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The Authority of the Body
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
What I’d like to talk about this evening is the authority of the body, and last Sunday evening you
remember, we dealt with – in the third of the series on authority and subjection we dealt with the
purpose of authority. We established that the purpose of authority really is to establish the
principle of obedience to God. That’s the purpose of God’s appointing any authorities in the world
at all — to establish the principle of obedience to him.
Many of us know the need for that through our own experience in the early days of the body here,
because the body started in the midst of all the rebellion and protest of the 1960’s. Many of us
came into the body true but we didn’t want anything to do with any authority at all, and you’d throw
everything over. Many of us found that we came in with ways and minds that were utterly
undisciplined. And many of us know for instance, old Bruce and the battle that he had. Bruce was
just a free swinging Californian, and boy it was rough for Bruce to kind of begin to come under some
kind of order or discipline, and many of us found that.
That we had been used to this spirit of wild license that had gone through society. There was great
justification for it, mind you, society itself is in a pretty poor state, and needs a great deal
certainly, of protest and a great deal of correction. But you remember two or three years ago you
could protest almost against anything in the world, and there was a general spirit of chaos and
anarchy in our society. And many of us found that living in that situation, as a group it was quite
a struggle to come into any kind of obedience at all.
Now that’s why God has appointed authority here. He’s establishing the principle of authorities in
the world to begin to establish the principle of obedience to himself, so that we would begin to
come into obedience. Almost into obedience to anyone, just in order to come into obedience. Now
that is the principle that you have right through the Old Testament. You can see it in Genesis
1:28, if you look at it. I won’t give you all references, but Genesis 1:28 right at the beginning
of God’s creation there is that principle of authority and principle of obedience established.
Genesis 1:28, “And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the
earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air.’”
You see there was his command to be fruitful and multiply, and to fill the earth and then there was
the authority that men and women had as the result of that, “Subdue it; and have dominion.” So you
have that world dominion coming in right at the beginning of the Bible and that runs right through
the Old Testament.
God tried to establish the authority and obedience in the Garden of Eden, and they rebelled against
him. He tried to do it again with Noah, his sons rebelled. He tried to do it again with Abraham,
his people rebelled. He tried to do it again with Moses, the people rebelled in the wilderness. He
tried to do it again in the land of Canaan through the kings, the people eventually rebelled or the
kings were disobedient. He tried to do it again as the people wandered over through Persia, and
through Assyria, and through various exiles continually God was trying to bring people into
obedience to himself. That’s really the reason for authority, and you find it – it’s the purpose of
You find it in Romans 2:8, the purpose of the gospel is to bring men and women into obedience to
God. God is just so wise and he knows that real trust is expressed in perfect obedience. And
Romans 2:8, you see, “But for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness,
there will be wrath and fury.” It’s not, “Those who do not believe the truth,” but those who do
not obey the truth. You find that constantly emphasized in the apostolic preaching, that you have
not just to believe the gospel, you’ve not just to have faith in Jesus, but you’ve to obey him.
Now that’s why we should respect delegated authorities. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Nixon. It
doesn’t matter – I suppose a lot of us would hope that it won’t be, but it doesn’t matter if it’s
Kennedy. It doesn’t matter who the fellow is as president. The reason for obeying delegated
authority and respecting it is to establish the principle of obedience to God. That’s why God has
delegated these authorities to us.
You know that he has delegated authorities in the world, first of all, and we’re expected to obey
those delegated authorities in the world. You can see it Romans 13:1. It is that verse that we have
read before. Romans 13:1, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is
no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Really what God
is saying is that, “I have appointed these authorities.” It’s the authority that is important.
Maybe Nixon is not a perfect man, maybe in fact, almost certainly Bob Holdeman [President Nixon’s
chief of staff and involved in the Watergate scandal] is not a perfect man, or John Dean is not a
perfect man. These men stand for authority. I’m not asking you to obey these men, I’m asking you
to respect the principle of authority in your world. I think the Father would say to us this
evening, because you brothers and sisters know what happens when we ignored the principle of
authority two or three years ago.
