God intends that man submit to representative authority
The God-established systems of authority
In the world
In the universe God is the source of all authorities. All authorities on earth are set up by Him. As such, they represent God’s authority and even possess God’s authority. God Himself has set up systems of authorities for His expression so that when man meets these authorities he will meet God Himself. When the presence of God is available, man can know God through His presence. When the presence of God is absent, man can meet God by meeting His authority. In the garden of Eden when God’s presence was there, man could know God. When God was not present, man could remind himself of God’s commandment, which was the prohibition concerning the eating of the fruit. This was another way for man to know God. It is not often that man meets God in the world. (This, of course, does not include the fact that in the church, when man lives in the spirit, he can contact God all the time.) God’s manifestation is seen most frequently in His commandments. Only the foolish vinedressers need the personal appearance of the owner of the vineyard. In reality, the servants and the owner’s son were enough to represent him (Mark 12:1-9).
Some are set up by God to give commands and to be authorities for God. All those in authority are ordained by God. Hence, all authorities that God has set up should be honored. Today God has entrusted authority to man. After entrusting man with authority, many on earth have been set up by God to manifest His authority. If we want to learn submission to God, we should know to whom the authority of God is entrusted. If we understand God’s authority as being only in Himself, it is very likely that we will offend God’s authority more than half of the time. How many people are there in whom we see God’s authority? There is no such thing as making a choice between God’s direct authority and His deputy authority. Not only do we have to submit to God’s direct authority, we must also submit to His deputy authority because there is no authority that is not from God.
Concerning earthly authority, Paul gave not only a positive word about submission, but also a negative warning that resisting authority is the same as resisting God’s personal commandment (Rom. 13:1). For man to reject God’s deputy authority is for him to reject God’s own authority. In the Bible authority bears only one nature. There is no authority that is not of God. To resist authority is to resist God. God will not overlook this. Those who oppose will receive to themselves judgment. It is impossible for us to rebel without being punished. Hence, for man to resist authority is to incur death. In the matter of authority there is no choice.
At the time of Adam, God committed governmental authority to man and charged him to rule the earth (Gen. 1:28). At that time man ruled only the animals. It was not until the time of the flood that God entrusted to Noah the governmental authority to rule over man. He said, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (9:6). From that time on, God committed to man the authority to rule over man. From the time of Noah, God began to set up governments, and He put man under governments.
In Exodus 20, after God’s people left Egypt and had come to the wilderness, the Ten Commandments were given. Following that, there were the ordinances concerning the people’s conduct. Among these ordinances, one says, “Thou shalt not…curse the ruler of thy people” (22:28). This proves that God had placed them under governmental authorities. Therefore, even in the time of Moses, we can already see that the Israelites’ resistance to authority was their resistance to God.
All of the nations on the earth have rulers. Although they do not believe in God, and although their entire kingdoms are under Satan, the principle of authority is still there, having been established by God. The kingdom of Israel was God’s kingdom. King David, of course, was set up by God. But the king of Persia was also set up by God (Isa. 45:1). When the Lord was on the earth, He likewise submitted to the government and to the authority of the high priest. This is why the Lord paid the tax and why He said that what belongs to Caesar should be rendered to Caesar. When He was judged by the high priest, who adjured Him by God, He had to obey. The Lord recognized them as earthly authorities. He never tried to stir up a revolution.
In Romans 13:4 Paul showed us that all rulers are the servants of God. At that time the government was in the hand of the Romans. Humanly speaking, there is no need to submit to foreign aggressors. But Paul did not tell us to rebel against a foreign government. Not only do we have to submit to our own nation and to our own race, we have to submit to the government wherever we are as well. I cannot disobey a local government just because I am of another nationality. The law is not a terror to the good, but to the evil. No matter how different the laws of the various nations are, they are all from the law of God. Their basic principle is still the rewarding of good and the punishing of evil. Every government has its laws, and the function of the government is to maintain and execute the laws so that the good would be rewarded and the evil would be punished. They do not bear the sword in vain. Although there are governments that uphold evil and suppress good, they must of necessity change the truth, calling the evil good and the good evil. At any rate, they cannot say that they are upholding such and such because they are evil or that they are punishing such and such because they are good. To this day all governments uphold the principle of the reward of good and the punishment of evil. This principle is irrevocable. For this reason we say that the governments still adhere to God’s principle. One day when the lawless one (the Antichrist) appears, he will overturn all authorities. That will be the end of the world. By then the good will, indeed, be taken as evil and the evil as good. The good will be killed and the evil will rule.
