The Word of Truth
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
What is the extent of the authority of a minister of God?
This is an area that has a lot of confusion here among what is called the “Church(es) of God.” Some groups insist that a pastor in a congregation has authority even to “rule” the individual on personal matters like finances, etc, etc. This has led to some “pastors” doing awful things (adultery—claiming that they have powers over the bodies of the women—taking away people’s property, salaries, etc., etc.), just because they believe they have full powers over these people. Some have torn away homes of others, separating husbands and wives. Others teach that one pastor may be “above” other pastors and may be the “big shot” over them to rule and lead them as he sees fit.
There is not only no Bible for these things; there is clear Bible teaching against them:
“Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.” (2 Corinthians 1:24)
“Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:3)
“But whoso [preachers, pastors, anybody] shall offend [cause to stumble] one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)
We see how personally Jesus takes it when whoever truly causes it to be difficult for someone to live saved. “That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” (1 Thessalonians 4:6-7) It is quite possible to go beyond. Go beyond what? Answer: Go beyond holiness. Sin against others. Wound their weak conscience so they are left struggling. Be warned: the Lord is the avenger of all such. When you offend the least of His little ones, you offend Him, and you are going to have to answer for it to Him. Little good it will do you to stammer out an explanation that you did it for their good when Jesus Christ is personally offended with you for going beyond holiness. And I ask you, “Are you an example of how believers should act toward one another when you go beyond holiness?” You will answer for it. “He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb. 10:28-31) “Oh!” you say. “I haven’t done all that. At the most, I was too zealous for the saints to live close lives.” Jesus says that you are guilty if you cause one of His sheep to stumble. I tell you, “He takes it personally!” If you go beyond, you are in grave danger of the excruciatingly fair judgment of Him who is indescribably holy and pure.
“But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.” (1 Corinthians 8:12)
“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)
“But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.” (Luke 12:45-46)
“Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)
This scripture is all-conclusive. It teaches the submission of every believer to every other believer. The rule of holiness applies to all. The living presence of Christ in each believer is the basis of submission of each believer to the other. No big '“I“s and little “you’s.” The poet put it like this:
“The Bible is our rule of faith, and Christ alone is Lord,
All we are equal in His sight when we obey His word;
No earthly master do we know, to man-rule will not bow,
But to each other and to God eternal trueness vow.”*
And this is scripturally sound.
But what do these scriptures mean, then?—
“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
“Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints.” (Hebrews 13:24)
“And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.” (1 Corinthians 11:34)
“For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed.” (2 Corinthians 10:8)
“Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction.” (2 Corinthians 13:10)
“These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.” (Titus 2:15)
In discussing what is not going beyond holiness in the authority of a minister in God’s church and in discussing what is going beyond holiness, it is necessary to state some basic truths.
(1) No minister can save someone else. Indeed, no minister can save himself. We are all utterly dependent upon God’s grace and mercy to be accepted of Him at all, and to grow, prosper, and stay saved.
(2) No minister can compel someone else to be saved. Jesus only has voluntary servants. Compulsion that forces or binds someone to do something is not of God. Satan binds. Satan forces. Jesus knocks. Who has better right to force the door of any heart? But He knocks. “If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20) Jesus draws. Jesus woos. Jesus brings us to the service of voluntary love because He first loved us. We continually choose and re-choose over and over to keep loving Jesus. God puts a high value on voluntary love for Him.
(3) The doing of things is not as important in the eyes of God as the motive for doing them. It does no good and does a great deal of harm to force people to do good things when they are not convicted of them out of personal love for God. It is an act of hypocrisy to do something that seems to indicate that I love God when I am actually doing it for another reason. A wife that acts as if she loves her husband, but actually does not and has another motive for the act, is deceptive and guilty of fraud. The same is true of husbands. I may insist on others doing things of which I personally am convicted out of love to God; but if they do not do them because they love God, then it is not acceptable service in the eyes of Him who continually sees the motives of the heart. I am convinced that many people are doing things for reasons other than love for God. Perhaps it is public pressure; perhaps their pastor requires it of them; perhaps they simply have been trained in the habit and tradition of whatever they are doing; perhaps it is simply self advantage. Whatever the motive, God sees it and accordingly values or does not value the things done/not done.
