Submission to Authority – Part III

    submitThis is my third and final article on the subject of submission to authority. The first article addressed God’s sovereign authority over His creation, as well as those persons to whom He’s delegated authority on earth to serve as administrative overseers to others; and these administrators can be believers or unbelievers. The second article addressed Satan, as well as his counterfeit leaders, who seek to lead others outside of the will of God; and these leaders are to be resisted. This third article will address submission to persons in authority, who may at times behave harshly, but neither commit sin, nor command their subordinates to commit sin. This article, like others, is subject to revision.

     Submission is based on the legitimate authority that has been delegated to a person despite their personality or character flaws. There are examples in Scripture of persons who are in a position of authority and who behave harshly toward subordinates, but their harsh behavior is not sinful, nor are they demanding those under their supervision to commit sin. The account of Sarai and Hagar in Genesis 16 provides a good example.

     The account opens, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar (Gen. 16:1). A decade earlier, God had promised a son to Abram (Gen. 12:2; 13:15-16; 15:5), and though they’d tried to produce an heir, Sarai was not able.[1] Because of impatience, Sarai proposed Abram marry her servant, Hagar, as a solution to their problem. “Sarai said to Abram, ‘Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai” (Gen. 16:2). And, “After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife” (Gen. 16:3).

In the legal custom of that day a barren woman could give her maid to her husband as a wife, and the child born of that union was regarded as the first wife’s child. If the husband said to the slave-wife’s son, “You are my son,” then he was the adopted son and heir. So Sarai’s suggestion was unobjectionable according to the customs of that time. But God often repudiates social customs.[2]

     What Sarai proposed to Abram was socially acceptable in their day; however, there’s nothing in Scripture that reveals they’d consulted the Lord about the matter, and we know from other Scripture that it was not God’s will, and that Ishmael would ultimately be rejected as Abram’s heir (see Gen. 21:1-12). Hagar’s status had been elevated from servant to servant-wife, and Abram “went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight” (Gen. 16:4). Promotion is not always easy to handle, and it’s possible that Hagar became prideful about her new place, and for this reason despised Sarai and treated her disrespectfully. “Hagar became a slave wife, not on equal standing with Sarai. However, if Hagar produced the heir, she would be the primary wife in the eyes of society; when this eventually happened, Hagar become insolent, prompting Sarai’s anger.”[3] Sarai got upset and said to Abram, “May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the LORD judge between you and me” (Gen. 16:5). Sarai felt jilted by Hagar after she’d conceived, and she brought her complaint to her husband, Abram. At this point is appears Abram returned Hagar to servant status, saying to Sarai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight” (Gen. 16:6). Having been reduced to a servant again, we learn that “Sarai treated her [Hagar] harshly, and she fled from her presence” (Gen. 16:6).

     Hagar was probably hurt and confused over all that had happened to her and we can understand why she ran away. God, who is very compassionate, extended grace to Hagar and appeared to her while she was running away from her troubles. “Now the angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur” (Gen. 16:7). The “angel of the LORD” is later identified by Hagar as God Himself (vs. 13). And the Lord said to her, “where have you come from and where are you going?” And she replied, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai” (Gen. 16:8). God then said, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority” (Gen. 16:9). The command to return translates the Hebrew verb שׁוּב shub (Qal imperative), which is used of someone “who has shifted direction in a particular way and then shifted back from it in the opposite way. As long as there is no contrary factor the assumption is that such persons or people will turn back and reach the original point from which they departed.”[4] God expected Hagar to return to Sarai, and once there, to submit to her authority. Submit is a rendering of the Hebrew verb עָנָה anah, which commonly means to be bowed down, afflicted, or humbled. The verb form is imperative which means it’s a command, and the stem is reflexive (Hithpael), which means that Hagar is to act upon herself; in this case, to humble herself. No one is forcing Hagar into submission, as she must to do it to herself in compliance with the divine mandate. To obey the will of God she must submit herself to Sarai’s authority. Lastly, the word authority translates the Hebrew noun יָד yad, which is the word for hand. “The phrase ‘into (or ‘under’) someone’s hand’ conveys authority involving responsibility, care, and dominion over someone or something.”[5] Here the word denotes the authority Sarai has over Hagar. It is possible that submission to Sarai’s mistreatment could be in view, hence the CSB translation, “You must go back to your mistress and submit to her mistreatment” (Gen. 16:9). It is likely that Sarai’s anger was not born out of a deep-seated hatred of Hagar, which might result in long lasting mistreatment of her; rather, it seems to be the anger of the moment which will pass with time.

