with the previous chapter, as it simply completes the train of thought begun there. (The next verse completely changes the subject and the context.)
Authority and Responsibility
The pattern of submission to authority (and the responsibility that goes with authority) was being laid out, and, as fathers were given the responsibility to respond well to the needs of their children, the masters (we could read “employers”, in today’s world) are responsible to God, that they treat their employees well, and equally. There is not to be harsh treatment, nor favoritism. An employer is to remember that he is under the hand of God, and will be held accountable for his actions toward his employees.
Bear in mind that, in the culture and time where this was written, slavery was still rampant. Indeed, we, in Western civilization, seem to think that slavery was eradicated 150 years ago. Nothing could be further from the truth. Within Africa and Asia, in many places, slavery not only continues, but has increased, to the extent that we are now told that there are more slaves in the world than at any time in history. This is sad, but true.
We seem to be more concerned about the wrongs of 150-200 years ago than we are about those that are happening at this very moment. Perhaps we need to change our focus: If someone were drowning in a pool, right in front of us, we would not scoff and say “That’s nothing! Over a thousand people drowned in the sinking of the Titanic!” We would focus on the need at hand. We need to do that in terms of social injustices as well. We can’t undo history, nor should we deny it; but we can try to correct our current faults.
I think it would be proper to use this principle, of the responsibility of authority, to temper the “authority” aspect of relationships across the board. Yes, it is specifically referring to master/slave relations, or, in today’s world, employer/employee relations… but, notice that God had already hinted about the mutuality of such relationships, in commanding that fathers not “provoke” their children to wrath, or “exasperate” them, as some translations handle the passage. Doesn’t it follow that all such relationships carry an aspect of mutual responsibility? I think it probably does.
Further, there is the fact that it is unreasonable (and spiritually impossible) to assign responsibility to someone who has not been given authority to make decisions. One more point: ultimately, while we can “delegate authority” we cannot delegate responsibility. I may delegate authority to someone else to do my job (child-rearing, for example), but the results were still my responsibility, and God will hold me accountable for those results.
Christ and the Church
We are told in Ephesians 5:21-33 that the husband wife relationship, specifically, is a picture of Christ and the Church. In several passages, the husband is commanded to Love his wife as Christ loves the Church. (Agape Love) He is also told that he is to treat her compassionately, and with honor…and, that, if he does not, then his prayers will be hindered. (This is an interesting connection: if I am not dealing correctly and kindly with those under my care, then God will limit how He responds to me, as well! 1st Peter 3:7) We are to extend this principle throughout our lives. There is not a “chain of command”, in the sense that one has to go through his or her supervisor to get to God; quite the opposite! God’s authority (and His care) reaches across all levels of authority, and He is accessible to all who approach Him for who He is. (Hebrews 11:6 states that it is impossible to please God without faith: those who approach Him must believe that He exists, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him diligently.)
God does not obligate Himself to answer the prayers of those who reject Him. He says that we are not His children by nature, but that we become His children through the new birth. (John 8:44; Ephesians 2:1-3; John 3:3, ff; John 1:12; 1st Peter 1:23) Finally, He also says He will not hear even His children, when we persist in rebellion and stubborn self-will (Psalm 66:18.)
But as members of the Body of Christ (as explained in 1st Corinthians 12:12, 13) we are all directly connected to the Head. His will is made clear in the scriptures, and by His Holy Spirit, and no one has to ask another person for a word from God. We are all directed to approach the throne freely and personally. Each believer is a priest, in the Body of Christ!
The Pattern of Authority and Responsibility
Parental Authority and Responsibility
The fact that Fathers are warned to not exasperate their children does not exculpate women who are abusive toward their children. If either a father or a mother (or both) are dealing harshly with their children, then they are in trouble with God. We can look to see how God deals with his children, in Psalm 103:10-14. He is tender and compassionate toward those who fear Him, recognizing our frailty, and our innate inability to function at a Godly level. Jesus clearly told his disciples that, apart from Him, they could do nothing…and He meant it literally. (John 15:5)
Civil authority is ordained by God for the good of society, and God says we are to submit ourselves to that authority. Notice again, that they are ordained by God to provide a necessary, beneficial service…and we are accountable to them, even if they are not acting in accordance with their built-in accountability to God. God will deal with them.
God lays out the responsibilities of shepherds in Ezekiel 34:1-10, as well as in Acts 20:28-31, and is quite clear that He will hold them personally accountable for either laxity or wrongdoing. He tells us to submit to their authority (Hebrews 13:17,) but also tells us to search the scriptures to evaluate whether we are being led astray. We are not to be led astray by false teachers. Very stern warning is given to this matter. (Ephesians 4:13-15; 2nd Peter 2, Galatians 1:6-9)
So, what can we get from this whole passage? For one thing, we can see the pattern of authority, submission to authority, and responsibility of those in authority. Faith tells me to believe God, that HE will be the one to hold those people accountable if they are guilty of nonfeasance or malfeasance of their duties. Many of the rulers in history, who were most wicked, were never “tried and convicted” in a human court. Some lived out a very full and evil life: others were cut short, either by God’s judgment (see the death of Herod the tetrarch, Acts 12:23), or by assassination (see the death of Sennacherib, 2nd Chronicles 32:21). But in either case, it always seems that they did not really get their “comeuppance.” That they suffered a short, possibly ugly, death, and were gone, whereas the millions who died under their reigns of terror, suffered and died without help, and they seem to remain unavenged.
Read Psalm 73:1-21: We can see that the psalmist was grieved for the same reason we are: he saw that the wicked seemed to have a great life and an easy death. He was beginning to question the value of living a Godly, temperate life, and was on the verge of becoming quite bitter, until he went into the temple, and God revealed to him that the thing that really mattered was not the short time of a man’s life on earth, but the eternal result of that life, afterward. He says (verses 17-20) that their lives have been a slippery slope leading to eternal terror, and punishment. Hell is eternal, just as Heaven is eternal. We all face eternity, one way or another.
It is easier to accept the damage we may have received through abusive authorities, whether parents, teachers, civil authorities, church rulers, or employers, if we bear in mind that God has never forgotten anything in the history of the Universe, except his deliberate forgetfulness toward the sins of those who have trusted in Him as their Savior. The pain that he suffered at the Cross was God accepting the loss and damage we caused by our sins. That is what it cost Him to provide for our forgiveness. We can either accept the loss and damages we have suffered, as we seek to imitate the savior, or… we can stay bitter. But, bitterness is sin. (Ephesians 4:31)
But if we choose to see those violators as precious souls for whom Jesus shed His blood, then it is easier to forgive them, and pray for their salvation, instead of yearning for vengeance. And if we are the one in authority, then we need to make sure we never abuse that authority.
The result should be that we lead lives characterized by the peace of God.
Lord Jesus, help us to see all those around us through Your eyes, and to see those you have placed in authority as being under your hand. Teach us to extend Grace to all around us, whether they seem to be a blessing or a curse to us. Let us lead others to Your Cross, and salvation.