One minister I know stubbornly contended that “it was good for them anyhow”; but he lied. I am afraid that he, too, did a number of things out of something other than love for God. I am afraid that his zeal for outward conformity arose from something other than love for God. No, it is not good for them. It is hypocritical and misleading, and God will not accept it. He knows why people are doing what they do. A great number of people are “serving” the Lord out of self-interest, not out of genuine love for Him. It would be better to know hardly anything and really love God than to know a lot about serving Him and hardly love Him. This business of living for God really comes down to truly loving Him and wanting to please Him because you love Him.
Now Jesus calls some of His children to the serious and weighty responsibility of communicating and holding without compromise or excess the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ before all. All would include sinners, hypocrites, and His sheep. This is the work of the ministry. We are to serve, to minister. We are to be the servants of all (Matthew 23:10-12; Luke 22:25-27). Yes, ministers are the servants of sinners and hypocrites, as well as the sheep, for Jesus’ sake. It is a disgrace for a professed minister to be a “prima donna”; that is, self-seeking and demanding of privileges. It is a disgrace for a professed minister to lord it over the people. We are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), and are commissioned to represent Him to the people. God is interested in the insides of people being made right first, for Jesus knows that if a man is right on the inside, the outside will become clean, also. Notice how He condemned the Pharisees. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” (Matthew 23:25-26)
We that are ministers of the Lord Jesus are entrusted with the responsibility of buying the everlasting gospel ourselves so that we are ensamples of what the gospel does, and we are to never to surrender it (Proverbs 23:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-5). We are entrusted to hold this (1) by how we live, (2) by what we say, and (3) by whom we receive and (4) to whom we extend sympathy. This everlasting gospel accurately and clearly depicts what is acceptable service to God. Amid all the darkness and confusion of this world, the gospel is a lighthouse to God. If we fail to warn, we will answer for it. If we mislead or bend the gospel, we will answer to Him for it. We are given authority from God to hold the gospel clearly and rightly before all others that they might see what God requires of them. If people will not listen to or acknowledge the gospel, then we are obligated in the fear of God to honestly and truthfully label that response (or non-response) for what it is and warn all others of the consequences.
It is our responsibility to “cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” (Isaiah 58:1) “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.” (Titus 2:15) And we are to accomplish this incessant crying out against all sin and the necessity of holiness without strife of a fleshly nature.
“And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26) Our Lord has left us an example of this in His earthly ministry. “He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street.” (Isaiah 42:2) When he answered Pilate’s question, He said, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” (John 18:36) Jesus did not practice mob tactics; He was not a sensationalist nor did He manipulate people with passionate speeches appealing to their earthly desires. He did not believe that the ends justified the means. On the contrary, He knew that defending holiness by stepping out of holiness means that you have already lost it, and He never stepped out of holiness.
But is there not spiritual strife? Yes, certainly. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5) But note that the nature of this warfare is such that it never infringes on the right of men to make their choice. It may go so far as to handicap or block opposition to the truth (Acts 13:6-12) so that others may exercise their right to choose, but it leaves the final judgment of others to God. There is no oppression in it.
It is the responsibility of each true minister of God to so conduct himself as to be able to obey God in preaching the gospel with liberty. Paul tells us “of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage.” (Galatians 2:4) And he continues with his reaction, “To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” (Galatians 2:5) To be faithful to God and His truth, we must be willing to pay whatever price is necessary. This may mean breaking friendships, fellowships, family ties, and church ties, but Jesus must be first. It may mean that people don’t like you and your reputation is destroyed, but being faithful to Jesus is far more important than anything else. Eventually, you are going to answer to the Chief Shepherd. Oh, what will you tell Him? Will you have been a good steward over that which He committed to you?
