Answers from Heaven
Section 4 - Authority (Advanced)
(Click for Basic)
This fourth section of Answers from Heaven discusses the roles of the various kinds of individuals listed in the Bible: pastors, apostles, teachers, prophets, evangelists, etc. It examines their responsibilities as outlined in the Scriptures, both with regard to the Church as a whole, and to its individual members. The work that these individuals do in order to assist believers in meeting their spiritual goals is also revealed here. The Advanced category goes into further details about the role of Church officials, showing the connection between modern roles and those that have existed from the days of Moses and the part they play in the community of believers.
To whom does a human being owe allegiance? This is a question that we address from the time of our birth, until our very last moment. Authorities are those from whom we learn about life and reality. Authorities set the rules that we follow and, when the authorities that we have accepted disagree in their information, we are faced with choices. What is the right path to take, if two or more sources of "truth" appear to be in opposition? The way we view our priorities determines how we make these decisions.
Question 1: What is the first authority to which we submit in life?
Bible Verses: Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:2-3, Leviticus 19:3, 2 Timothy 3:1-5
Notes: Parents represent a child's first authority in his or her life. To the degree that they set the initial rules of life, and teach values, they are a stand-in for Yahweh Himself, until such a time as personal convictions can be formed. Even thereafter, children of all ages are instructed to give honor to their parents, to respect them and to seek their best good.
Parents, on the other hand, must understand their grave responsibility toward the human beings placed in their care. Theirs is the supremely important task of teaching their children about the Savior, and setting an example worthy of illustrating His sacrifice and love. To this end, the Scripture instructs, "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4)
The question may be asked, "If the Ten Commandments represent principles to be obeyed by all of Yahweh's creatures, how does the fifth apply to angels, who have no ‘mother and father?'" Clearly, the 10 Commandments, as we know them currently, were given "by Moses." (2Chronicles 34:14) They were spoken by the Creator, but recorded by the prophet for human minds. Some have made the mistake of thinking that, since the Law was given by Moses, it was created at that point, or is of use only to Moses' nation of Israel. Yet even the Law of God for humans was known before Moses received the stone tablets, (Exodus 16:4) and the concept of "sin," as a transgression of the Law, was understood by faithful men and women from the beginning. (Genesis 4:7, 39:9)
Angels may understand the fifth commandment as readily as any human being. Although they are not called "sons" because the Father did not beget them from His own Person, (Hebrews 1:5) they nevertheless owe their lives and existences unto Him, and He is therefore the One to whom they owe their allegiance.
In a sense, then, the fifth and first commandments have much in common; they teach respect for authority, and humility and reverence for those who have experience and responsibility. This ultimately softens our characters, allowing us to receive rebuke and correction when necessary. As such, understanding the fifth commandment is a key to sanctification, and ultimately everlasting life.
Question 2: In what ways are God's authority conveyed to mankind?
Bible Verses: Hebrews 1:1-2, 2Timothy 3:16, 2 Chronicles 20:20, Galatians 4:6, Hebrews 10:16, Proverbs 11:14, Matthew 18:18-20, 1 Corinthians 6:1-4
Notes: Yahweh has chosen a number of different ways to speak to mankind, the choice depending upon what we best needed at the time. The majority of Yahweh's recorded words to humanity have come through prophets: men and women chosen to speak on His behalf, calling those who have pledged to serve the Almighty to repentance, or warning them of upcoming events.
Through the writings of those prophets who put their inspiration to paper, Yahweh created the Scriptures, an enduring testimony to every generation, and through this Bible He has made an impact on every age of human history. To those who have read and believed the words of the Bible, Yahweh has been able to speak through His Spirit acting on their conscience, and through the principles and character of the Divine Law.
Finally, and most importantly, Yahweh has spoken to human beings through His Son, whose life, ministry, sacrifice, and resurrection testify to the limitless grace that He has poured out upon us in love, showing us the way in which we should walk, and opening up to us an everlasting Inheritance.
