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What about Paul’s authority?

Posted by on Sep 4, 2012 in office, scripture | 7 comments

What about Paul’s authority?

In doing research for my previous series on the terms that Paul used to refer to other Christians (and whether or not those terms indicate a superior/subordinate relationship), I ran across a passage in 2 Corinthians in which Paul mentions his authority. I’ve come across this passage before, but I had not stopped to consider it in detail.

The statement itself is fairly short: “For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.” (2 Corinthians 13:10 ESV)

What is this “authority” that Paul is talking about? Apparently, he does believe that he has authority, and that this authority was given to him by the Lord for Paul to use to build up other brothers and sisters in Christ.

But, the question is, why does Paul have this authority? Is it special to Paul as an individual? Is it special to Paul as an apostle?

To begin with, notice that there is a particular reason that is causing Paul to use this authority. What is “this reason” that Paul plans to come and be severe in his authority? Well, apparently, there is some sin among the brothers and sisters in Corinth. Paul began talking about this sin earlier in chapter 13, and it is this sin (“this reason”) that is causing him to plan to use authority.

But, it is not only the existence of sin among the Corinthians that is causing him to plan to use authority. The main problem is that the Corinthians have not dealt with this sin on their own.

That’s right, the only reason that Paul is planning to “use authority” in this situation is that the Corinthians have not used the same authority themselves. In fact, Paul is almost incredulous that the Corinthians have not realized that they have the authority to deal with this sin because Jesus Christ dwells in them in power – just as he dwells in Paul in power.

Paul’s desire is that when he comes to Corinth for the third time, he finds that the Corinthians have found that Jesus Christ truly does dwell among them and that they have dealt with the issues of sin among them in the same authority that Paul himself would use otherwise.

So, the authority is not something that Paul has because he is Paul, and it’s not an authority that Paul has because he is an apostle. The authority is something Paul has because Jesus Christ dwells in him through the Holy Spirit.

But, guess what?!? All followers of Jesus Christ have the same authority because Jesus Christ also dwells in them through the Holy Spirit.

The Corinthians are not speaking and living according to the authority because they are not living in the power of Jesus Christ who dwells in them. But, the same authority that Paul plans to use is available to the Corinthians – and, in fact, to all believers.

What kind of authority does Paul plan to use (if necessary) when he comes to Corinth again? The same authority that every believer has – the authority of Jesus Christ who dwells in those who follow him.


7 Comments

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  1. 9-4-2012

    Alan,

    Perhaps Paul believed he had authority in Corinth because it was he (according to God’s will, of course) who established the Corinthian ekklesia to begin with.

    If I organize a rally to raise money for a cause, people would naturally look to me as being the leader of it. So, Paul was the default leader and authority figure over Corinth. (Just a thought.)

    I also will agree with you that we have the authority of Jesus, as covenant sons, to enact His will this side of Heaven. We have indeed been given the keys to The Kingdom through the New Covenant, but only as long as our authority rests in His will. (When we step out of it and seek to impose our wills, vaingloriously using His authority as our reason, is when things go wrong. But you know this.)

    By His authority we can cast out demons, heal the sick, raise the dead, and bring people into Salvation by way of introduction to our King. It is a great responsibility, and not one to be taken lightly or loosely.

  2. 9-4-2012

    I understand what you mean by every follower of Jesus having the same authority, that of Jesus himself. That’s something I was never taught growing up or in Bible college. Hmmmm. I wonder why. :)

  3. 9-4-2012

    What would y’all consider to be the difference (or is there any) between being the overseer of a ministry vs having authority over other members of the body?

  4. 9-4-2012

    @Matt,

    Wow! That was a loaded question if ever one was asked! :)

    I look forward to the responses, since I know the word “overseer” will be used as a starting point.

    For what it is worth, my simpleton opinion is that authority has two faces: on the one hand it is relational (as in Paul to Timothy) and on the other it is given by Jesus. Sometimes these two faces become one, and sometimes they remain separate. On the one hand, authority is given, and on the other, it is not up for debate.

  5. 9-4-2012

    “The Corinthians are not speaking and living according to the authority because they are not living in the power of Jesus Christ who dwells in them. But, the same authority that Paul plans to use is available to the Corinthians – and, in fact, to all believers.”

    LOVE IT!!!!!!! That really gives me a new understanding & perspective on “authority” & maturity in Christ! :)

  6. 9-5-2012

    Donald,

    You said, “Perhaps Paul believed he had authority in Corinth because it was he (according to God’s will, of course) who established the Corinthian ekklesia to begin with.” Do we see Paul claiming authority based on this?

    Fred,

    The people who taught you probably had very good intentions (just as I have good intentions). I’m guessing most problems with authority come about by attempting to place modern practices and beliefs within the framework of Scripture instead of starting with Scripture.

    Matt,

    The term translated “overseer” (episkopos) could have a wide range of meanings depending on context. The only way to determine how an author is using the term is to examine the context. In context, the term “overseer” in the NT pointed to someone who is more mature in Christ and who cares for others as they follow Christ together. In other words, “care-taker” might be a good translation for the term. (By the way, the verb form, which is usually translated “exercise oversight” or “oversee” is used in Hebrews 12:15 for all believers.)

    Randi,

    Thanks. I hope the new understanding and perspective is a good one. I have been wrong before, you know. :)

    -Alan

  7. 9-5-2012

    Alan,

    Hence the usage of the word “perhaps”. I am merely speculating as a prophet and as a son, not as a teacher.

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