Authority, Forgiveness and Discipline

Authority, Forgiveness and Discipline

As the title “Authority, Forgiveness and Discipline” suggests, this post touches on the role of leaders. I am referring to those with authority as people who are responsible for the growth and well-being of others. This includes parents, teachers, superiors in workplaces, pastors, youth leaders, and as you can see, almost anyone depending on how you define your roles.

Forgiveness

As humans, we are far from perfect but are being made perfect. Yes, we do silly things that can irritate, anger and hurt the people who are around us. This is the time when those in authority need to exercise forgiveness. Forgiveness is not released only after an apology is given. Forgiveness is not holding anger and bitterness towards the person despite what was done or said, or sometime not done or said. It is to still be able to look at the person with the love of God and giving the person the worth and value God have for him or her. Forgiveness is often taught and talked, where many are struggling to practice, including myself.

Discipline

Perhaps it is this struggle that is why we often end the process at forgiveness. As by the time we manage to forgive, we are done with the matter already. Yet Biblically, there is one more step.

Let us refer to Matthew 18:15-20 (NASB):

15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

The heading for this section in the NASB version says “Discipline and Prayer”. We often quote verses 18 and 19 for prayer, but it is not often that we look at it in context of discipline. Verses 18 and 19 deal with spiritual authority and how this is connected to verses 15-17, which is the context of these truths. This is corporate spiritual authority that we see Jesus taught here. The source of the power is of course from God through the work of Jesus Christ. I believe verse 15-17 lies the key to unlock this authority and power given to the church.

Sin and Spiritual Authority

God hates sin. When sin is present, God does not bless and the flow of authority is stopped. In the Old Testament, God judges sin. Individuals like Achan and even King David had their sins judged. In New Testament, the most dramatic incident was Annanias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). These were sins that were hidden from the knowledge of the church. Yet for sins that are known to the church, God gives His body His authority to judge, release forgiveness and discipline. Discipline can only come when there is forgiveness, then the actions taken will be to correct and for growth. Without forgiveness, any action taken is revenge which is not to seek the good of the offender. If the offender is to remain in the community, as per normal, the gravity of sin from God’s perspective is never fully reflected, and thus it is not possible to learn that sin is an abonimation to God. It most probably is not to the offender. If it is, he or she would have not done it or would have repented quickly. Remember that excommunicating the offender is not a life-time sentence. Upon repentence, i.e. the person realized the gravity of the sin and is willing to change and forsake the old ways, the person is fully integrated back into the church community.

By dealing with sin through the heart of God, considering both God’s hate towards sin and love towards men, this is when the church can exercise the very spiritual authority given in verses 18-20. If these verses are set in full motion, what a great testimony of the glory of God we will be here on earth.

 

Elders and Overseers

Qualifications of Elders

5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, 6 namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. 7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnaciousnot fond of sordid gain, 8 but hospitableloving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. 10 For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. 12 One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed. – Titus 1:5-15 (emphasis mine)

The Bible is very clear about the qualities of elders for appointment. Elders carry with them spiritual authority, which includes strategic and pastoral leadership. This means that the person needs to have a functional amount of IQ (Intellectual Quotient), EQ (Emotional Quotient) and SQ (Spiritual Quotient), which I personally believe that the last is most important, followed by the second. Eldership, as the word suggests, is usually made up of people who are senior in physical age. Looking at the criteria that Apostle Paul gave to Titus, the characteristics of a qualified elder does require a person to yield to God’s teachings in application over time for these qualities to be imprinted in their character & the way they deal with people. Yet, being senior in age does not mean that these qualities are present, implying that the most senior in age may not qualify to be an elder.

The SQ maturity is measured in their understanding in the Word of God resulting in sound doctrine. Sound doctrine builds up and exhorts the people under their care, bringing life of Christ. As a double-edged sword, the Word also brings rebuke. Interestingly, it does not mention about being able to hold a good debate in the interpretation of a Scripture, but how it is applied to the building of the Body of Christ. The fruit is in the people around that has been built up. IQ is not emphasised here because the revelation of the Word can be simple with deep truths that grows people. A Bible school student in all his studies still may not have the revelation of the Word if it is only the mind exercise without having our lives being transformed by it. The role of teaching and using the Word is so important that the life of an elder has to reflect it, therefore the requirements of a family to be in good order. This is very much in line with the requirement of an elder being sensible. Sensibility of a person is measured by others around and visible by others response to them.

The EQ requirements are slightly more and specific. It is almost like the tangible aspects of the fruit of the spirit in action. The church is about a community of believers and thus as elders and leaders, the EQ qualities play a significant role in ascertaining who is suitable for such a position. Below is the list of qualities from the Bible passage rewritten in a listed form.

  1. not self-willed
  2. not quick-tempered
  3. not addicted to wine
  4. not pugnacious (not quarrelsome)
  5. not fond of sordid gain
  6. hospitable
  7. loving what is good
  8. sensible
  9. just
  10. devout
  11. self-controlled

I don’t think I need to go through the list one by one as we know what these qualities are when we see them in someone. When it is lacking, we can tell too. No one is perfect and the person described here seems like a perfect person. I believe what it is referring to is someone who is already exhibiting these traits even though it is not in full measure. No one on earth can every reflect these in full-measure at all times except Christ. Well, I guess it will help to use the opposites to know those who are not to be considered for the position of eldership or leadership. Those who are self-willed, , quick-tempered, an alcoholic, quarrelsome, involved in questionable businesses, insensible, loving what is evil, unjust, noncommittal and without self-control are not suitable to be candidates for eldership.

The guidelines are so clear and there are instances whereby the church is weak because of the appointment of elders or leaders that are contrary to this list of qualities. I do not know what can be done except to obey the Word of God and set it right. Elders should not be appointed because there is nobody else or the person has potential. If the person has potential, train him/her. The greatest fallacy is to give a person authority without instilling truths that build character, and having leaders who can’t tell what is right or wrong that leads to their eventual falling away.

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