2nd Corinthians 10:1-8
1Now I, Paul, appeal to you with the gentleness and kindness of Christ—though I realize you think I am timid in person and bold only when I write from far away. 2Well, I am begging you now so that when I come I won’t have to be bold with those who think we act from human motives.
3We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. 4We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. 5We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. 6And after you have become fully obedient, we will punish everyone who remains disobedient.
7Look at the obvious facts. Those who say they belong to Christ must recognize that we belong to Christ as much as they do. 8I may seem to be boasting too much about the authority given to us by the Lord. But our authority builds you up; it doesn’t tear you down. So I will not be ashamed of using my authority.
In our reading, Paul sounds a lot like a parent trying to establish authority over a child, meaning, difficult.
If there is one thing parenting teaches you is that you don’t really have a lot of authority. Which is strange because if there is any place where there is clear absolute authority it is the relationship between parent and child. For after all, the parent gave life to the child.
In fact, this absolute authority has been taken at face value in some societies. If a parent should murder a child, society turned a blind eye and I will be honest there were times when I wanted to strangle my kid.
Today, we rightfully consider it a crime. No one has absolute authority, not even a parent.
But sometimes it seems parents don’t even have relative authority!
The power is most lopsided favoring the parent when the child is an infant. The infant is helpless. The infant can’t do anything on its own. The parent has all the power over the child. So the parent has authority over the infant. Right? No he doesn’t. He is at the call of the infant. The infant cries for “food” at the awful 4am hour and the parent must wake up and serve the infant. Remember the old Dunkin Doughnut commercial, “time to make the doughnut.” Well as soon as the infant cries, “time to make the milk.”
Parenting teaches you that you really don’t have lot of authority, at least, not the type of authority you want.
But parenting also teaches you that the parent must exercise authority or the child will die, physically or spiritually. The child’s wellbeing hinges on the parent’s ability to wield authority. So there is a complex dance of authority between a parent and a child, of authority constantly being tested and applied. Parenting tells us authority is complex but authority is important. The well used authority leads to life. The misused authority leads to death.
Today, Paul talks about authority even as he wields it. Actually the material reason for the letter was the question of authority. The Corinthians questioned his authority, is he an apostle? And Paul writes back, “You bet I am!” Corinthians are out of control because they have loosed themselves from the authority of Paul, which is to say they tied themselves to a life-taking authority. And Paul is trying to reinstate life-giving authority.
Today, we are going to learn what a life-giving authority looks like so we can give ourselves to it, so we can wield it too.
First, we are going to define power and authority. Then six points about authority, each one ending with a practical question to ask ourselves.
First let’s start with definitions. Power and authority is intertwined but not identical.
Power is ability to change things. Horsepower is the ability to change the location of a thing. Horsepower moves a car, from one space to another space. Horsepower measures the degree of that power.
Authority is the right to employ power, the right to change things. I can have the power to move a car, start the engine, but I might not have the authority to move the car, it is not my car. Power doesn’t give you authority.
So authority is about a right to employ power. So who can claim and who can give authority?
All Authority comes from the Lord
Paul says authority comes from the Lord. He doesn’t delve into the theological reason for it in 2nd Corinthians. He simply assumes it. There is another place where he explains it theologically.
19I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. 21Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. 22God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. 23And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.
Christ has both the power and the authority. In Christ both are met. It is true authority because he has earned it through his sacrifice. It is true power because it is the power of God who created all this. Christ has true authority and true power.
On this foundation, Paul argues for his authority. It is the first argument he pulls out right from the start of the letter when he says, “This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God.”
Who gave me the authority to be an apostle? Christ who, by the way, has all power and authority. What is your letter of recommendation? Oh James. He is half brother of Jesus right? Well I have Jesus’ recommendation. Thank you very much. Next question.
There are people who abuse this truth. They go to Christ to justify what they do. Christ told me to marry you! He ain’t tell me.
Paul isn’t doing that here even if it sounds the same. Paul doesn’t play the God card. He gives evidences of his calling. And it is not his lineage. Some super apostles marshalled their lineage and he plays that game. You are Jews, well I am a Jew of Jew a Pharisee! Pharisees were too Jews for Jews!
Some produced their education. Paul says, oh, really Gamaliel! You went to Hartford University, I went to Harvard University!
He says that all this is not the evidence of his calling but his suffering. Christ called me to suffer for his namesake. I have been suffering. This is Christ’s call.
But the emphasis is on the authority of Christ. Paul’s main purpose is not his apostleship but the full authority of Christ!
If we are to understand authority we must understand this truth. Christ has all authority.
Christ has authority over the Church and the companies, over the denominations and the states, over your families and over presidents and prime ministers, over disciples and over atheists.
I don’t have parenting authority. Christ gave me parenting authority. I do not have employer’s authority. Christ gave me employer’s authority. I don’t have pastoral authority. Christ gave me pastoral authority.