Brothers and sisters, I don’t say that the government is very much better than it was in Lyndon
Johnson’s time, but at least there is a little more order. I don’t know that Nixon has brought it,
but there is just a little more respect for authority than there was. Now I’m not a Nixon man, I’m
not republican do or die. I’m probably if anything a wild socialist! Coming from England, when our
own conservative government is even more tending towards a welfare state than you would be here. I
don’t want to antagonize people but I want you to see that I’m not a Nixon man do or die, but I do
think that there’s more order than there was maybe three or four years ago.
Now what God is saying is, “Will you respect the authorities? I don’t ask you to agree with them, I
gave it to you many times that they are not honorable men, but the authority is what I want you to
respect, because if you keep respecting authority and law your continuing to respect something that
I have appointed.”
Now brothers and sisters, do you see that the principle of man ruling men is in the Bible away back
at the beginning? If you look there Genesis 9:6 there’s the principle of men being entrusted with
authority. Why? In order to hold the world back from chaos while Gods redeeming grace is working,
you see. Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made
man in his own image.”
Now we believe that God is taking us deeper into an understanding of that verse, but certainly at
the beginning God was saying, “Look I give you authority to destroy those who destroy your brothers
and sisters.” Or, Exodus 22:28 is the same kind of responsibility that God gave to men to govern
themselves. Exodus 22:28, “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of you people.” In other
words, God appointed rulers over us to express his prevailing grace — to hold back sin from utterly
destroying our world.
Now brothers and sisters, the authorities may not be perfect people themselves, they may even as we
can see in some of the Supreme Court judges, they may even disobey the laws themselves, but do you
see it’s the principle of authority that God is trying to build? He’s saying, “Nothing will come
about unless you build up a respect for law and authority, because all authority takes its power
from my laws.”
So, dear ones, when we’re respecting authority we’re respecting God’s principle of order, and really
he asks us to do that. You may say, “What if the authority is wrong?” Dear ones, God doesn’t deal
with that, he says, “Look I’ve entrusted the authority into these man’s hands, whatever they do I
allow that to stand, now your place is to obey them.”
Unless in that instance you remember, in Acts 5:29 I think it is, unless you come into that
situation. That’s the one occasion when a son or daughter of God is justified in refusing to obey
the authorities over them politically. Acts 5:29, you remember, verse 28 is the actual command of
the authorities, “’We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled
Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’” And you see that’s
the authority’s saying, “He strictly charged you not to teach,” and then the verse 29, “But Peter
and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’”
That’s the only instance, if the authority commands you to disobey God than your justified in saying
unto them, “No we must obey God rather than men.” But in all other situations, unless they command
you to do something that is immoral or illegal, or that is against God’s direct will for you, then
we’re expected to respect that authority. I’m afraid, whatever they’re like because it’s not the
man we’re respecting it’s the position.
That’s, I suppose, what they’re trying to get at with Mr. President. That’s really what they’re
trying to get at. That’s why they insist on calling him that, because it’s not him that we’re
respecting it’s the principle of the presidency, or the principle of some kind of order in our civil
world, and that’s why the Father commands us to respect authorities.
That’s why then the speed limit is an issue that we have to deal with. I’ve just been forced to
deal with it. We need to see the speed limit as not a frustrating nuisance to our freedom, but it’s
something that has been set up by God through his delegated authority. In other words, there ought
to be a real joy in this, and peace at being able to travel 30 miles an hour knowing that we’re
glorifying God by doing that. Just an entirely different attitude to the one where we Christians
feel, “Oh yeah, well the speed limit, it isn’t important. It isn’t really the law.”
But it is, and if you say to me, “Oh nobody would notice.” Brothers and sisters, there’s a whole
spiritual world that is shattered every time we break the speed limit. I’m preaching to myself too,
but there is, there’s a whole spiritual world of order and peace that is shattered whenever we
refuse to obey the authorities. Maybe some of us are so insensitive that we feel, “Oh no, that
couldn’t be.” But really loved ones, it is.
If we could see the spiritual world visibly tonight we would see that on countless occasions we
violate God’s commands because we reject the authority of those who are put over us. If you don’t
respect the delegated authorities, it’s probable that you half the time are violating God, and his
commandments. It’s only about half the time that you obey God by obeying his direct commands
through the Bible. Half the rest of the time you’re obeying him by obeying and respecting these
delegated authorities. That’s why there so important because they’re set there by the Father.