There are four signs of submission to authority on earth: rendering (1) tax to whom tax is due, (2) custom to whom custom is due, (3) fear to whom fear is due, and (4) honor to whom honor is due.
For a Christian, abiding by the law is not something done out of fear of punishment but out of the exercise of his conscience before God. If he does not submit, his conscience will be condemned. This is why we have to learn to submit to our local government. God’s children cannot criticize or revile the government lightly. Even the policeman on the street is a God-established authority. He is God’s officer attending constantly to this very thing. What should our attitude be when it comes to paying taxes and revenue? Do we consider our local government as God’s authority? Are we submissive to it? If man has not met authority, he cannot submit. The more you ask such a one to submit, the harder it is for him to do so. Second Peter 2:10 refers to “those who go after the flesh in the lust for defilement and despise lordship. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble while reviling dignities.” There are many whose power has been lost and whose life has drained away through reviling. Man must not fall into anarchy. The way that God deals with an unrighteous government is not our concern. Of course, when we pray for God to execute His righteousness, it is a different matter. But for us, any disobedience to authority is disobedience to God’s authority. If we are not submissive, we are actually strengthening the principle of the Antichrist. When the mystery of lawlessness operates, are we its restraints or are we its helpers?
In the family
God has established His authority in the family. Many children of God do not pay enough attention to the matter of the family. But in the Epistles, especially in Ephesians and Colossians, the two books with the highest spirituality, the matter of the family is not overlooked. In particular, they speak of submission in the family. Neglect of this matter will cause trouble in God’s service. First Timothy and Titus are books on work, but they also speak of the family, lest the family affect the work. First Peter is a book particularly on the kingdom, and in this book we see that to rebel against authority in the family is to rebel against the kingdom. When man meets authority, family problems decrease.
God establishes the husband as the deputy authority of Christ, and the wife as the representation of the church. Unless the wife sees the authority that the husband represents, the authority that God has set up, it is difficult for her to submit. She has to see that it is not a matter of her husband but a matter of God’s authority. Titus 2:5 says young women should be “subject to their own husbands, that the word of God would not be blasphemed.” First Peter 3:1 says, “In like manner, wives, be subject to your own husbands, that even if any disobey the word, they will be gained without the word through the manner of life of their wives.” Verses 5 and 6 say, “For in this manner formerly the holy women also, who hoped in God, adorned themselves, being subject to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.”
Ephesians 6:1-3 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. `Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with a promise, `That it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.'” Of the Ten Commandments, this one has special reward. When a man honors his parents, he will be blessed and live long on the earth. Many probably die early because they do not honor their parents. Some brothers are at odds with their parents. Hence, they are often sick. Not until they become obedient will they become well. Colossians 3:20 says, “Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing in the Lord.” We have to submit ourselves to our parents’ authority. This also requires that we first see God’s authority.
Servants should obey their masters, even as they obey the Lord. In their attitude they should be in fear and trembling, not being deceitful or crafty, rendering only eye-service. Whether one sees his master or not, he has to serve just the same. He should not serve only within the sphere of his master’s sight, but should rather serve according to the honesty in the heart, not as unto man, but as unto the Lord, for we serve the Lord Christ. First Timothy 6:1 says, “As many as are slaves under the yoke should regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, lest the name of God and our teaching be blasphemed.” Titus 2:9-10 says, “Exhort slaves to be subject to their own masters in all things, to be well pleasing, not contradicting, not pilfering, but showing all good faithfulness that they may adorn the teaching of our Savior God in all things.” You must first uphold the Lord’s authority yourself, and then others will uphold the Lord’s authority which is with you. When Paul and Peter said these words, they were still under the Roman Empire where slave trading was very prevalent. Whether or not the system of slavery is right is one thing, but God ordains that slaves should obey their masters.
