The Gift of Authority and the Obedience of Love

September 29, 2006

I’ve had a more than normally interesting week.  Wonderful wedding & sermon at CHBC (by Thabiti Anyabwile on all of Psalm 119) this past weekend.  Then 3 days in Birmingham for the J I Packer conference at Beeson.  I think I was the one dissonant voice, with great appreciation, and also with some concern.  Tomorrow I head to Grand Cayman to preach for Thabiti at his installation service as the Senior Pastor there.  Connie & Nathan will be there to join me.  What a privilege to watch the Lord bless and use the brother.

But enough travelogue.  On to the point of this post.  Tonight I’m to speak at a conference at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  I’m to address the topic of church membership.  I am going to suggest that it be thought of in terms of love.  And one aspect of this love that expresses itself in terms of church membership is obedience to particular elders (see Hebrews 13:17).

Here’s a little bit of what I’m hoping to say on this:  “Obedience” is an awkward word for sinners. By nature, we don’t like it. We immediately think of abuses of authority. Abuse is widespread and at times terrible in its consequences. But such abuses do not de-legitimize authority itself. Satan’s attack on God from the very beginning has been to tell humans that authority and love cannot go together. And his great proof is God’s call for us to deny ourselves when our own desires contradict His commands (e.g., in the garden of Eden). And yet, God has shown Himself unbelievably loving as He has in Christ sacrificed His comfort for our good (e.g., in the garden of Gethsemane).  God is worthy of trust. Throughout creation, authority is to be an expression of God’s own character (see Eph. 3:14-15). David’s final words are a beautiful reflection of authority’s divine nature: “When one rules over men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth,” (II Sam. 23:3-4). Authority well exercised blesses those under it. This is as true in the home as it is in the nation, and as true in church as it is in marriage.