When Spiritual Authority Lets You Down
Updated: May 1, 2020
Volume 01 - Session 01 // April 23, 2020
Editors’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the author’s book “Holding Up Holy Hands; A Call for a Ministry to the Minister.”
I will never forget when God revealed to me that I was struggling with the issue of trusting spiritual authority. It was during a now infamous U.S. presidential election when the outcome was in doubt. I knew who I wanted to win, but it didn’t look good; the wrong guy was about to win! I am embarrassed to admit it, but this caused me to sink into depression. All seemed lost! Why God? There is only one man who could lead the nation! Why are You letting the wrong guy win? I went into my study and locked the door to stew in the juices of my despondency. My mind was directed to the Bible and I opened it to Psalm 119, a frequent source of encouragement. My eyes fell onto Psalm 118 and I read verse eight; “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man”. WHAM! I felt a visceral blow to my soul! Putting confidence in man is exactly what I was doing! I was putting all hope in the “right guy” to become president. Then God drove it home: verse nine reads “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes [government]”. WHAM again! Not only was I guilty of trusting in man as the hope of the presidency, but I was also guilty of trusting in the U.S. Government as the hope of the country.
As I recovered from my wounds, and agreed with God about my tendency to trust in men, I sat in a chair and this question came to my mind; “Where in the Bible are we commanded to trust in man? Is there any Scripture which teaches this? Any Scripture which exhorts or commands that trust be placed in man?” I thought and pondered (a deeper level of thinking), but I could only come up with one text which seemed to promote a trust in man. Referring to marriage, Proverbs 31 records that the husband trusts in the wife; “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil”. But this is not a subordinate’s trust in a spiritual authority, rather a description of a trustworthy wife in managing household affairs. Her husband trusted her management. It was not however, a command or exhortation to trust in man.
Then the flood started; verse after verse teaching the very opposite started crowding into my mind! Scriptures which absolutely condemned the practice of trusting man: in various ways and in several areas man is warned not to trust in man;
GOD'S VIEW OF TRUSTING MAN
"For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me. But thou hast saved us…” –Ps 44:6-7
“Some trust in horses, and some in chariots, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” – Ps 20
“Put not your trust in princes, nor in…man, in whom there is no help…happy is the man that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God.” - Ps 146:3
FAMILY AND FRIENDS
“Trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide: keep the doors of thy mouth from her that lieth in thy bosom. For the son dishonoreth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother…a man’s enemies are the men of his own house. Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation : my God will hear me.” –Micah 7:5-7
“Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets” – Luke 6:26
The Flesh: “…have no confidence in the flesh” – Ph 3:3
The Logic: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” – Prov 3:5-6
The Heart: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?” – Jer 17:9
To say that I was overwhelmed is an understatement! I was stunned to realize that I am commanded, commanded mind you, to never trust in man, in government officials, in self, in friends, in family, in opinion polls, and even in my flesh, my logic, or my own heart!
But wait! God not only commands against trusting in man, He pronounces a curse against those who do! “Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord.” (Jer. 17:5)
This is shocking, and for a moment, I was disheartened; if nothing and nobody is to be trusted, what am I to do? If the next president can’t cure the nation’s problems, how will they ever be cured?
God does not leave us without an answer; either through the scriptures cited above or through their contexts. We learn that there is an option; we can trust God.
Don’t trust your bow or sword, “thou hast saved us” Don’t trust in horses or chariots, but “remember…God”. Don’t trust in government, but put your “hope … in God”. Don’t trust in family or friends, “look unto the Lord” Don’t trust in opinion polls, but in “the Highest” (Lu 6:35) Don’t trust in human flesh, but “worship God”. Don’t trust in human logic, but “trust in the Lord with all thine heart”. Don’t trust in the human heart, but “save me and I shall be saved” (Jer 17:14)
Each of the above prohibitions against trusting in man is accompanied with an alternative; trust in God instead. God is not suggesting distrust or mistrust or even constant suspicion. After all, “love thinketh no evil”, Rather, He is focusing on Himself alone as the sole and ultimate object of trust. He is offering the true object of all worthy trust; namely Himself. He does not desire that we trust in man but through man. He wants the ultimate resting place of our trust to be in Him, not in man! Man, for good or bad, and spiritual authority for good or bad, are simply conduits through which we channel trust to the true source of all trustworthiness. Their presence is merely a God-ordained opportunity to test our faith and purify our trust.