Now loved ones, I appeal to you again, I am against Watergate — I’m with you. I think that we have
to change the thing, but we ought to get into politics ourselves and change them. We ought not to
break down in order to try to build up. You can’t build anything in the world by disobeying God
about respecting the authorities. In other words, vehement criticism of the government on the whole
doesn’t do too much good. Unless you get the names on the petition and forward them in a legal way
to the congressmen, really all you did was ranting, and raving, and creating an atmosphere of
disorder. Half the reason why I would object to the marches of protest is, it’s just an inefficient
system. It’s an inefficient way of doing it. You waste a lot of breath and a lot of energy, and
all you do is create an atmosphere of disorder.
I’m with you, I think we should pray for the people. We should pray that the Holy Spirit will
convict them. We should pray that the Watergate thing will be out, utterly exposed, and put right,
and rectified, and we should have oppose all attempts to whitewash Nixon or whitewash anyone else.
But we ourselves should have an attitude of respect and love for government and for order, for
police even. The poor souls they have a miserable time, haven’t they? They should love freedom and
right to protest. I agree with you about the ones that are taking money, and taking bribes for
protection in Chicago, and presumably in Minneapolis, and New York. I agree there are bad policemen
but don’t you think our place is to respect, and love them, and pray for them, and build up the
order in authority that they stand for?
Now that’s the delegated authorities, dear ones, in the government. We should obey the delegated
authorities in the home. You can see that in Ephesians 5:22-24. Why? Because it’s just the
principle of obedience to the Father. When we obey these authorities whether they’re right or wrong
we’re saying to God, “Alright we trust you, Lord, with the consequences. We simply are responsible
for obeying. You’re responsible for changing consequences, or for convicting people.” Ephesians
5:22, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife
as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject
to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives,
as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
I think that God may be able to clarify that a little for us later when we talk about the authority
of the body. But, would you look at Ephesians 6:1-3, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for
this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that
it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.’” It’s interesting that that’s the
only commandment that has a definite promise of a long life attached to it. Verse 4, “Fathers, do
not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the
Lord.” Then you can see the limits to which God carried this obedience to delegated authority.
“Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness
of heart, as to Christ; not in the way of eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as servants of Christ,
doing the will of God from the heart.”
It’s amazing isn’t it, that God told them to even submit to a militaristic dictatorship, which no
doubt was continuing to spread pain and cruelty throughout the world at that time. Yet God said,
“Your place is to submit. My place is to deal with them.” As in fact he did as you know when the
barbarians overran the Roman Empire. But do you see, dear ones, that the authority in the home is
something that God has established?
Now I’m sure we have to discuss among ourselves and ask Jesus to show us what the relationships of
husbands and wives ought to be? But you can see that certainly God is not backing Dr. Benjamin
Spock [American Pediatrician, May 2, 1903 – March 15, 1998] anyway. He’s not backing the idea that
you let the child express himself, or let him do whatever he wants. Certainly God is saying, “There
is an order in the chain of authority in the family, and you have to obey the delegated authority.”
An alcoholic father, well a bit the same, I suppose, as a dishonest congressmen, God expects us to
love that person, and give submission to them unless they command us to do something that is illegal
or immoral, or against God’s will for us. But obviously God is saying, “My grace will work in them
as you obey me, but if you disobey me you just increased the anarchy and the disorder.” But God
expects us to obey those delegated authorities from the home.
And then he expects us to obey the delegated authorities in the church, and you have that in 1
Thessalonians 5, if you will look at it. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, “But we beseech you, brethren, to
respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them
very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” And then in 1 Timothy
5:17, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor
in preaching and teaching.” Then in 1 Corinthians 16:15-16, “Now, brethren, you know that the
household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the
service of the saints; I urge you to be subject to such men and to every fellow worker and laborer.”
God tells us that in the body of Christ the younger are to be subject to the older, both
spiritually and in age. That’s why I think – now they’ll forgive me referring to them again, but I
think brothers and sister like Mr. and Mrs. Halverson would feel comfortable among us. No, he’s not
officially an elder here, but we all think of his as an elder, and there’s just an attitude to the
older ones among us that is one of love, and respect, and submission.
