Not only does authority have its appropriate style. There are also limits to authority. All human authority is limited. No human being has absolute authority. Only God does.
There is a wonderful story in the book of Acts that demonstrates the limited authority of man and the absolute authority of God. In Acts 4 we can read about how the Apostles Peter and John were arrested by the Jewish Council for preaching the good news of salvation by the cross of Jesus Christ. Peter and John were arrested. The council commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."
What Peter and John said was significant. They were intent upon disobeying the authorities because they had to obey God. The Lord Jesus Christ had told them to preach the gospel. When the Jewish Council abused their authority—took unto themselves absolute authority—John and Peter said: "We will disobey you because we must obey God."
We need to be very careful here. The only time that we may disobey someone in authority over us—parents, church or state—is when they tell us to do something against the will of God. Only when obeying them will put you in conflict with the will of God, the only absolute authority, may you disobey the person in authority over you. Of course that includes if someone is perpetrating a crime against you. Some kind of abuse—sexual or physical abuse. Then too you disobey, if you can.
To that we can add the thought that if you may disobey, you must disobey. For the only time that you may disobey is when obeying the human authority will put you in conflict with the divine authority. In such an instance your highest calling is to obey God.
We were looking at Acts 4. If we go to Acts 5, we see that what we have seen so far is confirmed.
Once Peter and John were released, they promptly went out and continued preaching and teaching in the Name of Jesus. In short order they were arrested again and thrown into jail. During the night, an angel of God came, opened the doors of the jail, and sent them out with the command of God to tell the people the full message of this new life.
When the Jewish Council sent the police to get Peter and John out of the prison for them to be interrogated, the police found the jail cell empty. The report came in that Peter and John were preaching in the temple courts.
In short order, they were arrested again and brought before the council. Once again the council told them not to speak and teach in the Name of Jesus. But then Peter spoke the decisive word: "We must obey God rather than men."
That is the bottom line. When obeying man would make you disobey God, you need to disobey man to obey God. All human authority is limited. Only God's authority is unlimited and absolute. God is sovereign. Jesus Christ, alone, is King of kings and Lord of Lords. His is the kingdom, the power, the glory forever. His and his alone.
(The next post deals with the difficult topic of the abuse of authority.)
This series of blog posts were originally presented as a speech at the October 1998 Ontario Women's League Day in Ancaster, Ontario. Much of the spoken style remains.