Will spiritual authority let you down? You bet! Will you be hurt in the process! Right again! It can’t be avoided my friend; it is “common to man”. But its occurrence is the ultimate test of true faith and trust in God. What do you do then?! On what do you focus? More to the point, on whom do you focus? On the human who hurt you or the God who helps you?
JESUS; THE PREMIER EXAMPLE OF TRUST
These are heavy questions and hard to be borne, but there is an answer. Like all things holy, Christ is the answer, and in this matter He is also the example. Let’s remember that nobody in history was ever abused and mistreated by spiritual authority like the precious Lord Jesus. He was maligned by the Sanhedrin, the Rabbis, the Pharisees, and the Saducees. From government officials to religious leaders, He was slandered, mocked, lied about, cruelly tortured, and eventually killed in a monstrous death. And how did He respond?
In one poignant moment, He illustrates for all time and for all men how to respond when spiritual authority mistreats you. The story is found in John chapter 19 where we find Jesus before Pilate. Pilate is upset because Jesus will not defend Himself or even answer his questions; “[he] saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer.”
This frustrated the pompous Pilate no end. He was not accustomed to being ignored. After all, he was Pilate, Caesar’s representative and the most powerful man in Israel. And you won’t answer me!!!??? His inflated opinion of himself is seen in his response; “Speakest thou not unto me? Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?”
It was as if Pilate was saying, “Don’t you know who I am?! Don’t you realize that your very life is in my hands?!”
Now, it is at this point that every believer ever offended by spiritual authority needs to insert themselves. You are facing your authority, he is uncaring and will eventually deliver you over to your worst nightmare and you know it. Does the flesh rise up within you? Do you want to get back at him? Do you see him as the enemy to be resisted at every turn? Do you desire revenge on him? The answer to those questions must be submitted for final approval. No, not to a jury of your peers, not to a public vote, not to human logic, or even to raging emotion! It needs to be submitted to the very response of the Christ. How did He respond to Pilate? Pilate has just told him that he was in control and therefore you better do what I say. You better to me. How does Jesus respond? “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above” (John 19:9-11)
How did Jesus respond to unfair authority? He did not trust in Pilate but through Pilate to God. He saw Pilate as a mere instrument in the hand of God to accomplish His higher will. But although he didn’t trust Pilate, he submitted unto him, thereby demonstrating for all to see His consummate trust in His Heavenly Father. And He knew that His submission went much further than merely answering with His mouth; He knew that through Pilate He was going to pay with His life! What humility! What submission! What trust! What glory! Here is the King of kings submitting to a mere mortal puppet of a foreign power, here is all power submitting to a no-name, no-power lackey, and for what?! For what you ask! For us! For you! To demonstrate the desperate need of Christlike men and women who will demonstrate their trust in God through their submission to His appointed authorities.
You are not to trust in man; any man.
You are not to trust in the human heart; any heart
You are not to trust in man but through man to God to work back through man to you.
All trust must ultimately be placed through man to God alone.
Submission to unfair authority demonstrates your trust in God, and God is glorified.
The issue is not the trustworthiness of man but the trustworthiness of God to work through the untrustworthiness of man.
Trusting In Man or Through Man?
Peter writes in the Epistle of I Peter how believers are to respond to authorities. He discusses political and governmental authority in chapter 2, family authority in chapter 3, and church authority in chapter 5. In each instance, he is focusing on unfair spiritual authority. He writes this epistle because the church is experiencing a horrendous worldwide persecution triggered by Nero’s blaming of Christians for Rome burning at his own hand.
The centerpiece of his argument is Christ Himself (chapter two). He gives us the supreme example of selfless suffering in order that we might “return unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (vs. 25). A careful reading of 2:20-25 reveals Christ as the model of our suffering but much more; He is shown in His suffering to be a submissive Son by not retaliating but trusting God; “..when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously”. Please let that sink in…
"He committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously”.
He yielded to unrighteous men for a righteous God, and He did it to minister to you and me. He did not trust in them but through them to a righteous God. All this so that we might find the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. With that clearly in mind consider the first word of chapter three; that chapter dreaded by wives and often abused by husbands. A portion of Scripture which we visit in this article because it represents in microcosm the challenge of every soul in submitting to their unfair spiritual authority, whoever they may be. Found in five short verses is the key to the issue before us.
