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First Thoughts

The Tenth Commandment on Staff Relationships: Thou Shall Embrace Biblical Authority

Because God Raises Up Authority, Leaders Must Lead with Selflessness, and Followers Must Submit with Joy

We live in a day of massive exposure to harsh and corrupt leaders. We usually don’t make it more than a few weeks before hearing another painful story of cruel and abusive leadership that left wounds and destruction in its wake. This environment makes leadership hard for everyone. Leadership is hard for wounded and suspicious sheep who wonder who they can trust. It is always hard for faithful leaders who must pay for the leadership sins of others.

That is why this tenth commandment is not only for the members of teams who are under leadership but for those who provide it.

One of the most important passages about leadership in the Bible goes out to leaders and those they lead,

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).

Leaders Must Embrace Biblical Authority

There are two elements of biblical authority that every leader must embrace.

First, is that God always raises up leaders to do his work. All through the Bible and church history, there is no work God has ever accomplished without raising up a leader to do it. This is an amazing fact. God could accomplish his purposes in any way imaginable. He could do it with committees of people out front or with no person at all. God doesn’t do this. He always—always—does his work through a leader.

There is no exodus without a Moses, no conquering of the land without a Joshua, no Pentecost without Peter, no gospel to the Gentiles without Paul. There is no exception to the rule. Someone’s actions are always more significant, someone’s voice is always louder, someone’s decisions are always more consequential, someone’s arguments are always more persuasive.

The trick for leaders is not only to understand the general truthfulness of this principle but to personally embrace it. We must embrace that God has made us leaders. That he has raised us up to do his work. If you are a leader, then you are an example of the leadership God has raised up for some of his people to follow. For some, this is hard, but refusing to embrace it is disobedient to Scripture and is a rejection of the giftedness God has given to leaders through his Holy Spirit.

Another element of biblical authority that leaders must embrace is the kind of authority biblical leaders are called to exert. Our leadership is particularly one of service. Hebrews 13:5 calls us to keep watch over people’s souls—not lord it over, as we see in examples from the lost world (Matthew 20:25-26).

This is particularly true when you consider the ninth commandment of staff relationships: thou shall not insist on your own way. It is easy to think that leaders are the ones with the power to always choose their preferences. This is not true. Leaders are the ones with the responsibility to choose what is best, even when it is not their favorite. Leaders are called to understand the principles of their organizations and must ruthlessly serve those principles, even at the expense of their own preferences. A good leader knows how to detect a strong preference, how to detect what is best for the ministry, ruthlessly determines the difference between the two, and is always willing to choose what is best for the ministry at the expense of his own desires.

Great leaders do not fight for their own preferences but fight for the organization’s principles at great cost to themselves.

Those Led Must Embrace Biblical Authority

Leaders embrace biblical authority by providing it, and those led embrace biblical authority by following it. Hebrews 13:17 says, Obey your leaders and submit to them. This is hard, and I know it. I have had bosses who gave me marching orders that were not my favorite. I have been the boss and watched good employees do as I asked when they believed I was mistaken. As hard as it is to obey and submit when we disagree, the same Bible that commands our obedience gives a promise for it.

The author of Hebrews explains that we must submit to our leaders because those leaders must give an account to God for their leadership. Then the text says, Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. When the Bible says we are to let them do this, it is not talking about letting them do their work of leadership with joy but letting them do their work of giving an account of that leadership to God with joy.

One day, every leader will have to give an account to God for those they led. As they give this account, they should not be joyless and groaning. If we have done anything to strip joy from their leadership or to increase their groaning, then the Bible promises that it will be of no advantage to us. God will hold us accountable for everything we do that makes it hard for leaders to do their job.

If you do not want to be held accountable to God for how difficult you made the job of the leader under whom you serve, then you should work to make the job of that leader joyful. One of the easiest ways to do that is by embracing biblical authority with a spirit of submission and obedience.

Dr. Heath Lambert is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He is the author of several books, including The Great Love of God: Encountering God’s Heart for a Hostile World. 

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