Any authority I have I carry it humbly.
Any authority set against me I will not fear.
All authority derives from the Lord.
Every place we enter, school, companies, parliments, whether as janitors or elected officials, we go with the authority of the Lord of the Universe. We have authority to speak against injustice, to speak truth, to speak love.
Life-Giving Authority Builds up
If authority is from the lord than true authority builds up because that is the nature of Christ, to build up and not tear down. The power of God is for life and not death, for resurrection and not destruction, justification and not condemnation.
There is a moral nature to all authority because authority is given by Lord.
Authority is not neutral. And it is this moral nature that justifies use of authority.
The world wants to make everything neutral. Because by making it neutral, we can use it however we want. Sex in neutral. It is how two consenting adults use it. But sex is morality. It leads to wholeness or brokenness. Authority leads either to building up or tearing down. Authority from the Lord builds up.
All throughout the letter Paul confesses his love and points to his actions to show that all he ever wanted was to build them up, to strengthen them.
2nd Corinthians 12:14-15
14Now I am coming to you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you. I don’t want what you have—I want you. After all, children don’t provide for their parents. Rather, parents provide for their children. 15I will gladly spend myself and all I have for you, even though it seems that the more I love you, the less you love me.
So before we use our authority, we must ask, is it for building up or tearing down.
I have to admit that there are times when in my disciplining I lose myself and I know at that moment I am tearing him down. I am a sinner. I use my physical size to tear down my own child.
In our work, those under us, is our authority tearing down or building up.
Likewise authority leads to wholeness or brokenness.
Life-Giving Authority gives authority
How does authority build up? By giving authority to those who we have authority over. Here is the beautiful paradox of authority: true authority works to increase the authority of others. This is what build up means. When we build up someone, we are empowering that person so he could begin to wield more authority on his own.
We see it in parenting. If we make the child more dependent on us that the child is afraid to make his own decision even when he is 30, then we have abused our authority.
We have this tendency, to use our authority to take away other’s authority. Two years ago, when I first shaved my head, my dad called me, after seeing my picture in facebook, “Grow you hair and use gell and no one is going to go to your church.”
But if our child has grown to be an adult who can make his own decision that he now wields authority with maturity over his own child, then we have done well with our authority. Authority builds up, which means we help people to practice their own authority.
This is what bewilders Paul about the Corinthians. These self-titled super-apostles come and the way they wield their authority is to make them more dependent on them.
2nd Corinthians 13:7-9
7We pray to God that you will not do what is wrong by refusing our correction. I hope we won’t need to demonstrate our authority when we arrive. Do the right thing before we come—even if that makes it look like we have failed to demonstrate our authority. 8For we cannot oppose the truth, but must always stand for the truth. 9We are glad to seem weak if it helps show that you are actually strong. We pray that you will become mature.
Is my authority going to give the person more authority?
Life-Giving Authority Has Boundaries
True authority knows its limits because true authority knows that its authority is derivative. It is not my right. It is my calling. Only Christ has absolute authority. We all have limited authority. Limit in every way. Limited in time, limited in space, limited in relationship. That is there are boundaries to our authorities.
2 Corinthians 10:13-16
13We will not boast about things done outside our area of authority. We will boast only about what has happened within the boundaries of the work God has given us, which includes our working with you. 14We are not reaching beyond these boundaries when we claim authority over you, as if we had never visited you. For we were the first to travel all the way to Corinth with the Good News of Christ.
15Nor do we boast and claim credit for the work someone else has done. Instead, we hope that your faith will grow so that the boundaries of our work among you will be extended. 16Then we will be able to go and preach the Good News in other places far beyond you, where no one else is working. Then there will be no question of our boasting about work done in someone else’s territory
Boundaries is basically recognition of limitations.
If all authority is from the Lord than all authority is good. It becomes evil, demonic when it oversteps, when it goes beyond its boundary.
-Leslie Newbigin quote.
“And these powers, become demonic, when they are absolutized, given the place which belongs to Christ.” Newbigin Truth To Tell
Quarreled defiantly in public with President Truman, big and small, was a law unto himself, agitating for nuclear war. In the eventual confrontation at Wake Island, MacArthur arrived first then ordered the president’s approaching plan into a holding pattern, so MacArthur’s commander in chief would arrive on the landing strip appearing to be MacArthur’s supplicant.
Truman fired him. When a reporter asked for his reason, he gave this simple, colorful answer:
“I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the president. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law of generals.”
Divine authority sets boundaries that build up. What is boundary? Boundary recognizes other’s authority. But that very recognition is recognition of our own authority. That border clearly defines the other’ authority by clear defining our real authority.
