The three A’s: Authority, Appointment, and Accountability

Scriptures: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; Psalm 79:1-9; 1 Timothy 2:1-7

Someone once wrote:

Where would you be if you had all the money your heart desires, if you had the most fabulous home in the perfect neighborhood, if you had no worries, if you came home and the finest gourmet meal was waiting for you, if your bath water had been prepared, if you had the perfect kids, if your spouse was waiting for you with open arms and kisses? Where would you be? Well, you’d be in the wrong house.

Someone else once wrote:

This is how government works: Three contractors are bidding to bid a broken fence at the White House in DC. One is from Chicago, another is from Tennessee, and the third is from Florida. All three go with the White House official to examine the fence.

The Florida contractor takes out a tape measure and does some measuring, then works some figures with a pencil. Well, he says, “I figure the job will run about $900: $400 for materials, $400 for my crew, and $100 profit for me.”

The Tennessee contractor also does some measuring and figuring and then says, “I can do this for $700: $300 for materials, $300 for my crew, and $100 profit for me.”

The Chicago contractor doesn’t measure or figure but leans over to the White House official and whispers, “$2700.” The official says, “Why, you didn’t even measure like the other guys. How did you come up with such a high figure?”

The Chicago contractor whispers back, “$1000 for me, $1000 for you. And we hire the guy from Tennessee to fix the fence.” “Done,” said the government official. That, my friends, is how government contracting works.

Well, let’s hope that’s not true, but certainly we often wonder.

Today’s passage from Timothy is usually preached, I discovered in my research, on July 4th or around election time, because it deals with government and authority, and praying for them, and submitting yourselves to them. There is, though, a difference that needs to be noted, between divine government and human government.

The human government may act as the sword or for some purpose of God’s divine purpose and will, but they are not divine government. It used to be, in history, that kings said that they had divine right, that they were representing God in their rulership, and so therefore they spoke with His authority, but we recognize that fact is not true.

Still, we wonder sometimes about our governments and our authorities, and I’m going to say not just about on a national level or local level, but even within the church.

Now, to set the stage a little bit, in Jeremiah, as was noted, Israel is complaining to God about their mistreatment by the Assyrians. Jeremiah is proclaiming to the people, in his crying, that God has allowed the Assyrian rule as discipline, because they turned away from Him and His rule.

They’re complaining about the civil authority, the earthly authority and government, but that’s because they’ve forgotten and turned away from divine authority and government. Even wicked governments may be placed by God for a time, for His purposes.

Now in Timothy we see something similar, actually. The Romans are the ones that are in rule, and they like to stomp with heavy combat boots on anyone who disagrees with them. The Christians during that time are being persecuted. Nero liked to use them for torches, and of course we’ve all heard the stories of throwing them to the lions, etc. It could be dangerous to stand up and be a Christian.

Paul is telling Timothy something that we need to take to heart, to obey the government and authority, for God has appointed the government for His purposes, remember that God will hold them accountable in the end. We need to pray for them and their leadership.

We need to recognize the differences between if they allow something contrary to God’s Word and if they mandate it. For instance, today, government may allow abortions. It does not command or require them like China’s government does. If it did, and we happen to be against abortion, then we would be forced by Biblical conviction to disobey the government.

I’m sure there are other things that we could look at in the Scriptures. For a long time they tried to do it with the temperance movement and Prohibition, where they decided that drinking was against God’s rule, and they tried to legislate that and it didn’t work. But there would be a difference between the government allowing someone who’s an adult to drink, and a government that said, You will drink, at which point you may need to stand up for God.

Like Daniel, we have civil disobedience only when it goes directly against God’s command in His Scripture, His Word. So, I don’t know about you, but if you’re like me, you grumble. Plus you’re paying your taxes, for instance, and that’s part of Christian stewardship.

Paul is speaking to Timothy about kings and rulers, but he also talks about his own appointment as an apostle, and so, while it’s not explicit, I want to talk about another government or leadership that we need to work with, and that is the one here in the church.

We elect our leaders but they’re ordained by God, and appointed to us for this time. We should be praying for them every single day, by name. You see, they’re not just administrators or caretakers. They are our spiritual leaders. They work at discerning God’s direction for this church and in discerning a vision and goal. We need to support that with our hearts and minds and efforts.

I think we see a great example of this with the building fund. There was a vision that people have had for community outreach and to improve fellowship here in the church, and they made movements on that, and we drew from resources from within the church to present a plan and a structure. We’re making a lot of progress towards completing that.

But there may be other areas where you disagree with the vision the Session has had, or is forming, and you can say so, and certainly give input and opinions, both before and after, but we need to recognize the call of God to support the vision of our spiritual leaders. Too often it seems like if things aren’t just the way we like them, why, we go and play in our own sandbox.

There’s a story that says two women were riding on a train together, and they began to argue over the window. They called a conductor, and one of them said, “If this window is open I’ll catch a cold and die.” The other woman said, “If this window is closed I’ll suffocate.” The two women glared at each other.

Finally, the conductor didn’t know what to do, so he asked the advice of a man who was sitting nearby. The man said, “Well, first open the window, and that will kill one of them. Then close the window, and that will kill the other. And then we’ll have some peace around here.”