In the church
God has His appointed authorities in the church. They are the elders who take the lead well and those who labor in word and teaching. God commands that all should submit to them. In addition, all the younger ones should submit to the older ones. First Peter 5:5 says, “In like manner, younger men, be subject to elders.” Chapter five speaks of those who are elderly in age, while 1 Corinthians 16:15 speaks of the household of Stephanas as “the firstfruits of Achaia (indicating seniority in the order of salvation), and they have set themselves to minister to the saints.” Stephanas was exceedingly humble and had set himself to minister to the saints. In verse 16 the apostle further said, “You also be subject to such ones, and to everyone co-working and laboring.”
In the church the woman also has to submit to the man. First Corinthians 11:3 says, “But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman, and God is the head of Christ.” God appointed man to be the authority as a type of Christ and the woman to submit as a type of the church. For this reason the woman should have authority on her head for the sake of the angels. Furthermore, the woman must submit to her husband. First Corinthians 14:34 says, “The women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they should be subject, even as the law also says.” If there is anything that they want to learn, they can ask their husbands at home. Some sisters may ask, “What if my husband does not know?” If God tells you to ask, just go and ask. If you keep asking, your husband will know after a period of time. Because he is being asked, he will have to seek to understand in order to answer. In this way you help yourself and you help your husband as well. First Timothy 2:11 also speaks of women learning in “quietness in all subjection.” Women are not permitted to exercise authority over a man, for Adam was formed first, then Eve (vv. 12-13).
Among God’s children, everyone should gird himself with humility and should submit one to another. Some like to pretentiously show off their position or authority. This is low and shameful.
Not only has God set up His deputy authority in the universe, He has also set up His authority in the spiritual world. Second Peter 2:10-11 says, “Especially those who go after the flesh in the lust for defilement and despise lordship. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble while reviling dignities; whereas angels, though they are greater in strength and power, do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord.” Here we have a very important matter. In the spiritual universe there are lordships and dignities, and God has put even angels under them. Although some lords and dignities failed, the angels still dare not revile them today, for these lords and dignities were once their authorities. Today, even though some lords and dignities have fallen, the other angels can only mention the facts. They cannot pass on their judgments. If they add their judgments to the facts, they are reviling. Jude 9 says, “Michael the archangel, when he contended with the devil and disputed concerning the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a reviling judgment against him but said, The Lord rebuke you.” At one time God set up Satan to be the head of the archangels. As one of the archangels, Michael was under Satan’s authority at one time. One day Moses will resurrect. Perhaps it will be on the mount of transfiguration. Michael followed God’s command to look for the body of Moses, but Satan deterred him. Michael could have countered the rebellious spirit with a rebellious spirit. He could have rebuked Satan in a flagrant way, but Michael dared not do this. He only said, “The Lord rebuke you.” (It is different with human beings. God never put human beings under Satan. We have fallen under his power; we were never put under his authority.) The same principle applies to David. Once he was under Saul, the deputy authority of God; therefore, he dared not overturn Saul’s former authority. How dignified is a deputy authority in spiritual matters! It cannot be reviled. The ones who revile will lose their spiritual power.
Once you touch authority, you will see God’s authority wherever you go. The first question you should ask is to whom you should submit and to whose word you should listen. A Christian should have two kinds of feelings: one is the feeling of sin, and the other is the feeling of authority. When two brothers are together discussing or considering ideas, both can speak. But when the time of decision comes, one makes the judgment. Acts 15 records a big conference. Everyone, whether old or young, was free to rise up to speak. Every brother could speak. Later Peter and Paul spoke. Then James made the decision. Peter and Paul gave the facts; James made the decision. There was a lining up even among the elders and apostles. Paul said that he was the least among the apostles (1 Cor. 15:9). There is even a distinction between great and small among the apostles. This is not a matter of someone lining us up. Rather, it involves knowing our proper position. This is the most beautiful testimony and the most wonderful picture. This makes Satan tremble, and this will bring down his kingdom. When we all take the way of submission, God will judge the world.
