The following post contains points from the January 26 Bible study on The Bible and Authority.
What Is Authority?
Straight from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of authority is the power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior. The concept of authority revolves around controlling situations and people, as well as ensuring proper regulation. This is a fairly straightforward concept that most of us have more or less understood for the majority of our lives. I asked the youth to tell me some of the sources of authority in their lives, and then showed them the list I came up with. Their list was fairly similar to mine – you can find it in the PowerPoint slides at the bottom of the post!
Common Sources of Authority
All of your answers are fantastic – here’s the list that I came up with. It is by all means not a complete list, but it’s certainly a start. You’ll notice that aside from church leaders, I intentionally left most faith-based answers off the list. In our day-to-day lives, we don’t often consider sources of authority we cannot see, or ones that don’t have perceivable consequences. Which means that we often leave God and the Bible by the wayside.
What is it that gives these bodies authority over us? Why is it that when they say jump, we say how high? They all have the ability to exact immediate and painful punishment on us. Breaking the laws put in place by these organizations/people have punishments that would affect our life right away. But when it comes to God and the Bible, we immediately think that the consequences can’t be as bad as what would happen in the here and now. And if it’s not going to hurt us right now, then surely we don’t need to be worried about it, right?
What About the Bible?
Another interesting point is that all of the sources I mentioned are other human beings or bodies composed of human beings. The Bible seems to fall into a different category entirely. Tonight, I’d like to examine three foundational questions exploring the concept of Biblical authority. Why should the Bible have authority over me? What does Biblical authority look like? And what has authority over me?
Why Should the Bible Have Authority?
First, let’s examine a few pros and cons surrounding the concept of Biblical authority. On the positive side, we know that the Bible is inspired by God. Where it’s not inspired by God, it’s His direct communication with us in a physical form. Finally, and this should kind of go without saying, but taking your advice from its pages is generally a sure-fire way to stay out of trouble. On the negative side, many of us see the Bible as an inanimate object, especially when compared with the sources of authority we discussed earlier. Furthermore, the consequences for “breaking the rules” found within are typically not immediate (and after all, we’ve been taught from the ground up that we can always be granted forgiveness if only we ask for it). Finally, it may seem like the answers and advice you find in the Bible are “not fun” – that is, they’re not self-serving in the present. BUT! They will serve you well in the long run.
The Bible specifically mentions the source of its authority in at least 2 (and probably more) locations. The first is in 2 Timothy…
2 Timothy 3:17 – Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another – showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.
2 Timothy is the final letter written by the apostle Paul, in which he makes one of the most critical claims in Christianity – that the Bible is breathed out by God. This statement had the possibility of changing the way Christians saw the Bible – and it did! As Christians, it should already be established that God has authority over us. But the Bible is an inanimate object, written by men, so the authority concept doesn’t transfer easily. Furthermore, if you really pay attention to how Paul talks about the Bible, it doesn’t align with the concept of authority that I mentioned earlier. The Bible isn’t about controlling people (although there are groups of people who have tried to use it this way). There’s another passage that mentions the authority of God’s Word. Can I get someone (or a few of you) to read ?
10 God’s Word is better than a diamond better than a diamond set between emeralds. You’ll like it better than strawberries in spring, better than red, ripe strawberries.
11-14 There’s more: God’s Word warns us of danger and directs us to hidden treasure. Otherwise how will we find our way? Or know when we play the fool? Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh! Keep me from stupid sins, from thinking I can take over your work; Then I can start this day sun-washed, scrubbed clean of the grime of sin. These are the words in my mouth, these are what I chew on and pray. Accept them when I place them on the morning altar, O God, my Altar-Rock, God, Priest-of-My-Altar.
The Psalmist also writes about how the Bible is the revelation of God, and goes on to describe the value of His word – more than diamonds and emeralds, more than the finest berries. You’ll notice that David mentions the way we’re supposed to use the Bible – a map to keep us on the right path – and that there is no mention of controlling other people with it.
What Does Biblical Authority Look Like?
Revering: As I mentioned previously, as Christians, we are to revere (show devoted, deferential honor to) God. That’s easy enough to understand, harder to do. But if we truly believe that the Bible is God-breathed, then we should be able to extend the same reverence to it as we apply to our King.
Seeking: As much as we as humans desire to be self-sufficient, we aren’t. We constantly turn to external sources for advice and affirmation. One sign of Biblical authority is whether or not we seek this advice and affirmation in the word of God, rather than from worldly sources.
Applying: You can seek as much advice as you want from the Bible, but if you choose to follow a different source of information when it comes down to actually making the choice, the Bible has very little authority over you. Simple as that. This is perhaps the most difficult part of allowing the Bible to have this authority, because the advice it gives often scares us. If we truly want the Bible to have authority over us, we have to be able to cross the line from seeking to applying.
Who Has Authority Over Me?
The third and final pillar looks at who (or what) has authority over you. This has the potential to be a very personal topic, and as such, I don’t want to spend too much time on it here – you’ll have time to discuss it in your small groups though. I just want to highlight a few key questions that may help you in figuring out the answer.
- From where do you usually seek advice?
- When you need to make a choice, who encourages your final decision?
- What does the voice in the back of your head worry about when you’re making a decision?
If any of you are any bit like me, the Bible isn’t a primary source of authority in your life. Maybe today’s study has had an impact on you, and you’d like to explore the idea of Biblical authority a little bit more. Here are a few “Next Steps” you can take to guide you along this path.
- Read the Bible seriously: when we open our Bibles with the intention of learning because we want to, not because we have to, our hearts are so much more open to the lessons contained within. You may wish to start a reading plan or devotional program to help you keep on track, and you can do this individually, or with your small group to keep each other accountable.
- Consult the Bible for everything: this is a daunting task. But if you truly desire to have the Bible as your link to the one true authority, it needs to become your handbook for life.
- Apply truth appropriately: this goes hand in hand with the previous one – ensure that you are applying the truth from God’s Word appropriately to the situation you’re in. You may know Psalm 37:4 off by heart (For those of you who don’t, it’s “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.”) but this doesn’t apply to every situation you might find yourself in. This is why it’s necessary to read new things, and not simply rely on the parts you already know.
- Obey God’s Word with a sincere heart: When Paul and David talked about the Bible being God’s map for us, they envisioned a Christian body that followed the Word without hesitation, and with a sincere heart, not a body who followed out of spite, or because it’s what everyone else is doing. Do it for yourself, and others will see the difference in you.
- Ask God to speak to you through His teachings: Accepting the Bible as a link to and source of authority requires a heavy dose of prayer. Asking God to speak to you through his teachings will help you to be serious as you spend time in God’s Word, help you to see the Bible as a place to go for advice, help you to know where and how to apply what you’ve read, and build a sincerity in your heart for God’s Word.
If you are considering making a significant change in how you approach the Bible in your life, talk to a youth leader or Dustin about extra resources and support – we’re here to help you, and we’d love to help keep you accountable!