Authority AND Responsibility: Two Sides of the Very Same Coin

 
 
 
 

Authority AND Responsibility:
Two Sides of the Very Same Coin

 

Here is a very useful and important truth that I believe would be good to explain, in order to help people avoid being abused. Donna and I were discussing this topic the other night: Namely, the relationship between “authority” and “responsibility.” When there is a failure to understand that these two concept are merely different aspects of the same thing, abuse is the necessary result (to one degree or another).

I will discuss this especially in regards to ministry, but the principle is universal. What I will explain here applies just as much in the business world, families, and the military, just as much as it does in the Church. Thus, in multiple facets of your life, this short lesson will prove to be very applicable — and will probably clarify issues that you have dealt with in times past yourself, and/or might even facing now.

Let us begin by noting what Jesus said about this topic. This principle was revealed by the Lord within a parable that addressed both His Second Coming AND what He expects of His Own leaders within the Church:

Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods. But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

(Matthew 24:45-51, NKJV, words of Jesus in red)

Here we have a contrast given between two different kinds of “servants.” It is interesting to note first that the word used here in the original Greek language of the New Testament (NT) is doulos (Strong’s #1401), which means “a slave, bondman, man of servile condition” (Thayer’s Lexicon). So we are certainly talking about people who are “under authority.” But the passage clearly says that these two contrasting types of “subordinates” have also been GIVEN a responsibilitydelegated to them by his or her ultimate Superior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Along with that responsibility is clearly given an accompanying amount of suitable authority over the “food” that they are to distribute, as well as over the people to whom it will be distributed. This authority over people is specifically in regard to the assignment that they have been given — but not beyond that. In other words, this authority is limited in scope.

Now let us look at the two types of “servant” that Jesus described…

The first type of servant is one who is given authority, but UNDERSTANDS that it is given to him for a SPECIFIC PURPOSE: To carry out a delegated responsibility. This person realizes that what they have been given to them in terms of “power” was intended merely to supply them the ability to carry out the assigned task. They are diligent to “feed” the people to whom they were assigned, and to be faithful with the “food” entrusted to them. They are simple servants, who wish only to please their Master:

So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, “We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.”

(Luke 17:10, NKJV, words of Jesus in red)

Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.

(2 Corinthians 5:9-11, NKJV)

The second type of “servant,” on the other hand, is one who appears to be nothing more than a self-serving wretch. They seem to think that “authority” is a “free pass” to voluptuous living at the expense of others. This second “servant” utterly fails to carry out the delegated responsibility, but also ABUSES those to whom he or she was assigned to “feed.” Consequently, this second type is soundly judged by his or her Master when He returns:

the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

(Matthew 24:50-51, NKJV, words of Jesus in red)

In Jesus’ simple—but profound—parable, I believe that we can identify two very important truths:

  1. ALL authority is delegated FOR the purpose of fulfilling some specific responsibility, to which it is attached.
  2. All responsibility REQUIRES an appropriate amount of delegated authority in order to get the job done properly.

This is a universal principle, of course. A police man needs the necessary authority in order to “keep the peace” (which is their responsibility). Parents are endowed (by God…and NOT by any earthly government) with authority over their children for the purpose of raising them “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). And, of course, ministers are endowed by God with a certain amount of authority for the purpose of tending lovingly to God’s people on His behalf:

Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

(Hebrews 13:17, NKJV))

The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.

(1 Peter 5:1-4, NKJV)

I have seen cases of absurd abuses of both aspects of this principle. I am fairly confident that you have as well:

CASE ONE: I have seen some person given a “responsibility” by some paranoid “leader” who retains all the authority to themselves. They refuse to delegate that necessary “ability” to the person because they are afraid of “loosing control.” In such an instance, the “responsibility” itself turns into an “abuse” of the subordinate, because they are expected to accomplish something that they are NOT properly equipped to do.

Without the necessary accompanying authority, it is only a matter of time before the “responsibility” either gets away from them, or it refuses to respond to their efforts. In either case, the subordinate is blamed for the failure to fulfill the assigned responsibility — but in reality, they were never truly ALLOWED to carry out that task, because they were not properly equipped. Thus, the “job” given them amounted to nothing more than being ABUSED by the so-called “leader.” It was an exercise in futility, with both the superior and subordinate suffering the ill results…but the subordinate suffering the abuse.

To use a military metaphor: The subordinate was like a foot soldier, placed in front of the charging enemy army — with a command to stop the oncoming assault. However, they were put there WITHOUT any weapons or ammunition! They were made “cannon fodder” — but then were blamed for being blown up in the battle.

CASE TWO: We have ALL seen cases where, as in the parable by Jesus above, an arrogant person comes into “authority” and utterly fails to understand that they are supposed to DO SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE with that authority — i.e. to carry out a specific responsibility. This could be an arrogant supervisor at work, or a superior in the military whose “rank” has gone to their heads. In the Body of Christ, “wolves in sheep’s clothing” prowling around looking for prey (see Matthew 7:13-23), ALL come under this category. Consequently, we can understand the extreme irritation express by God toward false shepherds in Ezekiel chapter thirty-four in the light of this point:

And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God to the shepherds: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them.”

‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: “As I live,” says the Lord God, “surely because My flock became a prey, and My flock became food for every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, nor did My shepherds search for My flock, but the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock”— therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hand; I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more; for I will deliver My flock from their mouths, that they may no longer be food for them.”

(Ezekiel 34:1-10, NKJV; but that entire chapter discusses this same theme)

So to quickly recap the short lesson above:

  • Responsibility delegated without corresponding authority, always constitutes a form of abuse of the person to whom the task was assigned.
  • Authority accepted (or worse, usurped) without regard to fulfilling the corresponding responsibility of that “position” or “office,” always results in abuse of power (to one degree or another).

This principle, therefore, is one that should be understood by all people — whether supervisors or subordinates — because failure to understand these things will result in someone being abused.

In THE CHURCH, this concept needs to be clearly understood even more, because “abuse” seems ALL too often to be “the norm” in many places these days. These things ought NOT to be so, but be sure of this: Such abuse will SURELY be judged by the Lord. Thus, a healthy fear of God is always advised — even among Christians — and especially among leaders.

Even the apostle, Paul, had a VERY healthy dose of the fear of God guiding his behavior within his own ministry. And he advised that ALL Christians adopt that same attitude:

Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.

(2 Corinthians 5:9-11, NKJV)

Your thoughts? The comments section is open below for discussion.

Always in Jesus,

-Rich