     The command for Hagar to return and submit to Sarai’s authority was God’s will. God strengthened Hagar by telling her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count” (Gen. 16:10), saying further, “Behold, you are with child, and you will bear a son; and you shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has given heed to your affliction” (Gen. 16:10-11). The name Ishmael (יִשְׁמָעֵאל Yishmael) means, God hears, and speaks of the compassion God had for the cries of Hagar, who was suffering unjustly. God then described Ishmael, saying, “He will be a wild donkey of a man, his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; and he will live to the east of all his brothers” (Gen. 16:12). This description by God reveals that Ishmael, unlike his mother, would be free to live where he pleased. “The prophecy is not an insult. The wild donkey lived a solitary existence in the desert away from society. Ishmael would be free-roaming, strong, and like a Bedouin; he would enjoy the freedom his mother sought.”[6] These would have been very encouraging words to Hagar. Operating from divine viewpoint, Hagar stated, “You are a God who sees” (Gen. 16:13). Knowing that God was aware of her plight, and promised to bless her in the midst of her suffering, Hagar was internally strengthened and sustained by God’s Word as she returned to Sarai and submitted to her authority. Hagar’s return was an act of faith as she obeyed God’s Word. With every harsh word or action against her, Hagar could think of her son and rejoice in God’s blessing, which outweighed any hardship she would endure. The historical account closes with the statement, “So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him” (Gen. 16:15-16).

     Submission to harsh authority is never easy, and like Hagar, we might feel tempted to run away. But as Christians who seek God’s will above all else, who desire to submit to His authority, we must be willing to subordinate ourselves to those whom He’s placed over us, even if those persons are at times harsh. And, like Hagar, we know God is a God who sees and that He will strengthen us to endure the hardships of life.

     In the New Testament, the apostle Peter addressed the subject of suffering under harsh leadership. He wrote to Christian-servants who were dealing with harsh masters, saying, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable” (1 Pet. 2:18).[7] We do not have servants and masters like those to whom Peter was writing, but certainly an employee and employer might serve as a suitable analog. The word servant is a translation of the Greek word οἰκέτης oiketes[8] which refers to a household servant, as over against the general term for slave (δοῦλος doulos). The term master translates the Greek word δεσπότης despotes which refers to “one who has legal control and authority over persons, such as subjects or slaves, lord, [or] master.”[9] The word master is used both positively and negatively, depending on the character of the individual. In fact, the word is used of God (Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24) and Jesus (2 Pet. 2:1; Jude 1:4). Biblically, some masters were recognized as good and gentle, while others were unreasonable. We’re always pleased to submit to a good and gentle boss who is thoughtful, kind and generous; but the unreasonable boss is a challenge. The word unreasonable translates the Greek word σκολιός skolios, which was used in secular Greek literature “of rivers and roads…also to the movements of snakes, and may refer, too, to a labyrinth or to ringlets or matted hair.”[10] In this passage it refers “to being morally bent or twisted, crooked, unscrupulous, [or] dishonest.”[11] It is likely the unreasonable boss is one who lives by a worldly ethic and is selfish, overbearing, controlling, and perhaps dishonest. It is only natural that we would recoil and rebel against such a person, except that we are governed by God’s Word and the Holy Spirit. “Obedience should not vary according to the temperament of the employer. Anyone can submit to an employer who is good and gentle. Believers are called to go beyond that and be respectful and obedient to the harsh, overbearing boss. This stands out as distinctly Christian behavior.”[12] Submitting to a harsh employer does not mean obeying illegal or sinful commands, for this would be wrong. “This submission is not in the sense of carrying out devious activities but in the sense of complying with a crooked master who demands legitimate actions. Such obedience is the evidence of grace in an individual’s life.”[13]

     It is natural to ask why the Christian is to submit to an unreasonable boss, especially if the boss is hostile toward an innocent worker. Peter answers, “For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly” (1 Pet. 2:19). The phrase, “For this finds favor,” communicates the idea of what is commendable in the sight of another; and in this instance, the other person is God. “The reason we should behave this way is that this behavior is God’s will (cf. vv. 13, 17). The fact that this is how God wants us to behave is sufficient reason for compliance. Our conscious commitment to God should move us to do what is right resulting in a clear conscience.”[14] Christians are to operate according to divine viewpoint, which means God’s Word defines our reality and serves as a filter through which we interpret our experiences and bring our will into alignment with the will of God. Scripture serves as a divine guide to help us respond to various situations as God would have, and to operate according to the ethical standards He prescribes. The answer, Peter tells us, is a matter of “conscience toward God” for the Christian who works under a difficult boss. Peter goes on to say, “For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God” (1 Pet. 2:20). Certainly there’s nothing commendable about those who patiently endure harsh treatment, when such treatment is the result of being disobedient and doing wrong. However, it is commendable in the sight of God when His child patiently endures unjust suffering from the hand of an unreasonable supervisor.