The New Testament consists largely of Christ's recorded teachings and actions, as well as commentary by those who traveled with and observed Him. Paul's writings, which compose the majority of the New Testament books, discuss doctrine and reveal issues of faith that confronted the early Church.
The Church, in turn, as the "Body" of Christ, or the physical representation of the Son of God on the earth, is invested with a certain degree of authority over decisions relating to believers. The Church is the settler of disputes, and the source of answers for "difficult questions" when they arise. While the modern world has largely come to reject organized religion as an authority over individual lives (and perhaps rightly so, considering the corruption to be found in many current religions) the true Bride of Christ remains faithful, and She is trustworthy regarding Her charge.
Question 3: What is the result of accepting Yahweh's authority over our lives?
Bible Verses: Deuteronomy 5:29, Exodus 15:26, Psalm 125:1, Acts 5:32, Psalm 15:1-5, Ephesians 4:11-12
Notes: Yahweh wants what is best for His people. Rather than using His authority to force us to act in certain ways, however, He uses that authority to set before us moral choices, and to keep us free from the attempts of the Enemy of Souls (Satan and his fallen angels) to keep us enslaved to sinful tendencies. This is a far greater use of His power than direct manipulation, as it allows us to freely worship Him, and freely love Him, simply because He is worthy of these things.
If we accept the authority of Yahweh, and render unto Him obedience to His will, we will be safe, preserved from unnecessary suffering, and we will come to know Him through His Holy Spirit, which He places within us as His enduring presence. At the end of our time on earth, those of us who have placed ourselves beneath His protective care will dwell with Him in eternity.
Community is also an important element of our spiritual experience. As will be mentioned several times in this chapter, the purpose of the Church, and its divinely ordained role in believers' lives, is ultimately to "perfect" the saints. Accepting not only Yahweh's direct authority over us, but also the influence of the community into which He has placed us, is what prepares us for the divine society of Heaven.
Question 4: What is Yahweh's motive in giving us instructions in even the smallest details of our behavior?
Bible Verses: Jeremiah 10:23, Jeremiah 29:11, Proverbs 3:5, Jeremiah 17:9, Galatians 5:16-25, Deuteronomy 5:29, Hebrews 12:6-11
Notes: Mankind, through a combination of ignorance and the carnal nature, is not capable of correctly choosing its own path in life. It takes humility and self-awareness to admit this. Many say they want "freedom," including freedom from religious sentiment, but freedom without accountability to some standard (such as the Divine Law) quickly leads to chaos. Nobody is truly free if there is lawlessness, and Yahweh's Law, the Bible tells us, is "perfect" for the preservation of human happiness. (Psalm 19:7)
Those who allow the Creator to direct their steps will benefit from His thoughts toward them, of peace and of lasting success. They will deny the promptings of the flesh toward unlawful aims, and the "Fruit of the Spirit" will be manifest in their lives, including the apparently insignificant aspects. All that they do will be in accord with the principles of righteousness.
In reading of the history of Israel, as they were brought from slavery to freedom in the Promised Land, we may note that the journey was not always a smooth one. For one newly converted to Christ, there may be "growing pains," as the principles of righteousness - so different from the desires of the flesh - come to be understood. Here, again, great humility is needed for, as the Book of Hebrews tells us, the love of our Father leads Him to correct us. This correction may seem, at times, to be difficult to endure, especially when it touches on behaviors that may appear insignificant, or perfectly normal to one's former self. But, as the Scriptures tell us, they are so that we may be no more earthly creatures, driven only by immediate needs and desires, but rather "that we might be partakers of His holiness." (Heb 12:10)
Ultimately, our Father wants us to be happy in both this life and the life to come; therefore, He outlines for us the best way for us to obtain and maintain this happiness.
Question 5: Have there been any changes to Yahweh's authority or instructions between the Testaments?
Bible Verses: Deuteronomy 29:29, Malachi 3:6, Matthew 5:17-19, Romans 7:12, Hebrews 13:7-8, Hebrews 7:11-28, Deuteronomy 31:24-26
Notes: Both the Old and New Testaments make it very clear that neither the Law-giver, nor His Law, has ever changed, nor will either ever change. The Messiah, in His teaching, made it very clear that the principles of the Law are established, fulfilled, in Him, but that this is not the same as their destruction.
The Law, and specifically the "commandments" in the Law, continue to instruct humanity what sin and righteousness are; indeed, there is no other definition given in the Bible for "sin" except that it is a "transgression of the Law," (1John 3:4) or perhaps more properly a state of rebellion against the Law, and a violation of our faith in the Law-giver.
The only passage in the entire Bible that seems to speak of a "change" in the Law is found in Hebrews 7. It speaks there, specifically, of a change in the priesthood. The Law given to Moses with regard to the Sanctuary indicated that the priests that ministered ought to be taken from the Tribe of Levi, and they were to offer sacrifices of animals for the chosen people. Yahshua the Messiah, however, is not a Priest after the order of Levi, but after a much older and eternal order that is symbolized by the Old Testament king who was called Melchizedek.
Due to this, the Book of Hebrews states that, since Christ is not a Levite Priest, the "Law" concerning the Priesthood - and that Law specifically - no longer applies to the new Covenant between God and man. Yahshua's sacrifice ends the requirement for animals to be offered, thus removing this major role of the earthly priesthood, and necessarily "changing" the Law. The Savior came forth from the Tribe of Judah, not Levi, and therefore human requirements according to the Hebrew understanding must also "change."
The Law given to Moses, specifically for Israel's use while it was a nation, was written on a scroll that was placed in the side of the Ark of the Covenant - where the 10 Commandments already rested. It was a later addition, written on parchment, not stone in Yahweh's own finger, and contained several instructions that no longer have any meaning since Yahshua became the true and eternal High Priest.
Some take this passage from Hebrews and declare on its basis that "The 10 commandments and those instructions governing moral decisions are invalid" simply because there was a change in the Mediator of the Law. This is an impression without any Biblical foundation whatsoever. Yahweh's authority, and the instructions He has given us by virtue of that authority, are everlasting.
Question 6: How can we recognize those who have falsely assumed authority over religious or moral behavior?
Bible Verses: Jeremiah 3:15, Eph 4:11-12, Matthew 16:5-12, Romans 6:17, Matthew 15:9, Titus 3:10-11, Genesis 3:1, 2 Corinthians 11:12-15, 1 John 4:1
Notes: The best way to identify the many falsehoods that are possible in doctrine is to learn the truth, and to note the way that it contrasts with everything else.
The Scriptures tell us that those who truly speak for Yahweh will be leaders after His own Heart. They will teach, and act, according to His principles. Their purpose will be to prepare a people for Heaven, and thus their goal is to "perfect" the saints. Those who allow, justify, or excuse the presence of sin among those being sanctified are not messengers of Yahweh, for His teachings will be without "leaven," unmixed with the corruption of the world. True messengers will teach that the Gospel, when accepted, frees the believer from sin. It will not reflect human traditions and alterations, through which much of modern Christianity believes that even those who are born again may continue in sin until their death or the return of Yahshua.
Those who rightly wield the authority of Yahweh do so with as much gentleness and grace as possible. They will rebuke sin with urgency, knowing that it is a matter of life and death; nevertheless, they will never utilize carnal force. They will not attempt to control the lives of their hearers beyond Scriptural bounds, in which "disfellowship" for moral and spiritual corruption is the final form of Church discipline. Any Church leaders that attempt to exercise control over their congregations beyond this teach, not Christianity, but some form of cultish manipulation.
The clues may be subtle. The Enemy of Souls delights in disguising unrighteousness as righteousness. Those things that careless reasoning considers signposts of success (attracting large crowds, charisma, an apparent knowledge of the Scriptures) do not necessarily indicate a Biblically grounded teacher. It is not the style, but the content, that matters in determining whether or not the Gospel is truly being taught - and any compromise with secular philosophy, anything that limits or weakens the authority of Yahweh's Word, is a flag of warning.
Question 7: What is the role of individuality in religion?
Bible Verses: Matthew 22:37, Romans 12:1, Jeremiah 1:5, Romans 12:3-8, 2 Corinthians 1:12, 2 Corinthians 4:2, Romans 14:1-6, Acts 15:36-41
Notes: The most important of all the Bible's commandments is to "love." Our love is first to be given to the Heavenly Creator, and this with all of our "minds." This can be nothing but an individual choice, an individual course of action that does not depend upon the choices of spouses, parents, children, or friends.
Yahweh requires of each of us our "reasonable" service, our logical, thoughtful loyalty. This is only right, because He has known us, as individuals with unique thoughts and gifts, from the womb. Human life, as identified by the Almighty, begins from the moment He gives that life. He claims it as His, not anyone else's, and that life ought to respond in love to the knowledge of Yah.
In the course of our lives, we may each develop different preferences; each may hold different opinions, and the Church is instructed to honor them. Unity of spirit and purpose provides a common standard - the purity of Christ's character, and righteousness according to the Divine Law - but this does not mean uniformity of thought, and the conscience of the individual believer, will forbid different perceptions.
The New Testament, to give a noteworthy example, describes a "sharp" contention between Paul and Barnabas, who up to that point had been an effective evangelical team. As a result of this strong difference in opinion, they separated, each taking a new partner and working in a different area. The Scriptures do not rebuke either of them for their disagreement or separation; and while disagreements, especially between Brethren, ought to be handled as quickly and gracefully as possible, the disagreements themselves, and individual viewpoints, are not considered to be transgressions unless one or both sides clearly violates Biblical principles.
Question 8: How do we deal with apparent conflicts in Yahweh's instructions for us?
Bible Verses: 1 Corinthians 2:12-15, Hebrews 5:12 - Hebrews 6:1, Acts 15:5-6, 1 Timothy 5:17
Notes: The Books of the Bible were written by different people, in different times, and to different audiences. Although they contain one message, concerning the love of the Creator, variations in wording and purpose can sometimes give the appearance of contradiction. The Apostles of Yahshua acknowledge this, writing in one place that this is the nature of the Word, "in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest [...] unto their own destruction." (2 Peter 3:16)
There is, nevertheless, a way to know the Truth. We must first seek Yahweh's wisdom, which comes through His indwelling Spirit. With this Spirit guiding us, we may compare scriptures with scriptures, passages with other passages, and see the principles clearly revealed. As the Book of Hebrews tells us, this is a sign of spiritual maturity. We are called to move beyond the "basic" principles, and onward into deeper truths concerning the Almighty.
Finally, if knowledge fails us as individuals, we are given a Church, a Family of believers in which individuals have been placed - the elders, teachers and evangelists - who have labored with the Word and its teachings, and who may be consulted for the more difficult matters to discern. As the Scriptures say, "in the multitude of counselors there is safety," (Proverbs 11:14) and we see examples of this such as when, in the Book of Acts, the Apostles and Elders met to settle some of the more challenging aspects of the New Covenant.
Question 9: How do we deal with apparent conflicts between Yahweh's Word and those whom we have accepted as authorities over the religious aspects of our lives?
Bible Verses: James 1:5, 2 Corinthians 5:11, Matthew 18:15-17, Romans 14:10, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Deuteronomy 29:29, 2 Peter 1:3
Notes: All things ought to be done with prayer. Certainly, disagreements among Brethren must be carefully handled, and with wisdom from on High. James writes that Yahweh gives wisdom to "all men liberally," not only to the elders. While those who have worked with the Word longest should be especially honored, and their opinions given great weight, it does not mean that they have been given all wisdom - and it certainly does not mean that they have authority over the consciences of the other members.
It is the work of those who know the truth to persuade others. With reason and with Scripture, they are to convince those with whom they disagree, so that there may be unity and a common understanding. If this cannot be done, and rebellion is involved, then the principles of resolving the conflict as laid out in the Gospel of Matthew may be employed.
If, after discussion first between individuals, then with a witness or two, and then before the entire Church, a matter is decided, it should be accepted by all involved. Even so, each individual is accountable to Yahweh for his or her own decisions and actions, and must not violate conscience for the sake of outward agreement. The Church, even if it believes an individual to be mistaken, cannot employ any measures beyond Scriptural reasoning to force conformity. On matters such as the nature of sin and righteousness, the Holy Spirit will provide a clear voice; on others, individuals may differ, and yet be bound by love and a common faith.
Where matters of great subtlety or complexity arise, it must be acknowledged that the matter may not be settled until this world passes away, and Christ reigns on an eternal Throne. It is not likely, however, that these finer points of doctrine or practice will actually have an impact on the work of winning souls; therefore, disagreements of this nature ought not to dominate the believers' time. We are told, after all, that we have received from our Father "all things that pertain unto life and godliness," and therefore if the resolution of a matter has not been clearly revealed, and investigation does not yield acceptable results, then the Christian is to move forward, not being content with ignorance, but trusting that Yahweh will reveal the truth in His time.
Question 10: What does Yahweh say about those who arbitrarily disregard those whom He has placed in authority within the Church?
Bible Verses: 1 Corinthians 1:10, Mark 7:9, Titus 3:10-11, Matthew 18:17, 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 1 Corinthians 5:11, 1 Corinthians 14:40
Notes: In matters of conscience, with regard to sincerely-held convictions, an individual may stand apart from others, even Church leaders. Where matters of mere opinion or preference are involved, however, every attempt must be made to hold a common belief and like practices. If an individual, for impure motives, for mere habit, or for tradition, is in a state of disunity, the Church is instructed to rebuke and warn of the consequences. Once, and then again, an attempt should be made to win the soul back to Christian unity.
If, after this, the individual persists in rebellion, there must be a separation, a parting of ways. Matthew 18 indicates that one who stands apart from the Church without justification will be cast off, and considered unconverted. Timothy is instructed to turn away from those who persist in their sins, especially if (as Paul tells us) this individual is "called a Brother."
The purpose of the Church is to perfect the Christian for eternal life, for service in Heaven. As a direct consequence, those who willfully disregard the gifts that Yahweh has given to His servants and messengers - including the gifts of wisdom to teach doctrine and to settle disputes - do not receive the things that are necessary for salvation. Delicate matters may be involved, but those who hold dissenting opinions should try, on both sides, to see the perspective of the others, and so to let the Spirit reveal the truth of all things.
The key here is "arbitrarily." Nothing about our Father in Heaven is arbitrary, without infinitely considered wisdom. His followers are to act in the same way, doing all things "decently and in order." The good of the "self" is to be set aside for the good of those who need to hear the Gospel, and ultimately for the good of Yahweh's reputation, for it is on the strength of His reputation among mankind that sinners are drawn to Him for salvation.
To be sure, matters of conscience can become quite challenging to unravel, but if the principles of Yahweh are held to be supreme, if His instructions are faithfully followed, and if the Church He has given to us is properly respected, then occasions in which the advice of the elders and an individuals' conscience are at odds will be exceedingly rare.
Question 11: What are the characteristics of those who speak for Yahweh?
Bible Verses: 1Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9, Acts 6:3, 1 Kings 13:1-34
Notes: A Church "Elder" need not necessarily be old. Each must, however, be aware of the great responsibility with which he has been entrusted. The deacons that are placed over the affairs of the Church are likewise called to a great work.
