PAUL BUTLER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, October 17th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Paul Butler.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Up next: a Biblical view of human authority. WORLD Founder Joel Belz wrote the following classic commentary back in the 1980s. But the topic is just as relevant today.
JOEL BELZ, FOUNDER: There's a remarkable little note at the end of Matthew's account of the Sermon on the Mount. He says that as Jesus finished speaking, the people were amazed. The reason for their amazement, Matthew notes, was that Jesus spoke with authority, not like the religious teachers the people were used to.
The authority of the scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus's day was an onerous oppressive authority. It was heavy and ultimately repulsive. So the people were responsive when they ran into someone who taught with real God anointed authority. It's because human beings aren't very good at exercising authority that we need to touch base, often with the one human being who did it as only God knows how.
How do we humans fail in exercising authority? Sometimes we fail by ignoring authority. This is the classic error of extreme liberalism, acting as if there were no absolutes, pretending that we can make up the rules of the game as we go along. Toleration gives way to lawlessness, and openness paves the way to anarchy. Sometimes, we fail by worshiping authority. That, in contrast, may be the tendency of extreme conservatism. There the temptation is to suppose that every problem in life can be resolved by looking up a solution in the appropriate reference manual.
We also fail when we arbitrarily establish our own authority in place of someone else's. We may do this because we don't like the authority that's already in place, or because we don't like the apparent lack of authority in a given situation. But either way, it's undue abuse.
Christians instead should be in the habit of consistently pointing toward the only true authority in life, that which derives from God Himself. That is exactly what Jesus did, to the amazement of the people who listened to him during his ministry on earth. Godly authority in a real sense is appealing because it combines the best of both worlds. It is properly confining, and totally liberating. As Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” No heavy handedness there.
God's habit is to lay it to us, but with the tenderness of a mother with her child. The standards of his law are immeasurably high. But the purpose of that law is less to make us wince, than to make us delight in the goodness of the God who gave it.
What a model for all who bear authority for parents, for schools, for churches, for businesses, for communities, and for nations. To all of them, God says, here are the guidelines I expect you to follow. And to all of them at the same time. He says, enforce these guidelines with the same tenderness I have shown toward you know, freedom from guidelines, no harshness of spirit. That's why the people who heard Jesus were so amazed.
BUTLER: That was Joel Belz reading his commentary titled “The Nature of Authority” from his book, Consider These Things.
WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.