Three months ago, in a post called “Leadership, Obedience, and Authority…” I discussed several questions that I had concerning leadership among believers in the church. I said then that I planned to continue studying various passages of Scripture that deal with leadership and authority. I’ve blogged about some of this study in “What does a non-bishop oversee?” and “1 Corinthians 14 and Leadership“. In this post, I want to continue discussing issues related to leadership.
There are several Greek verbs used to refer to the act of exercising authority:
ÎµÎ¾Î¿Ï…ÏƒÎ¹á½±Î¶Ï‰ (exousiazo) – “have power over”
ÎºÎ±Ï„ÎµÎ¾Î¿Ï…ÏƒÎ¹á½±Î¶Ï‰ (katexousiazo) – “exercise authority over”
ÎºÏ…ÏÎ¹Îµá½»Ï‰ (kurieuo) – “be lord or master over”
ÎºÎ±Ï„Î±ÎºÏ…ÏÎ¹Îµá½»Ï‰ (katakurieuo) – “become master; gain dominion over”
These verbs each have one of two noun roots: Îºá½»ÏÎ¹Î¿Ï‚ (kurios – “lord or master”) and ÎµÎ¾Î¿Ï…Ïƒá½·Î± (exousia – “authority or right”).
It is interesting to see how these verbs are used in context in Scripture. For example, consider these passages from the gospels:
[After the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus asking if her sons could sit on his right hand and left hand in his kingdom] But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over [ÎºÎ±Ï„Î±ÎºÏ…ÏÎ¹Îµá½»Ï‰ (katakurieuo)] them, and their great ones exercise authority over [ÎºÎ±Ï„ÎµÎ¾Î¿Ï…ÏƒÎ¹á½±Î¶Ï‰ (katexousiazo)] them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28 ESV; c.f. Mark 10:42-45)
[Immediately following the cup of the last supper:] A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he [Jesus] said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over [ÎºÏ…ÏÎ¹Îµá½»Ï‰ (kurieuo)] them, and those in authority over [ÎµÎ¾Î¿Ï…ÏƒÎ¹á½±Î¶Ï‰ (exousiazo)] them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. (Luke 22:24-26 ESV)
In each of these passages, Jesus tells his followers that “exercising authority” will not be part of their relationship with one another. Instead, Jesus replaces “exercising authority” with serving. Peter follows up on this teaching by telling elders that they should not attempt to care for (“shepherd”) God’s people by “domineering over” [ÎºÎ±Ï„Î±ÎºÏ…ÏÎ¹Îµá½»Ï‰ (katakurieuo)] the people, instead they should live as an example for the people. (1 Peter 5:3) Similarly, in spite of his teaching and admonishment and exhortation, Paul says that he did not exercise authority over the faith of the believers in Corinth. (2 Cor. 1:24)
So, who or what does “rule over” or “domineer”? A man possessed by a demon exercised authority over (“subdued”) some Jewish exorcists. (Acts 19:16) Death does not exercise authority over Christ. (Rom. 6:9) Sin does not exercise authority over Christ’s people. (Rom. 6:14) The law exercises authority over living people. (Rom. 7:1) Christ exercises authority over the living and the dead. (Rom. 14:9) Paul will not be brought under the authority of any “thing”. (1 Cor. 6:12) The husband exercises authority over the wife’s body, and the wife exercises authority over the husband’s body. (1 Cor. 7:4) Jesus is Lord of all that exercise authority. (1 Tim. 6:15)
So far, in these passages, there is no indication that one person should exercise authority over another person in a spiritual sense. In fact, it seems like just the opposite is indicated. But, if the apostles were not to exercise authority, and Paul did not exercise authority, and Peter told elders not to exercise authority, then I’m not sure where the command for leaders to exercise authority over other people is coming from. However, I’m still searching Scripture. It is possible that I’ve missed something, or that there are other passages of Scripture where leaders are instructed to exercise authority.