SPIRITUAL AUTHORITYPrint This Page.
Before considering the question of spiritual authority, let us read a few passages of Scripture bearing on the relationship between the workers, as they throw considerable light on our subject. "Timothy...Paul wanted this one to go forth with him" (Acts 16:1-3). "When he [Paul] had seen the vision, we immediately endeavored to go forth into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to announce the gospel to them" (Acts 16:10). "And those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as quickly as possible, they went off" (Acts 17:15). Paul "resolved to return through Macedonia. And Sopater of Berea, the son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him" (Acts 20:3-4). "We, going ahead onto the ship, set sail for Assos, from there intending to pick up Paul, for so he had arranged" (Acts 20:13). "If Timothy comes, see that he is with you without fear....Send him forward in peace that he may come to me....And concerning our brother Apollos, I urged him many times to come to you" (1 Cor. 16:10-12). "We entreated Titus" (2 Cor. 8:6). "Titus...received the entreaty....And we sent together with him the brother" (2 Cor. 8:16-18). "We sent with them our brother" (2 Cor. 8:22). "Tychicus, the beloved brother...I have sent to you" (Eph. 6:21-22). "But I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus" (Phil. 2:25). "All the things concerning me, Tychicus...will make known to you" (Col. 4:7). "Luke, the beloved physician, greets you, as well as Demas" (Col. 4:14). "And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry" (Col. 4:17). "We sent Timothy" (1 Thes. 3:1-2). "Be diligent to come to me quickly....Take Mark and bring him with you....But Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus" (2 Tim. 4:9-12). "Trophimus I left at Miletus sick. Be diligent to come before winter" (2 Tim. 4:20-21). "For this cause I left you in Crete, that you might set in order the things which I have begun that remain and appoint elders in every city, as I directed you" (Titus 1:5). "When I send Artemas to you or Tychicus, be diligent to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. Zenas the lawyer and Apollos send forward diligently that nothing may be lacking to them" (Titus 3:12-13).
The above Scriptures show us that among the workers of God dependence upon Him does not render us independent of one another. We saw that Paul left Titus in Crete to complete the work he himself had left unfinished, and that he afterwards sent Artemas and Tychicus to replace him when he instructed him to proceed to Nicopolis. On various occasions he appointed Timothy and Tychicus to do certain work, and we read that he persuaded Titus and Apollos to remain in Corinth. We observe that these workers not only learned to work in teams, but the less experienced learned to submit to the direction of the more spiritual. God's workers must learn to be left, to be sent, and to be persuaded.
It is important to recognize the difference between official and spiritual authority. In an organization all authority is official, not spiritual. In a good organization the one who holds office has both official and spiritual authority; in a bad organization the authority wielded is only official. But in any organization, no matter whether the office-bearer himself has spiritual authority or not, the authority he holds in the organization is actually only official. What is the meaning of official authority? It means that because a man holds office, therefore, he exercises authority. The authority is exercised solely on account of the office he holds. As long as the office-bearer retains his position, just so long can he exert his authority; as soon as he resigns office, his authority ceases. Such authority is altogether objective; it is not inherent in the man himself. It is connected not with the person, but merely with his position. If he holds the office of superintendent, it follows as a matter of course that he superintends affairs, no matter whether he is spiritually qualified to do so or not. If he holds the office of director, then automatically he directs, even if lack of spirituality should really disqualify him from exercising control over other lives. The life of an organization is position; it is position that determines authority.
But in divinely constituted companies of workers there is no organization. Authority is exercised among them, but such authority is spiritual, not official. It is an authority based upon spirituality, an authority which is the outcome of a deep knowledge of the Lord, and intimate fellowship with Him. Spiritual life is the source of such authority. The reason Paul could direct others was not because of his superior position, but because of his greater spirituality. If he had lost his spirituality, he would have lost his authority. In an organization those who are spiritual do not necessarily hold any office, and those who hold office are not necessarily spiritual; but in Scripture it is otherwise. There it is those who know the Lord who superintend affairs. It is those who are spiritual that direct others, and if those others are spiritual, they will recognize spiritual authority and will submit to it. In an organization its workers are obliged to obey, but in a spiritual association they are not, and from an official point of view no fault can be found with them if they do not obey. In a spiritual association there is no compulsion; direction and submission alike are on the ground of spirituality.
Apart from the question of spiritual authority there is also the question of different ministries. All servants of the Lord are in the ministry, and each has his own special ministry. In an organization, positions are allotted by man, but in spiritual work ministries are appointed by the Lord. Because of difference of ministry, we must on the one hand obey the Lord, and on the other we must obey the brethren. Such obedience is not on the ground of their superior position, but because their ministry differs from ours, and yet both are intimately related. If the head is moving the tips of my fingers, the muscles of my arms cannot take an independent attitude and refuse to move with them. The principle of being in one Body necessitates the closely related members to move with one another. In moving with the other members, we are not really obeying them; we are obeying the Head. In many things we can claim a direct guidance from the Head, but in just as many things the Head moves others and we simply move with them. Their movement is reason enough for us to fall in. It is most important to recognize this relatedness of various ministries in the Body of Christ. We have to know our ministry and to recognize the ministry of others, so that we can move as one obeying those who have a greater ministry. Since our ministry is interrelated in such a way, we dare not take an individual or independent attitude.
