Characteristics of True Spiritual Authority – Pt. 1

from "Featured Books", We’re the ‘sons of God’ . . . So What?,
Chapter 3.

spiritual authority:

1.      Submits
to authority.
All those who are legitimate godly
leaders in the church have learned to submit to authority. They first submit to
God’s authority. They obey God.
They also submit to those whom God places over them to bless their lives. We
see this in Jesus’ submission to the Father (Heb.5.8; Jn. 5.19, 30; 6.38; 8.28;
14.28, 31; 1Cor.11.3; 15.24, 27–8; Phil.2.5–8) and in his submission to the
authorities in his life.

Beware of
leaders who have difficulty submitting. Beware of leaders who themselves have
no accountability to authority. They are in a dangerous place and so are their
followers. They give the impression that the church no longer needs human
leaders and that all we need is to gather in our houses and let the Holy Spirit
be our leader. That is a half-truth. The half that’s true is that the Holy
Spirit must be our leader, but he uses people. No one in his right mind would
ever suggest that governments should not have any human leaders— let the Holy
Spirit lead. No one who has read a Bible would suggest that the family should
not have any leaders either—do away with mom and dad, let the Holy Spirit lead.
Ridiculous! God set up authority structures for the family, for the government,
and for his church. To ignore them is to ignore his plan, his

On the other hand, simply because a person
is “ordained” does not mean that he or she has been called of God. Nor does it
guarantee that the person has legitimate spiritual authority. Often ordination
committees ask a series of questions requiring theological or denominational
compliance. Or they require a certain educational credential with a willingness
to serve in certain ministry roles. For too many churches, a sense of God’s
calling on the life many not enter the process and seldom do they look at the
candidate’s character.

The church has too many self-appointed,
self-proclaimed leaders who have never been good followers or led the way in
holiness and submission to godly leadership. And the church has too many
broken-winged people ready to follow their abusive authority.

people who have been abused or wounded by someone in authority find it painful
to submit or allow God to lead through others (3 Jn. 9). This is a sad result
of the hurt and wounding in their lives, but this is not an excuse to dump
authority or to lead others astray by claiming that human leaders are no longer
necessary in the church (Tit. 2.15). Understandably, wounded people who decry
church leadership are usually responding to abusive or unbiblical leadership.
If they are willing to be honest, often and regrettably they have a leadership
horror-story or two in their pasts. Biblical leadership is both necessary and a
great blessing whether in a family or a church (Heb. 13.7, 17, 24) when its
fountain of authority is the love of God.

Is grounded in love.

At the head of the universe is a
God the Father rules from a heart of love
(Deut. 7:12 ).

God loves people intensely.
(John 3:16; 1 John 3:16–19; Lk. 6:35)

God has delegated all authority
in heaven and earth to Jesus, who has demonstrated the ultimate love toward his
Father and for people by his death for us on the cross. Jesus, the Head of the
church, proved worthy to lead by the authority of sacrificial love (John 12:49;
Matt. 28:18; Col. 1:15ff; Heb. 3:3–6; Rev. 1:5).

Jesus first commands his
followers to love, and then he delegates his authority

to his designated leaders in the church for his kingdom work in the world. As
we operate in his delegated authority, we become his human instruments to
demolish all authority that is not of God, especially abusive, anti-Christ
authority that binds and harms people (John 15:12; Eph. 2:6; 4:10ff; 5:1; Lk

An example: Scripture insists that no man
is an elder who cannot model Christ’s love to his family first. He must be
“devoted to his wife,” “manage his own family well, and see that his children
obey him with proper respect” (1 Tim. 3:2b; 4). These qualifications cannot be
met without love. Eph. 5:25–28 teaches that a husband must love his wife as
Christ loves the church. Eph. 6:4 says a father must not exasperate his
children; he cannot fulfill the qualification to see that his children obey him
with proper respect and not exasperate them, unless he demonstrates love at
home. The real test of “elder character” then is sacrificial love. And
sacrificial love is the ultimate source of an elder’s leadership influence.
This insures non-abusive leaders will maintain oversight in the congregations
of the Lord.

Leaders who love have authority. Those who
don’t love may have position but their authority is illegitimate, not godly. In
fact, the one who does not love, does not even know God (1 John 4:7–8).

Godly leadership does not demand but
appeals on the basis of love (Philem. 8–9; 2 Cor. 6:13). Paul could easily have
commanded that his will be carried out because his words were the words of God
(1 Cor. 14: 37–8). But he did not lord it over the church; he allowed for a
response based on love. He preferred to urge compliance rather than to command
it. Notice also the gentle, parental nature of godly leadership (1 Thess.
2:7–8, 11; 2 Tim. 2:24; 1 Cor. 4:14). Godly leaders are more like good fathers
and mothers than drill sergeants. The love they have for their “children” is
the basis for their authority.

3.      Serves and receives service. Jesus makes this clear in Matthew
20:25–28 cf. Jn. 13:8. The one who would serve others must allow himself to
first be served. Christ must
wash him/her and must minister healing, love, and fellowship through his people
to this would-be leader. Only then can there be true authority and authentic
leadership. The one who allows no one to get close, the leader who will not be
known, is not authentic, and this lack of authenticity eliminates true
spiritual authority. Usually this person will resort to power or authority based
on academic achievements (knowledge), role (ordination), charisma (of
personality), expertise, or otherness (being different or strange).[i]
When all that fails, out comes manipulation and finally coercion.
The servant leader’s style of leadership, on the other hand, makes people feel
good about following. They see a leader who has received a touch from God and
is also not threatened to receive love and ministry from the people he serves.
Therefore, he serves from humility and gratitude. The people see that their welfare is his ultimate
concern. He serves them with all the gifts and talents that God has given. This
does not mean that he is the church’s slave and does all the work. He is empowered
to rule, serving Christ. He is concerned with spending energy, prayer, and time
to see the body functioning as it should in its ministry to the world. One
writer says that the task of the true spiritual authority “is to serve the
church, in order that every member may be an apostle who serves the world” (1
Cor. 3:18; 4:16).[ii]
I would adjust that statement to say that a person with true spiritual
authority first is served by Christ to serve God, and then he or she can really
serve the church in order that every member may be an apostle who serves the

we have seen, authentic church authorities are appointed by God. We recognize
their right to lead as we see their examples of love—blessing and building up
those under their authority.

4.   Is willing to suffer. Every true
spiritual authority has learned that suffering is part and parcel of leadership
in the church. This leader receives more suffering at the hands of the church
often times than at the hands of the unsaved (1 Cor. 4:10–13; 2 Cor. 6:4–10;
11:23–8). Perhaps this is something of what Paul meant when he spoke of knowing
the “fellowship of His (Christ’s) suffering” (Phil. 3:10). That Christ suffered
physically is undeniable; however, one must wonder how much more he suffered
knowing that one of his own betrayed him to death and the rest of his disciples
abandoned him.

5.   Lives a life characteristic of Christ’s
(Phil. 2:5–11; 2 Cor. 6:6; 1 Jn. 2:6). No one who says, “I know Him,” but does
not walk like he walked can have authority in the church. The life of Christ
must be reflected in the one who would stand in the authority of a calling.
That life was a life of obedience, submission, and compassion.

[i] Hahn and Adams, “Authority
and Religious Authority,” 9-12.

[ii] Southard,
Pastoral Authority, 26-27.

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