Now it seems to me wherever the Holy Spirit has freedom in a body, that kind of relationship comes
about. I think that’s why some of the brothers and sisters who are older than college age do feel
strangely at home, because in a real body of Christ there is that kind of love and respect for those
who are older chronologically and those who are older spiritually.
Now maybe, brothers and sisters, we could just look at that in a little more detail and then I’d
really open it for questions. Do you see that the church is the perfect place for God to establish
authority and obedience? There are two reasons for this. One is that often authority and obedience
in the secular sphere, whether in politics, or in the home, authority there or submission is often
just an appearance experience. It’s not a real heartfelt thing. In other words, often in politics,
or in government, or in law you find the submission but it’s primarily an outward thing, it isn’t a
heartfelt submission, and so there isn’t that perfect presentation of authority and subjection in
the civil field. As well as that in the political field or in the family area, often the authority
does in fact hurt those who are under it. There are often parents who are not wise about their
children, and who in fact often hurt their children. There are many governments who though they
don’t want apparently to hurt their citizens, will hurt them.
Now in the church neither of those things occur. One of the big reasons is that in the body of
Christ, authority and obedience are both found in Jesus. The authority of the body comes from the
head of the body, Jesus, but the obedience of the body to that head, is Jesus in each member of the
body. So in the church you get a perfect marriage of authority in subjection, because the only way
of exercising the authority is the head, Jesus, and the spirit that is bringing about submission and
subjection to that authority is the Spirit of Jesus in each member.
In the church particularly, you can see that authority and subjection is a life situation. It’s not
a command situation, it’s a real authority of the body. Now my eyes look and see the book, and they
give the message to my head, and the head doesn’t really give a command to the hands, the hands just
go out and lift the book. It’s all a beautiful unconscious action because of the life that flows
through my body. The head doesn’t suddenly command the hands, “Hands lift the Bible.” No, the
head just gently and naturally tells the hand to lift the Bible, and it lifts it, and it’s a life
experience, it’s a flowing spontaneous thing.
Now do you see that this works in the body of Jesus, and this works in the husband-wife thing, you
see? In the husband wife thing, it’s something to argue about if there isn’t the life of Jesus in
both of you. But if there’s the life in Jesus in both of you, it’s a loving relationship of both of
you to the head. You see, it’s not the hand obeying the eyes. No, the eyes just give the
information to the head, and the head moves out through the hands. So both of them act because
their related to the head, and that’s the same in the body of Jesus.
The body of Jesus is not concerned with just obeying God’s commands, but the body of Jesus is
concerned with obeying the life of Jesus that is flowing on among us. That’s why in a body that is
really filled with the Spirit of Jesus, authority and subjection is not a hard thing to experience.
It’s not a shattering thing, it’s not a battle to get people to obey. It’s just a natural thing,
it’s a natural flow. It’s the eyes seeing something to be done, giving the information to the head,
and the head, Jesus, tells the hand what to do. And so suddenly the hands and the eyes find
themselves being used miraculously in cooperation, and they’re amazed. They don’t know why it is
because the hand has not been very conscious of obeying the eyes, it’s only been conscious of
obeying the head, and receiving the life that flows from the head.
So really, brothers and sisters, the body of Jesus is a beautiful, perfect example of authority and
subjection working because of the same life and nature that flows through everybody. Now then do
you see that if you’re having trouble with subjection, or I’m having trouble with subjection, it’s a
problem of life? Do you see that? It’s a problem of life. It isn’t a problem of you not
respecting me, or me not respecting you, it’s a problem of life. It’s something wrong about our
relationship to the head, and therefore the life is not flowing through us as it should, and so
we’re not experiencing that light spontaneous relationship.
But in the body of Christ is not a matter of command. There are two ways in which you can receive –
do God’s work, either by receiving a command from him or just by sensing his will, and the authority
and subjection to the experience in the body is the second of those two.
Sometimes some people have asked me how do you get guidance. Well honestly most of the time I’m not
conscious of walking this way and then hearing God saying, “Turn right. Turn right okay, turn
left.” It’s not that kind of deal. It’s just I’m walking and the life of Jesus is, you don’t know
it, oh yeah you turn left. It’s the life of Jesus just moving through you, and guiding you to do
the right thing spontaneously. There are times when you seek direct guidance, but most of the time
it’s just a natural spontaneous flow. Now that’s the same in the body of Jesus. Authority in
subjection is a loving spontaneous thing, when the life of Jesus is flowing through.