And what is that first word? “Likewise”, meaning in like manner, for like reasons, in other words like Christ. Like Christ suffered at the hands of unfair men to minister to them, so we must have the same heart in suffering at the hands of our human authority.
"Likewise ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives” (v 1)
Please note some key things;
The character and behavior of the spiritual authority is not in question. He “obeys not the Word” which may mean that he is lost or he is ungodly, or both, but the wife’s/follower’s response is not be measured by his actions. Therefore, the character of the husband or the nature of his behavior is removed from the table of discussion.
The goal is ministry, that he “may be won by the…wife [follower]”. This may be in regard to his salvation or to a change in his life, but the principle is clear; the mistreated wife/follower has the power to influence him to godliness.
Unfortunately for many wives/followers as for many others under unfair authority, the goal is not ministry. It could best be described as manipulation for a self-serving purpose. Take for example the case of the wife I once pastored who yearned for her husband to be saved. Because they lived near the church, I began making a point of stopping in to have coffee with her husband. I knew he was resistant to the Gospel because of some mistreatment by past church authorities so I purposely chose to get to know him and discuss biblical principles when I could. After a number of these visits, I said “Bill, I have grown to know you and I feel I have a new friend. I would be most honored if you would come to church as my personal guest”. To everyone’s surprise he showed up the next Sunday. When the invitation was given he was the first to come forward. That day Bill was saved and I mean saved! From the top of his head to the bottom of his feet he was a changed man. Immediately he got involved in the church; he began ushering, went out witnessing, drove a bus, sang in the choir, and anything and everything else he could do! Shortly thereafter his wife came to me obviously upset. “I didn’t expect for this to happen!”, she complained. “I wanted a better husband not a religious fanatic”.
Another wife complained in a similar way. After being counseled about submitting to her husband, she came to me and said, “Pastor Binney, this submission thing is not working!” “What do you mean?”, I asked. “Well, I have tried it for over two weeks now and he’s not treating me any better than he did before”.
In both these cases, the wives were not focused on ministering to their husband but manipulating him to minister to them. What do you want for your authority my friend? Do you want them to understand you and minister to you or to make you happy? Jesus said, “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many”. (Mt 20:28) The means of winning them is the “conversation” of the wife/follower, i.e. her manner of living which is described as a “meek and quiet spirit”.
But it is a difficult challenge to have such a spirit when you are determined to be treated fairly and ministered unto. How does any person under authority get to the place where they can have that kind of spirit? The key is found in verse five:
“For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands”. (vs 5)
Now, take two phrases out of this verse and place them end to end; trusted in God and in subjection unto their…husbands. Do you see it? Their trust was not in their husband, after all he obeyed not the word and wasn’t exactly trustworthy. But they did trust through their husband to God! Because of their Christ-like trust in God to work through the perpetrators of their sufferings, they were able to submit to their spiritual authority, even when that authority was unfair! Especially when unfair! The holy women of old did not trust in their husbands but through their husbands to God. Then they trusted God to work back through their husbands to them.
Submission has never been about changing the authority, but changing yourself. When God places us under unfair leaders, He has us in mind as much as the leader.
The issue before us then is the object of our trust. Jesus trusted in God despite Pilate, and “committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously”. The godly wife is to minister to her husband by exhibiting a meek and quiet spirit borne out of a thorough and complete trust in God. This is to be the same response of the citizen to the government, the employee to the boss, and the church member to the pastor.
Have you ever been disappointed by your pastor? Has he been unfair to you or your family? Has he even been unkind in his mistreatment of you? How are you to respond? Criticism? Leaving the church? Demanding an apology? Leading the charge to replace him with a new and better pastor?
Perhaps he has been unkind, even unfair, but how do you win him, how do you minister to him? These after all are the goal of your relationship with him. You show a meek and quiet spirit which God says is of “great price”.
Many reasons can be offered for a spirit of bitterness toward authority but it all boils down to one key idea:
A lack of faith in God to work in the authority’s heart and through their life to you.
How about you dear reader? Where is your faith? In whom is your trust? “It is better to trust in the Lord”, even in a disappointing presidential election.