You Can’t Follow Jesus without Submission to People

Have you ever tried to pass instructions to one person through another person? It can be a frustrating experience. Nevertheless, it happens all the time in my house. I have five teenagers, and, frankly, I don’t always feel like climbing the stairs to communicate my message. I don’t allow devices upstairs, so I can’t just send a text message. My options are two: yell or send an ambassador. I usually choose one of their siblings to deliver the message.

Occasionally, my delegate will return from delivering my message, and nothing will happen. In those instances, I ask, “Did you deliver my message?” Once they affirm that they did, I ask, “Did you tell them I’m the one who sent you?” Silence. You see, I understand something that should be patently obvious to everyone else. The command coming from one of them means nothing. One of my daughters telling my other daughter to clean her room will likely fall on deaf ears. One of my daughters telling my other daughter dad said to clean her room better invoke action.

The requirement to obey depends upon legitimate authority. I could stand outside Kroger and demand everyone pay me an entry fee. However, no one would be required to pay, and I would likely get arrested. However, if Kroger decided to charge an entry fee and post an employee outside to collect, we would have to pay to enter, even if we hated the policy. My messenger does not have inherent authority; her authority is legitimate only to the degree that it is derived from my authority as the father to my children.

Paul understands the way derived authority works. In his letters to the churches, he usually begins by reminding them that he was called by Christ to be an apostle. In 1 Corinthians, he adds weight to his instruction by reminding them that his appeal for unity came “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 10). In other words, Paul understood that he had no inherent authority to instruct the church. As Paul the man, this church did not owe him allegiance. However, as Paul the apostle, the one called and sent by the risen Christ, his instruction required obedience. At that point in history, Jesus chose to mediate his authority through specially called apostles who served as witnesses to his resurrection.

There are no apostles around today. Despite what certain charismatic TV personalities claim, the office of apostle ended when the last original witness died. No amount of money or tacky gold ornamentation or claim of miraculous acts makes someone an apostle. Jesus does not mediate his authority today through individuals who speak on his behalf in that way.

However, it would be a mistake to conclude that Jesus no longer mediates his authority today. Many today wrongly believe they exist directly under Christ with no other voices to consider. When this view prevails, decisions are made based on subjective impressions that suspiciously tend to align with the desires of the individual making the decision. Why am I doing this thing that everyone around me tells me is wrong? Well, Jesus told me its ok. And who can argue with such divine sanction? When God tells someone to do something, few are willing to stand opposed.

At this point, you would be correct to point to the Bible as the mediating source of Jesus’s authority. We can’t make Jesus endorse whatever we want because God has objectively revealed his will through his Word. The Bible brings us “God-breathed” words that are sufficient to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16). God’s Spirit indwells God’s people and works in conjunction with God’s Word to guide us into truth. If we all followed the leading of God’s Spirit in this process and not our own selfish motives, that’s all we would need.

The problem, however, is that we don’t always want to follow God’s Spirit. We’re often motivated by selfish desires. As much as we like to imagine that nothing stands between us as individuals and Jesus, that’s simply not how Jesus designed it. He still relies on derived authority. Only it’s not individual apostles anymore; it’s now the gathered community he calls the church. In Matthew 16:19 Jesus gave the authoritative keys of the kingdom of heaven to his church. In Matthew 18:18 we see the church exercising those keys by binding and loosing. The gathered church is the only institution on earth authorized to represent Jesus by keeping watch over the souls of its members.

When the church acts in obedience to Christ’s words, Jesus is there acting through it (Matthew 18:19-20). The church is the legitimate ambassador called to speak on behalf of the King. Are you willing to listen? If not, it’s not merely human beings you’re shutting out; it’s the Lord.

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