Now I think we have to learn a lot about it ourselves. For instance, one of the things we brothers
and sisters are learning is the whole business of fears of authority. It’s so important it seems
to me, for you to be able to be to be an authority in your sphere, and yet when you come in
relationship to me, or to the elders then okay, there’s an attitude of submission and love. It
seems to me important when I go home not to run things at home as God guides me to run things here,
otherwise my wife and my dog might have a hard time. It seems very important to be able to go into
different spheres and have the relationship that is appropriate in that situation.
One example of it that I can think of is, Scott Columb just knows the leather machines far better
than I do. I don’t know what is the best edge cutter, or what is the best dye for it to cut out the
bag, or what is the best clicker, he knows all that. So he is the eye, and if I refuse his ministry
there then the body and I am poorer for it. If I tried to do what he can do then the body and I
suffer, but then when he has placed all that information before me than he has to stand back and
say, “Oh right, now the next move is yours. God is giving you the vision for the next move in the
body, now you decide when to buy the machines or not.” And there’s a lovely relationship there.
There’s a thing in which we administer authority in our sphere but then when we come into another
sphere we know submission.
So some of the older brothers and sisters here, I know will just go with my authority and they will
submit and they will build me up, but I will know in my own heart that they know many things through
experience and through years better than me. So I’ll go to them at times and will say, “Okay, what
do you think of this?” And I’ll have that attitude of honoring them and respecting them. Brothers
and sisters, it is something that it seems only the life of Jesus can teach us. Of course, one of
the real problems I think with us all here, since we all are of this particular generation, is that
we have come up in a society that has been chaotic. You’re going to find a few moments when we’re
just stumbling on the thing before we find the right level. But it seems that if we let the life of
Jesus, the head of the body, flow through us then will come into a loving relationship where
authority and submission is just right.
And I think I should stop there, there’s a lot more to say but, would anyone like to ask questions
that might push us a bit deeper or give a different view point, or different insight?
What happens in the situation that often comes up in the workplace where you’re commanded to do
things almost in order to harass you and make life tough for you, and there not necessarily things
at all and what is to be your attitude in that situation?
I can only say what Jesus’ Spirit seems to be revealing to me, but I have to say I’ve never been in
that situation and so every man in that situation has to get God’s mind on the thing there. But I
would think that the Father’s will would be for us not to question, or to argue, but to submit and
that there would be more a flow of life through us ourselves in our own experience. If we turned
our back on any resentment, or any sense of a criticism and in fact, bless the person by our actual
obedience trusting that the Father knew that we were spending our time doing something that would be
undone an hour later. It would seem to me that the attitude would be submission unless the thing
was certainly illegal or immoral.
But brother I offer that, you know, lovingly and humbly because you’re the one in the situation, but
I would imagine that God would pour more life through us if we took that attitude than if we took
the attitude standing up on our hind legs and said, “Look at this stupid thing there’s no sense in
it.” In a way few of the things have any sense, really, and what counts as obedience to the Father?
Not the good sense of the thing itself. Yeah.
Is there a place for quiet correction of authority?
I can see that situation working often in the body in relationship to myself. I hope I don’t
suggestion to brothers and sisters that they do stupid things, but I know that the Holy Spirit gets
through to me a lot faster if they say, “Okay, I’m not sure that’s the best, and maybe do you not
think maybe this is a possibility, and this a possibility?” But they do the thing and then I
quietly get together with the Holy Spirit and he sorts me out. But it seems to be that the affect
it has on authority, I think. Anyone in authority should avoid defending it for us. Now in the
body authority should never defend its decisions. It should take the attitude of Moses, which was
to express and act on faith before the Father, and I think that and that’s what I think I’m learning
Some people argue that they should not – they do not need to submit to the authorities of the
government because the constitution states they are public servants.
I think that’s a semantics fix, you know, I think it is, because I would think that in this case the
servanthood has the same humility as Jesus’ servant hood when he kneeled down and washed the
disciple’s feet and said, “You tell your master and lord, you see that I am here washing your feet.”
So it would seem to me there that servanthood is meant to qualify them for authority.