We should have confidence in submitting to the delegated authority
What a dangerous risk it is for God to set up authorities for Himself! How much He suffers if the delegated authorities He has set up wrongly represent Him! But God is confident in the authority that He establishes. It is much easier for us to be confident in submitting to representative authorities than for God to be confident in setting them up. Since God is confident in handing over authority to man, should we not be confident in submitting to man? We should be confident in submitting to the authority which God is confident in establishing. If there is a mistake, it is not our mistake. It is the mistake of the authority. The Lord says that every person should be subject to the authorities over him (Rom. 13:1). There is more difficulty on God’s part than on our part. When God trusts man, we can as well. When God is confident about His trust, we should be even more so.
Luke 9:48 says, “Whoever receives this little child because of My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” There is no problem for the Lord to represent the Father, because the Father has entrusted everything to Him. For us to believe in Him is to believe in the Father. But in the Lord’s eyes even a child can represent the Lord. The Lord can entrust Himself to a child. This is why He said that receiving a little child is to receive the Lord. In Luke 10:16 the Lord sent out the disciples and said, “He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me.” All of the disciples’ words, charges, decisions, and opinions represented the Lord. The Lord was so confident that He entrusted all authority to the disciples. Whatever they said in the Lord’s name, He acknowledged. Therefore, rejecting the disciples was the same as rejecting the Lord. The Lord could entrust Himself to them with full peace. He did not say that they should be careful in their words or that they should not blunder in speaking when they went out. The Lord was not concerned at all with what would happen if they blundered. The Lord had the faith and the courage to hand over authority to the disciples with confidence.
But the Jews were not like this. They doubted and said, “How can this be? How do I know that all you said is right? We need more considerations!” They dared not believe. They were very afraid. Suppose you are working as an executive in a corporation, and you send one out saying, “Do your best. Whatever you do I will acknowledge. When people listen to you, they are listening to me.” If this is the case, you would probably require him to send back a daily report of his work, lest there be any mistake. But the Lord can entrust us to be His representatives. What a big trust this is! Since the Lord trusts His deputy authority so much, we should trust such authority even more.
Some may say, “What happens if the authority makes mistakes?” If God dares to trust those who are entrusted as authorities, then we should dare to submit. Whether or not the authority makes mistakes has nothing to do with us. In other words, whether the deputy authority is right or wrong is a matter for which he has to be responsible directly before the Lord. Those who submit to authority need only to submit absolutely. Even if they make a mistake through submission, the Lord will not reckon that as sin. The Lord will hold the deputy authority responsible for that sin. To disobey is to rebel. For this the submitting one has to be responsible before God. For this reason there is no human element involved in submission. If we are only submitting to a person, the meaning of authority is lost. Moreover, since God has already set up His deputy authority, He must maintain this authority. Whether or not others are right is their business. Whether or not I am right is my business. Everyone has to be responsible to the Lord for himself.
Rejecting deputy authority being to reject God Himself
The whole parable in Luke 20:9-16 is on deputy authority. God leased the vineyard to the vinedresser, but He did not come to personally collect the rent. The first, second, and third time He sent His servants; the fourth time He sent His Son. All of these were His representatives. God could have come Himself, but instead He sent His representative. In God’s eyes all those who rejected His servants rejected Him. We cannot hearken to God’s word, yet refuse the word of His deputy authority. We have to submit to God’s authority as well as to His deputy authority. Other than in Acts 9:4-15, which speaks of the Lord’s direct authority, the Lord entrusts His authority to deputy authorities in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. One may say that almost all authorities are entrusted to man. Many think that this means submitting to man. But if you have met authority, you will know that this is God’s deputy authority. There is no need for humility for one to submit to God’s direct authority. But there must be humility and brokenness for one to submit to the deputy authority. Only by laying the flesh completely aside can one accept and obey the deputy authority. We constantly have to see that God does not come personally to collect His rent. God sends representatives to collect rent. What should we do with God? Should we wait for God to come personally? When He comes personally, it will not be for rent, but for judgment.