Consider the state boundaries. Boundaries are basically limits of authority. Where does North Carolina stop and South Carolina begin? It is a recognition between the leaders of the two states. For North Carolina to have authority over his own land he has to recognize the authority of South Carolina over its own land. If North Carolina says that he has authority over all land, than it will lose all authority for no one will recognize it. It’s authority depends on limitation. And its recognition of its own limitation is the recognition of authority of another. This is how boundaries work.
Where am I overstepping my boundaries?
I have pastoral authority but I don’t have authority over your lives. If I were to claim it then you would accuse me of being a cult leaders, and that is right. But if you don’t recognize my authority as a pastor, it is not a loss of my pastoral authority but a loss of your own authority. That boundary that protects you from abusive authority is also the boundary that recognizes rightful authority.
What is the authority I have to recognize over my life?
To recognize no authority is to have no authority yourself. This is the danger of the modern person and the modern Christian. He doesn’t recognize any authority. So if the boss is demanding too much, just leave the job. If the wife is demanding too much just leave the wife. If the husband is demanding too much, just leave the husband. If the pastor is speaking out of line, about justice, then leave the church. If my small group members are reprimanding too much just leave it. We are left without any authority over our lives for we have no boundaries. The only way we can say that this is a city is if the city has borders.
Life Giving Authority Challenges False Authorities
If we live in Christ’s authority we build up people, but we do it by tearing down false authorities. Authority has teeth. It is not whatever happens. It stops evil from happening.
Paul says he knocks down strong holds, takes down powers of the world. This is why Paul ends his letter in Ephesians 6 with the image of the Christian warrior with sword, shield and armor. We battle because we have the authority to wage war.
If we live in Christ’s authority, then we have no reason to fear false authorities, the authorities of this world. It is fear that gives false authority their weapon, namely fear. But if we live in Christ’s authority then “no weapon formed against us shall stand.”
Living in New York, one of the biggest complaints was that diplomats park wherever they want because they don’t have to pay parking tickets. I think that might have changed. But it diplomats were confident because they knew they were not under the authority of New York but under the authority of their country.
Christ authority does not just dispel the fear of ticketing, but the fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of loneliness, fear of injustice, fear of imprisonment.
Martin Luther King Jr
was arrested for * and wrote the Birmingham letter which is a clear simple summation of how to distinguish between authorities:
One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."
I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
What false authorities do you fear?
Finally, our authority is commensurate to our submission to Christ’s authority.
I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,
This means that all authority that Christ has is experienced, flows through me, is mine to experience when I go. And here, going is not a physical movement but the posture of obedience. Christ called them to follow, and they did. Now he says “go.” Now our obedience to Christ is in our going, in the way we live with all the nations that have gathered in our neighbors and our work places.
The person who is fully submitted to Christ’s authoritywields greatest authority, is the most powerful. This is what Paul means to say Christ’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. In our very submission of all of our authority we receive Christ’s authority. When we no longer care for the powers of this world we can overcome the powers of this world. When we no longer care what others think, then we will no longer be subject what others demand.
Paul’s is an apostle because he has submitted to Christ’s authority. And such a person is light and heavy, strong and weak, powerful but not intimidating.
The practical question
Have you submitted yourself completely to the authority of Christ.
And this week, I met such a person. This very week I met such a person. Rev. Maccoy. When you see him physically he is not imposing, but he is inspiring. He is stout, short think legs supporting a good girth. When he talks his voice doesn’t boom. It is soft almost whispery but when he speaks your mind stops following distractions and listens.
He is the co founder of Jobs for Life. The other co-founder of Jobs for Life was Chris Mangum, father of Andrea Chapman. I told you about this simple businessman who simply obeyed Christ and decided that he was going to relate to his customer, McCoy, not in a contract but in covenant, to love him as a friend. That friendship over lunch started Jobs For Life. This past week they celebrated 20th year. They are all over the country. This, I think, is one of the best way to fight poverty and racism. It is a powerful movement.
And I got to meet Pastor Maccoy, the other half. He told everyone that he is the most surprised person of the large movement of Jobs for Life. He still can’t get over it. He went on,
“Who would have thought that all this would come from a shy businessman and a pastor of a small church of a small town.”
He is still the pastor of that small church of a small town. He has been there 47 years. He had offers but he didn’t go because Christ never gave him the green light.
Why didn’t you go?
Because I was afraid to go when Christ did not send me. A healthy fear, a fear that recognizes Christ’s authority over all things.
And I saw it best when after this grand lunch celebration the CEO of JFL invited him to close the meeting in prayer. Of course, he was the appropriate person to pray.
And what would this great man of God say in his prayer.
And it was the most powerful prayer I have ever heard. It brought tears to my eyes. Almost broke down and took all of my energy to hold it in.
And this is what he said.
I want you to stand up, and get in a circle and hold hands. And the 20 plus tables did.
The disciples gathered around Christ and asked him to teach them how to pray as John taught his disciples so Jesus did.
Disciples of Christ, let us pray the prayer that our Lord has taught us. And he prayed,