In Remove Not the Ancient Landmarks, the minister says, “A minister’s right to speak is a priceless treasure. Without it, he becomes useless as a minister and overseer of the flock of God and a watchman on the wall to warn of approaching danger.” The minister goes on to trace the effects of letting down in presenting the gospel:
It is evident beyond question that the necktie has served as a mouth stopper in the hands of Satan. He who wears a tie has no right to speak against a string of pearls that a woman wears around her neck. Anything and everything that could be said for or against either of these could also apply to the other in the same way. Likewise the woman who wears the string of pearl beads around her neck would have no right to speak about the person who wore some other kind of jewelry. And this person who wears the jewelry, of whatever kind it is, would have no right to speak about the person who wore make-up, etc. And so on and on it goes, one thing after another, while the minister is helpless to prevent it. They have forfeited their right to speak.
“Oh,” but you may say, “I know ministers who really preach it straight and cry out against those kind of things.” Yes. But is there any authority back of it? Is it effectual that they do? Do not these things continue to increase, among those who profess to be the Church of God of this day, and also many other lines of worldliness, without letup? We all know this to be true, and it is for no other cause than that the ministers in this movement who cry out against these things have forfeited their right to do so and consequently all their crying out is weak and ineffectual. The fact that these things are cried out against by some and yet increases only adds weight to my argument at this point.
I was riding in a car with another minister that I knew, and we were leaving a rented campground wherein we had attended services. The campground was rented to many different churches at times, and was equipped with baseball fields, etc. I remarked that I was glad that none of us were minded to use those facilities. The minister said, “If some of us had started playing baseball, I would have run out there and stopped it. They wouldn’t have been able to continue.” This is going beyond. What good would it do to stop the game, if the game was still going on in their hearts? And just how far would he go to control things? Would he throw them in jail if he could? Beat them? Put them in the stocks? How would he do these things meekly? How could he be blameless and harmless? How could the people see the spiritual issues beyond him?
So… should we just shrug our shoulders in resignation and do nothing? No. We must hold the truth of the matter before the people, even at the cost of our lives, if necessary. So we just have to preach at people in meeting? No, we can preach on the field. We can call on God to help us. But if we take things into our own hands, our very efforts will mar the conception of the gospel in the hearts and minds of those who need help.
By the time we get to where we make the people do right, the entire concept of choosing to do right out of voluntary love to God is lost. The heart of the thing is gone. No matter how apparently advantageous the formula. “Well,” you may say, “if it is compromised away, it is lost, too!” Yes, it is lost either way. The whole idea is for it not to be lost.
We notice in the Bible that one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is longsuffering (Galatians 5:22). “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:1-2) We have watched those who give place to the great zeal to compel right behavior. They have little grace for longsuffering, lowliness, or meekness. Forebearance, either. There is something about the “mastery-of-others” path that leads to arrogance and pride. One becomes dangerous and is feared. It is all the difference in forcing a woman to become your wife, as compared to winning her affections. It is the difference between a marriage where the head of the family lords it over the wife or where he dwells with her according to knowledge.
Let’s try a few synonyms for compel: bully; bulldoze; dictate; dominate; enslave; force; intimidate; lord it over; oppress; overmaster; repress; ride roughshod over; subjugate; suppress; terrorize; trample down; trample upon; tread down; tread upon; tyrannize; walk all over.
Just think of it!—I will bully people into living for God. I will dominate people into living for God. I will intimidate people into living for God. I will terrorize people into living for God. They must submit.
“And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” (Luke 9:54-56)
Now, as to one minister lording it over the rest, all the previous scriptures apply. Each true minister is but one of the sheep, just specially used to preach and hold the gospel. The following scripture should settle the matter with all honest hearts:
“But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you.” (Mark 10:42-43)
“Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous.” (1 Peter 3:8)