Turns out the younger brother was drawing a picture of “chocolate poop.”
Now, I’m sorry if you find that a bit crass, but as anyone who has been around Kindergarten boys knows, this kind of thing is central to a boy’s sense of humor. Of course, plenty of people do object to this sort of thing, and that’s why this situation escalated.
The older brother knew that this would not be an approved activity. In fact, he’d heard a parent say it needed to stop. So he decided to enforce things himself, and of course that didn’t go well.
You see, even though the impulse was correct, my older son has no authority over his brother. In fact, he doesn’t really have authority at all at this stage of his life.
All authority is delegated authority.
Think about this: Nobody has intrinsic authority. In other words, you and I don’t walk around with authority that flows from our nature.
We all know people who think they do, but Scripture tells us better. There is no birthright to authority, there is no authority that you possess simply because you’re awesome. Any authority you have has been delegated to you by someone else.
We know this to be true practically. When given orders we don’t like, we might protest by saying, “Who do you think you are?” or “Who gave you the right to tell us what to do?”
What we’re asking in this situation is for someone to show the source of their authority. Where did it come from? Is it valid?
The religious rulers approached Jesus this way in Luke 20:2, when they said to him: “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.”
How Delegated Authority Functions
At times I might choose to delegate authority to my oldest son – I might tell him, for example, “Watch your sister at the table while I get a refill.” For that particular period of time, he has received authority from me to carry out that task.
Or I might say, “If your brother is drawing pictures of chocolate poop, do what you need to do to stop him.” Had I delegated this aspect of my authority to him, then he would have been fine to disrupt or destroy his little brother’s masterpiece.
But he has no authority until I delegate my authority to him. So his authority in any situation is really an extension or application of my authority.
And so it is with all authority. My authority as a parent does not adhere to me by itself. Like we’ve said, I have no intrinsic authority. My authority as a parent is delegated authority – from God.
Consider Romans 13:1: “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”
Jesus understood this, of course. He talked a lot about authority. As an example, we find him telling Pontius Pilate that his authority was delegated authority:
“So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.’” (John 19:10-11)
Just as any authority my son has is an extension of my authority, so any delegated authority is an extension of the authority of the one who delegates it. And you probably know where we’re going with this…
The Source of All Authority
Ultimately, there is only one being who bears authority intrinsically – that is, who naturally has authority. Obviously that is God, the Creator of all things.
All authority belongs to and originates with God.
And God’s authority is all-encompassing.
Abraham Kuyper, the nineteenth century Dutch theologian/statesman/educator famously said, “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, “This is mine! This belongs to me!”
Understanding the nature of authority helps us in at least two ways:
1. We respond better to proper authority over us.
We live in a culture that despises authority. It is almost virtuous to question authority and submission to authority is seen as weakness.
While there are situations where it is appropriate to question authority, in general Christians should recognize that all authority comes from God. To rebel against authority that has been delegated by God – that is an extension of his authority – is to rebel against God himself. And that’s not a happy place to be.
The early church struggled with these things, and I suppose we would similarly struggle with earthly authorities if they were routinely persecuting us. But look at the advice Peter gave:
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God..” (1 Peter 2:13-15).
You might read that whole passage, and Romans 13, to go into greater depth.
2. We will be more humble in using authority.
You know what they say: “Power corrupts.” Authority has a way of going to our heads.
That won’t happen if we remember that it’s not really our authority – that it is delegated to us by the Creator.
We might also find that we give greater consideration to the purpose of our authority. Why has God delegated this to you? What are you to do in this role? We should seek to steward our authority well.
3. Other stuff!
There are doubtless plenty of other ways a biblical understanding of authority can help us, and there are plenty of situations where we might apply these principles. We can apply them in our parenting and family relationships, in government and civic duties, in the life of our local church, and in our daily work.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.