Summary: How should power and authority be exercised and approached as a Christian
By Rev Heather Cetrangolo
Paul began his letter to the Colossians emphasising the supremacy of Christ. In chapter 1 he told us that in him all things were created, “in heaven and on earth, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers.” (1:16)
All authority comes from Jesus. This is why Jesus stood silently before Pilate who said, “Why won’t you answer me? Don’t you know that I have the power to have you crucified?” And Jesus says, “You would have no power over me, unless it had been given you from above.” It means, you know, Pilate, “you do have the power to crucify me, but only because I gave it to you.”
We know where the rulers and powers of our world get their authority, because all authority comes from God.
So before concluding his letter, Paul is turning our attention to the deeper question, of how power and authority should be exercised and approached as a Christian.
From chapter 2 he names some worldly authorities: human teachings, pagan worship, religious regulations and devotions, and then in chapter 3, the power of sin.
So, the world is seemingly a battle ground where we’re putting sin to death – and watching that human authorities don’t take us captive.
The world is a battle ground for us. But even in a war, there are always rules of play. God sets the rules. And God even plays by his own rules.
So, what tactics are we allowed to use against the authorities of this world? And what are we not allowed to do?
Paul’s going to finish his letter off with some basic rules – (to sum it up):
1. All authority comes from God
2. If you’re under the world’s authorities – submit
3. If you’re in authority in this world – be like Jesus and become a servant, lay down your life for those under your authority
If we’re going to live according to these rules, we’d better be clear on who God has given authority to in this world. It’s implicit in Paul’s letter, but to be clear on his meaning, we need to go back to Genesis. In the graced world, the authority structure was very simple: God was in charge, and man and woman (equal partners) had authority over nature and the animals. But in the fallen world (ch3), as punishment, God gave power to four individuals in this world:
God is still supreme
- Satan has power over human beings (v15)
- Man has power over woman (v16)
- Nature has been cursed, and now has power over human beings – (v17-18)
- Death has power over human beings (v19)
- This is not a matter of personal opinion but of fact – if you think Satan doesn’t have any authority in this world look at the world – if you think men don’t have dominant power over women/children – look at the world.
The situation for women is worse globally, but it’s not that great here in Australia – the most recent statistics tell us:
33% of women in Australia experience physical violence in a 12 month period
19% - sexual violence
64% of these incidents occur in the home
And if we examine the life of the Christian, we find that these things are still true, for those of us living in Christ.
- we still sin and are tempted and attacked by the evil one
- we still live in a context of patriarchy,
- we still experience natural disaster, disease, and struggle to survive,
- and we still die
There is, if you like, a layer of authority that exists under Christ’s ultimate authority, to which this world is subject, and we will not escape it in this life. Why not? It’s basically because we’re not cheating. Like Jesus, we have to submit to the Father’s rules.
Jesus goes to the cross, submitting to the authorities of his time, so that he can win the battle fair and square. Some wanted him to wage war on Rome but that wasn’t going to happen. It’s like the athlete who chooses not to take performance-enhancing drugs. It’s harder to train and perform clean, but if you win, no one can later take the prize from you. Because you stuck to the rules. Jesus didn’t subvert Satan’s power, he conquered it. He didn’t subvert the power of death, he died, and rose to conquer it. He didn’t subvert the power of men, but as a man, treated women as equals.
So, this is the theory, but what does it mean for us in practice? Paul’s finishes his letter up by getting practical about how to live at home, at work and in the world …
Rules for family life
We’re in the context of the fallen world where: