Growing in Authority

I’ve been thinking recently about some of the various levels of authority revealed for believers in the New Testament. I’ve found three: Servants, Friends and Sons.

· Servants beg favors from their masters. They have confidence that their master has the capacity to answer, but often have serious questions about whether the master has any inclination to answer.

· Friends make requests of their friends. They have confidence that their friend can meet the need, and they know that if properly encouraged (or nagged), the friend will stir themselves to meet the need.

· Sons issue commands from the family’s authority. They have confidence in their authority, and in their ability to back up that authority with power if necessary.

For years, most of the church has approached God from the perspective of servants begging favors from their master. We’ve begged God to answer our prayers, and like Dorcas’s friends, we try to justify our requests. “You need to do this for them [or me or us] because they [or I or we] have earned it.” We very seldom put it in that vocabulary, but that’s been the way we’ve prayed. “It would be so great if Suzie got saved because she could ….”

We know how to approach God as a servant. We’ve practiced servanthood, extolled servanthood, and prayed from a servant’s perspective for centuries. We’ve preached servanthood, and I think it’s been appropriate: we are not born as servants; we’re not born again with a servanthood instinct.

A servant’s life is pretty much without responsibility, doing whatever comes to the master’s mind. The servant is the guy that hides behind the curtain waiting for the master to snap his fingers and command him. Servants often love their masters, and certainly we’ve had a Master who is easy to love.

But servanthood is not where we belong today. It was a good revelation in times past, and it was necessary. But we learned that lesson. We need to move on.

We followers of Christ have talked about the fact that – theologically – we already are sons; we just need to exercise that authority. That’s true, but we don’t live in that revelation yet: I don’t know a single person who walks in the authority that our big brother and example Jesus did. Sonship is still a theory, albeit a good and true theory, and it really is where we’re headed.

But we’re not there yet. We’re on the road there, and we can see it around then next bend, and we’ll be there soon. We are right to look forward to it and to talk about it, provided that we don’t miss the place that we’re passing through now.

Right now, most of the church is just beginning to really walk in the friendship mode with God. A friend (where we are arriving) is not the same as a son (where we’re going ultimately), and it’s also substantially different than a servant (where we’ve been).

Jesus, of course established this friendship relationship: “14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15)

The friend takes a measure of responsibility in the relationship; a servant does not. A friend takes personal initiative as well as responding to his friend’s wishes. Friends don’t always drop everything when their friend says, “jump” like a servant does for his master. A friend may help us do the things on our heart, or they may try to talk us out of it, though they care deeply for their friend’s needs.

As a friend, we might say things that a servant never would. Things like “Hey, let’s do this. David did that. So did Mary. Sometimes, our friend might say, “Nah, let’s do this instead.” He did that to Paul.

A brief rabbit trail: since God is not a single personality, but three, I believe that we’ll find that we’ll have three relationships: our relationship with Father will be different than with the Son and different still than our relationship with the Holy Spirit. Personally, I find that my relationship with Father is (surprise!) a fathering relationship: comforting, affirming. My relationship with my Big Brother Jesus is a challenging one, like relating to my Captain or to a mature apostle who knows and likes me. I rather enjoy my relationship with the Holy Spirit the most: perhaps because I can’t figure Him out I have the fewest limits on what I expect in that relationship. I don’t know. I do know I relate to them differently.

So how shall we respond to the friendship of God? I offer three suggestions:

1) Acknowledge the friendship. Talk with Him as a friend. Talk with each aspect/person of God. Share your hopes and disappointments with Him. Find ways to have fun together. (Yes, that’s allowed!) He loves your time together more than you do, you know!

2) Take initiative. Make suggestions. “Hey, Jesus, somebody ought to do this. Why don’t we do it?” “You know, Father, I’ve always wanted to try this. Do you think we could do it together?”

3) Listen to Him. Ask Him what’s on His heart? What are His hopes and disappointments? What would He like to do today? Does He have a better idea of how to do that thing you’re thinking about? Real listening usually involves asking a question and waiting for your friend to answer. Yeah, I know: it sounds “religious” or “fake”. But just because other folks do it wrong, doesn’t mean you have to be weird about it.

Now one final warning before I wrap this up: we are not leaving the place of servanthood behind as we move into the place of friendship. We take it with us. We are His friends, and we need to live like it, but we are still servants of the Most High King. And when we begin to inhabit the place of sonship, we still won’t give up the place of servanthood, nor the place of friendship.

But it’s time that we stop living as if we were only servants. Let’s build a friendship with Father, with Jesus our Brother, and with the Holy Spirit. And then let’s let our friend reveal to us what it means to be a Son.


the rose among lillies said...


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the thoughts. It's interesting to think of the church moving through phases, but I think that happens. You're notion of a corporate emotional response to God in increasing levels is interesting and new to me. I have thought of this more along the lines of the church getting things pounded out historically. The revelation of God is all there for us in the Bible, but it can take scores of generations to get any particular thing nailed down. In the early centures, the church had to nail down trinitarian thought, christological and pneumatological ideas. That is, who is God and how are the Father, Son and Spirit related. Later on, we've worked on issues of grace and salvation and the nature of the church. Basically, I think it's quite interesting and vastly helpful to be engaged in the discussion that been going for centuries. Your thoughts are a slightly new twist on that.

Anonymous said...


I don't know if you know or not, but one of the beautiful things about the greek word, "diakonos" (servant or minister) is that it does not carry a hierarchical tone. Different from "doulos" (servant/slave), which carries the idea of being subservient, "diakonos" has no subservience. We are all on an equal playing field. There are even people who believe that the "diakonos" were the leaders of the early church, not the elders ("episkope"). Wouldn't that understanding change the way we live as a community of faith?!

David McLain said...

Wouldn't it indeed?! Oh, for that day!

(Note: The tone of your comments reminds me of a Vineyard pastor I once knew in Canada.)