The Lord showed Paul at one point that for him to withstand the Lord was to kick against the goads (Acts 26:14). When Paul saw the light, he saw authority as well. He said, “What shall I do, Lord?” (22:10). This was Paul putting himself directly under the Lord’s own authority. But then the Lord placed Paul under His appointed deputy authority. The Lord said, “Rise up and enter into the city, and it will be told to you what you must do” (9:6). From that time on Paul knew authority. He did not say, “It is so rare that I meet the Lord Himself; let Him tell me what to do.” At that time, the Lord placed Paul under a deputy authority. It did not please the Lord to tell Paul directly. From the time we have believed in the Lord until now, how many deputy authorities have we submitted to? How many times have we submitted to them? Prior to this, we did not have the light, but today we have to see in a serious way God’s deputy authority. We have been talking about submission for five or ten years, but how much have we submitted to indirect authorities? What God looks at is not His own direct authority. He looks at His established, indirect authorities. All those who do not submit to God’s indirect authorities cannot submit to God’s direct authority.
For the sake of clarity in explanation, we have differentiated between direct authority and indirect authority. Actually, in God’s eyes it is just one authority. We cannot despise authority in the family or in the church. We cannot despise any deputy authority. Although Paul was blind, it was as if he were waiting for Ananias with open eyes. When he saw Ananias, it was as if he saw the Lord. When he listened to Ananias, it was as if he was listening to the Lord. The deputy authority involves such serious matters that if you offend him you get into trouble with God. It is impossible for you to reject light from the deputy authority and hope to receive light from the Lord. Paul did not say, “Since Cornelius asked for Peter, I also can ask God to send Peter or James. I do not want this little brother Ananias to be my authority.” It is impossible for us to reject the deputy authority and to submit to God directly. This is because the rejection of deputy authority is a rejection of the Lord Himself. Only foolish ones will want the deputy authority to fail. He who dislikes God’s representative dislikes God Himself. Man’s rebellious nature likes to submit to God’s direct authority, but reject God’s appointed deputy authority.
God honoring His deputy authority
Numbers 30 speaks of a woman’s vow. When a woman was young in her father’s house, her father had to silently acknowledge the vow before it would become effective. If the father disallowed it, the vow would not stand. If she was married, then the vow had to be silently acknowledged by the husband. If the husband disallowed it, then the vow was annulled (vv. 3-8). When the deputy authority consents, the direct authority fulfills it. If the deputy authority disallows it, the direct authority disowns it. God is pleased with having deputy authority. He also honors the deputy authority. When a woman is under the authority of her husband, God will not uphold her vow as long as the husband disallows it. God only wants her to submit to authority. But if the deputy authority is wrong, God will deal with him; he will have to bear the iniquity of his wife, and the submitting wife is guiltless (v. 15). This chapter tells us that man cannot overstep the deputy authority to submit to the direct authority. Since God has handed out His authority, even He Himself will not overstep His deputy authority. Even He Himself is bound by the deputy authority. God establishes through the establishment of the deputy authority, and He annuls through the annulling of the deputy authority. God wants to maintain His deputy authority. Therefore, we have only one way with the deputy authority, which is the way of submission.
The whole New Testament upholds deputy authority. Only in Acts 5:29, when the Sanhedrin persecuted Peter by forbidding him to preach in the Lord’s name, did Peter say, “It is necessary to obey God rather than men.” Only when the deputy authority obviously defies God’s commandment and offends the Lord’s person can we refuse the deputy authority. Hence, this kind of word can only be spoken under such a circumstance. Other than this, we have to submit to the deputy authority in any other circumstance. We cannot be careless. We must not fulfill submission by exercising rebellion.