Brothers and sisters, that’s not the way to make friends and influence people and make progress in the church. Instead, we should be thoughtful and considerate of others, being different from most people in the world, and be a shining example of kindness and selflessness. Sometimes God gives us a vision or a change in the culture of the church, that takes us out of our comfort zone. That’s the way we grow and mature spiritually.

There was a time, many years ago, when preacher Dwight L. Moody was criticized because of the evangelistic methods he used. Moody replied, “I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.” The sad truth is, most Christian people do little or nothing to present a witness for the Lord Jesus Christ.

While the unbelieving world is shouting out its message, we go to church but do little outside of church to spread the message of Christ, and if all we’re doing is saying Amen to the sermon inside the church and doing nothing outside the church to witness, then we’re not reaching people for Christ. The Lord doesn’t expect us to do everything but He does expect us to do something, and He expects us to be more alert to the opportunities around us to witness for Christ.

We should do this with both fear and trembling, and with confidence, because, you see, God will hold us accountable, each one of us, for what we do with our lives. Henri Nouwen once said, “Stewardship is everything you do after you say, ‘I believe.’” Our lives give witness and testimony to Christ.

We can hold others accountable. We can hold the leaders of our governments accountable. We can hold the leaders of our church accountable for fulfilling their vision that they have presented. Ultimately we need to remember we are citizens of heaven. Our greatest responsibility is to live and look like Christ.

Now one Sunday, as a family drove home from church, a little girl turned to her mother and said, “Mommy? There’s something about the preacher’s message this morning that I don’t understand.” The mother said, “Oh, what is it?” The little girl replied, “Well, he said that God is bigger than we are. He said that God is so big He could hold the world in His hand. Is that true?” The mother replied, “Yes, that’s true, honey.”

“But Mommy, he also said that God comes to live inside us when we believe in Jesus as our Savior. Is that true too?” Again, the mother assured the little girl that that was what the pastor had said and that it was true. With a puzzled look on her face, the little girl then asked, “If God is bigger than us, and lives in us, wouldn’t He show through?”

If God is living inside of us, He’ll show through on the outside. If the fire of Christ is burning on the inside of us, then that fire will spread to the outside and to those around us, as we look for opportunities to witness, to testify, to invite, to encourage, and point people to Christ.

As we’re good citizens, whether in a nation or a Kingdom sense, we need to practice certain things. We need to pray constantly, always. We need to participate in the vision and work of our local home and people.

There was a time in the church that sponsored me into ministry where there was a vote on a major change in the building, I think it was boilers or something like that, and it was a significant cost and expense. It was very contentious, I guess, in terms of the people who wanted to do it one way versus the people who wanted to do it another way. In fact, it took a vote by ballots, rather than speaking or raising hands.

I’ve always admired Pastor Ted – that was my pastor at that church, but I really admired him in that moment, when they did the tally, and the vote was 35 to 34, in favor of one side. He said, “I understand that many of you here are disappointed, but now our job as a church is to pull together behind the decision that has been made.”

We’re accountable for our behavior, and responsible for what we do to support the work of Christ through this church. We get to hold our leaders accountable for their own example, their teaching and work, even as we are held accountable.

By the way, that goes for me as well. I always tell people in Bible study that I’m not only accountable for what I live but for what I teach. It says so in the Scriptures. Teachers are held doubly accountable.

And so are our spiritual leaders, I believe, because they have been given the gift of leadership, they’ve been given the place and role to discern God’s vision, and then they give that to you and direct you, and lead you hopefully in a new way to follow God, and they should be held accountable for that, to make certain they’re doing what God called them.

And as we do all that, holding each other accountable, we need to do it all in love, because that’s the cornerstone and the crux. Paul was appointed an apostle to the Gentiles. They were a people that were pretty much seen as useless by the Jews, initially, and yet there were given equal place in the church, the new church that was formed by the resurrected. I’m sure that there were struggles with that.

They had their own ideas that were very different from the Jewish traditional ideas, and you see some of that tension play out in Galatians and the Acts of the Apostles, as they try and figure out how you can be a believer and best represent a witness to Christ. You find out that you don’t necessarily need to be circumcised, but you do need to be baptized.

You don’t need to live a kosher life, but the disciples said you do need to abstain from meat that comes from strangled animals and from drinking blood, and so they have a variety of different things that they decided would be suitable, as they came to sort of a compromise for a new vision of the church and where God was leading them in order to reach the world.

We will come up to many challenges here in this church and in this community. This community is undergoing change, as it becomes more of a bedroom community, as we have construction to the south, with buildings and businesses. Things are changing all around us. It seems sometimes like change is about the only thing you can count on these days.

We need to go out and meet that, meet that with a vision, a vision for how to reach others with the grace of Jesus Christ and the good news of the Gospel. We need to find ways of working with the church and each other, as we continue to witness in this community to who God is, and just how much He loves you and me.

And as we do that, then we give God glory and honor, and we can praise Him with our whole hearts and minds, whether it be in worship, whether it be in mission, whether it be at work. Give all that you have to Christ. And be good citizens, the best that you can, so that you can represent the goodness of Christ to a world that’s lost sight of what it means to be good.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.


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