The Scripture tells us that these individuals must first be "blameless." They must do nothing worthy of rebuke or censure, for the reputation of the Body rests on their shoulders to a greater degree than others. They must be faithful, kind, and calm, so that they may know how to deal with diverse personalities among the congregations, and they must be just in their decisions. They must be hospitable, temperate and able to teach the Word with sincerity. They must be pure of convictions, with Spirit-led consciences, and orderly in all things - including their relationships with their families.
The qualifications are extensive, for Yahweh intends for these servants to prepare others for the Gospel work, and to perfect them for Heavenly society.
Included in the list of verses for this question is a lengthy passage consisting of the entire thirteenth chapter of 1 Kings. This set of verses has much to teach the children of Yahweh. Those who speak for the Father and Son must be firm in their convictions, and wise to the deceptions of the enemy. They are to be clear on what their ministry and mission is, lest they be led away by even those whom they consider to be trustworthy. It is not that believers are to be suspicious of one another; yet they must place their trust firmly in the Almighty and let Him direct their paths, even when great pressure or persuasion would misdirect them.
Question 12: In what ways do WE exercise the authority of Yahweh in our lives?
Bible Verses: John 16:26-27, Matthew 21:21, Mark 16:17, James 5:14-18, James 2:15-16, 1 Corinthians 9:27, 2 Timothy 4:7-8, John 8:29, Revelation 12:17
Notes: Although we pray in the name of the Son, the Father Himself loves us, and is eager to answer our prayers. Whatsoever we ask in righteousness, we have; thus, we exercise all authority in the universe toward our own sanctification, and for the blessing of others.
By faith, should a mountain need to be moved out of our way, it will be removed. Where there is no doubt, all things are possible to the believer in the course of their service to the Almighty. Miracles follow the believers, and we may have every confidence that our prayers on behalf of the sick, the poor, and the needy are heard and honored. Of course, where we have the power to actively assist others through ordinary means we must do so, and not expect that the Father will provide something for others when He has already provided us with the things that they need.
Perhaps most importantly, Yahweh has given us power over our own selves. By the grace of Yahshua, the old, carnal nature is dead. We keep our bodies under subjection to the Holy Spirit, declaring our victory with an invincible testimony, and therefore have confidence in our own salvation, and knowledge that we will see the beauty of the world to come.
To unconverted, declarations such as, "I have overcome the world," and "I have obtained victory over my sins, so that I do always those things that please my Father," may appear to be prideful. Ironically, individuals who consider themselves to be religious (without accepting victory over sin themselves) may be among the most likely to take offense to such statements, since they themselves cannot honestly make them. It must be understood by Christians that if "self" is dead, (Romans 6:11) any declaration made about the state of the soul is really about Christ Himself, for He dwells by His Spirit within the believer. (John 14:23) What Christ has said of His relationship to sin and the world, the believer may also say. This is, ultimately, the "testimony of Yahshua" that the Bible declares the redeemed will possess.
Here are some questions that a teacher may ask a Bible student in order to facilitate a discussion on the major topics of this section. By telling of their own experiences, and giving their testimony, Bible teachers can use these to guide the conversation toward the upcoming chapters of the study series.
Note that these do not have to be taken in order, and not all need to be asked. The conversation should be natural, free, and with the purpose of discovering the needs of the student that the Biblical faith can meet.
1) Why is a commandment about honoring parents found in the 10 Commandments, which is about perfect worship and righteous human behavior?
2) Why does the Bible emphasize the importance of group worship, and not just private prayer?
3) What does it mean that the Church is called a "nation" of kings and priests?
4) How is individual freedom balanced with the authorities that Yahweh has placed within the Church?
5) How can the verses about all being equal in Christ be harmonized with those that instruct wives to obey their husbands, and Church members to obey the elders?
6) How did the apostles react to the apparent favoring of Peter, James and John by Yahshua? How did He address their discontent?
7) In what ways are we, and might we be, called upon to "obey God rather than men?"