All positions held by God's ministers are spiritual, not official. Alas! men have only seen half the truth, so they try to organize the work and appoint a director to superintend the service of others, but their directing is based upon their position in the organization, not upon their position in the ministry. The reason Paul could direct others was that the ministry committed to him by the Lord put him in a position of authority over them; and the reason Titus, Timothy, and Tychicus could submit to being directed was that the ministry committed to them by the Lord put them in a position under his authority. Unfortunately, the directing of today is based upon neither depth of spirituality nor greatness of ministry.
Timothy was a man of God. He lived close to the Lord, obeying and serving Him faithfully; yet many a time he was sent here or there by Paul. He did not say, Do you think I am incapable of working by myself? Do you think I do not know how to preach the gospel and how to found churches? Do you think I do not know how to go about things? Although Timothy knew a lot, he was willing to obey Paul. In spiritual work there is such a thing as being directed by others; there is the position of a Paul, and there is also the position of a Timothy, but these are spiritual, not official, positions.
Today we must learn on the one hand to maintain a right relationship with our fellow workers, and on the other hand to be guided by the Holy Spirit. We must maintain both relationships and also maintain the balance between the two. In the first and second Epistles to Timothy there are many passages which illustrate how fellow workers should cooperate, and how a younger worker should submit to an older one. A young Timothy ought to obey the commands of the Holy Spirit, but he ought also to receive the instructions of an elderly Paul. Timothy was sent out by Paul, Timothy was left by Paul at Ephesus, and Timothy obeyed Paul in the Lord. Here is an example for young servants of God. It is most important in His work to learn how to be led by the Spirit and how, at the same time, to cooperate with our fellow workers. The responsibility must not be wholly upon Timothy; neither must it rest wholly upon Paul. In the work Timothy must learn to fit in with Paul, and Paul must also learn to fit in with Timothy. Not only must the younger learn to submit to the instructions of the elder, but the elder must learn how to instruct the younger. The one who is in a position to leave, send, or persuade must learn not to follow the dictates of his own nature, acting according to personal inclination or desire, for in that case he will make it difficult for those under his authority. Paul must direct Timothy in such a way that he will not find it hard to obey both the Holy Spirit and the apostle.
God's servants must work together in companies, but there is a kind of co-working which is to be avoided, that is, co-working in a man-made organization which restricts its members so that they cannot really respond to the leading of the Spirit. When workers are entirely subject to the direction of men, then their work is not the outcome of a spiritual burden placed on them by God, but merely the doing of a piece of work in response to the dictates of those holding higher positions than they. The trouble today is that men are taking the place of the Holy Spirit, and the will of men in official position is taking the place of the will of God. Workers have no direct knowledge of the divine will, but simply do the will of those in authority over them, without bearing any personal burden from the Lord for His work.
There are others again who know the mind of God, have a call from Him, and depend entirely upon Him for the meeting of all their needs; but while they know what it is to be led of Him individually, they fancy they can just go their own way and do their own work in independence of others.
The teaching of God's Word is that, on the one hand, human organizations must not control the servants of God; on the other hand, His servants must learn to submit to a spiritual authority which is based on the difference of ministry. There is no organized cooperation, yet there is a spiritual fellowship and a spiritual oneness. Individualism and human organization alike are out of line with the will of God. We should seek to know His will, not independently, but in conjunction with the other ministering members of the Body. The call of Paul and Barnabas was on this principle. It was not a case of two prophets and teachers only, but of five, waiting upon God to know His will. Acts 13 gives us a good example of a working company, all the workers being mutually related, and the guidance of one confirmed by the others.
THE SPHERE OF THE WORK
The sphere of the work, unlike the sphere of the local church, is very wide. Some of the workers are sent to Ephesus, some go to Paul at Nicopolis, some stay on in Corinth, some are left in Miletus, some remain in Crete, some return to Thessalonica, and others go on to Galatia. Such is the work! We see here not the movements of the local church but of the work, for the movements of the local church are always confined to one locality. Ephesus only manages the affairs of Ephesus, and Rome the affairs of Rome. The church confines herself to matters in her own locality. There is no need for the church in Ephesus to send a man to Corinth, or for the church in Corinth to leave a man in Rome. The church here is local, the work extra-local. Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome are all the concern of the workers. The church only manages the affairs in any given locality, but the workers of God regard as their "parish" the sphere which the Lord has measured out to them.