Christian employees must never take advantage of Christian employers. Each worker should do a good day’s work and honestly earn his pay. Sometimes a Christian employee may be wronged by an unbelieving coworker or supervisor. For conscience’ sake, he must “take it” even though he is not in the wrong. A Christian’s relationship to God is far more important than his relationship to men. “For this is grace [thankworthy]” to bear reproach when you are innocent (see Matt. 5:10–12). Anybody, including an unbeliever, can “take it patiently” when he is in the wrong! It takes a dedicated Christian to “take it” when he is in the right. “This is grace [acceptable] with God.” God can give us the grace to submit and “take it” and in this way glorify God.[15]

     Biblically, there is no greater example of dealing with unjust suffering than the Lord Jesus Christ, and Peter points this out to his readers, saying, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). The phrase, “For you have been called for this purpose” means that suffering is a part of the Christian life (Matt. 10:38, 16:24; Luke 14:27; Acts 14:22), and it is purposeful (Rom. 5:3-5; Jam. 1:2-4). Peter then points to Jesus, saying, “Christ also suffered for you.” Jesus suffered for doing good—which resulted in our salvation—and becomes our example for suffering while doing what is right. The word example translates the Greek word ὑπογραμμός hupogrammos, which occurs only once in the Bible (a hapax legomenon), and means to write under. The word was used of a writing template that a child would use as a guide to practice proper writing or drawing. Here, the word is used of Christ, who is our model of example that we are to pattern our lives after. We are to copy Jesus and follow in His steps, even when it leads us to suffering.

     Jesus did not suffer as one who deserved punishment; rather, Peter describes Him as one “who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:22-23). We know from Scripture why Jesus suffered and died, and we rejoice that He did, for without His sacrifice, we would be lost in sin and forever damned. But the suffering and death of Christ affects more than just our salvation, as it also serves as a template, a paradigm, for the believer to endure unjust suffering at the hands of harsh leaders. And as our example, Jesus did not revile or threaten His persecutors, but presented His case before the Supreme Court of heaven, “to Him who judges righteously.” Likewise, Christian servants, while living holy lives, free from the lust and tyranny of self-vindication, can submit to harsh supervisors, and do so with kindness, never seeking retaliation, but trusting that God sees and will judge righteously.

     We’re not always given the reason why we suffer unjustly at the hands of those who are in authority over us, but we know that God is sovereignly in control of all things, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Sometimes God uses difficult people or circumstances to shape our character to be more like the character of Christ. In this sense we can rejoice, because even though the suffering is difficult, it is purposeful, as God is using it to shape us into the people He wants. He has our best interests at heart, and the trials we face serve as a vehicle to transform us into better persons (Rom. 5:3-5; Jam. 1:2-4). We must always remember that God is more concerned with our Christian character than our creaturely comforts, and our behavior should always be motivated by a desire to please the Lord above all else.

Summary

     Christians will, at times, suffer unjustly at the hands of those whom God has placed in authority over us, like the suffering Hagar experienced at the hand of Sarai. And, the harsh or immoral character of leaders should never dictate our response; rather, we should be governed by God’s Word, as we look to Christ as our example of unjust suffering. Lastly, we should obey those in authority over us, doing what they command, so long as they do not command us to sin.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] It appears God intentionally created a dilemma in which Abram and Sarai were helpless to produce a son, so that it would be obvious in the end that what God had promised them, only He was able to execute (cf. Rom. 4:18-21). This leads to the principle that a promise delayed is not a promise denied.

[2] Allen P. Ross, “Genesis,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 56.

[3] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ge 16:3.

[4] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 1429.

[5] Ralph H. Alexander, “844 יָד,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 362.

[6] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ge 16:12.

[7] Concerning slavery in the first century, the NT writers were not called to reform society, and so their letters were not written to governing officials who might affect political, economic, or social change. Rather, their sphere of authority was to the Christian church, and so they wrote to those who were members of those churches (husbands, wives, children, masters, slaves, free person, rich, poor, etc.), directing their values and behavior within the church. This is important to understand, because NT writers, though acknowledging the institution of slavery—which was very different than the American form of slavery—did not address the evils of that institution or its creators and managers. Slavery was common to the Roman world, and as many came to faith in Christ and were added to the church, it was proper that they should be addressed as equals, like all members of the body of Christ (Gal. 3:26-28). In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul addressed both slaves and masters who had believed in Christ as Savior, and made it very clear they both have one Master in Heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 6:9). And, when writing to his friend Philemon concerning the return of his runaway slave, Onesimus, Paul instructed Philemon to receive Onesimus “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother” (Phm 1:16). However, there were times when a Christian-servant did not have a Christian-master, and submission to authority was strained.

[8] The word is used four times in the NT (Luke 16:13; Acts 10:7, Rom. 14:14, 1 Pet. 2:18).

[9] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 220.

[10] Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985), 1046.

[11] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 930.

[12] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 2264.

[13] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, 1st ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 349.

[14] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 1 Pe 2:19.

[15] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 406.

Submission to Authority – Part I

    submitThis is the first of three articles on the subject of submission to authority. These articles are born out of a previous article I wrote titled Twelve Ways to Deal with a Bad Boss. The first article will address submission to God and legitimate human authorities. By definition, authority refers to the right that one person or group has to make decisions, give orders, or demand obedience from another. God’s authority is intrinsic, whereas human authority is delegated. Human authorities include politicians, police officers, teachers, parents, employers, and so on. The second article will address Satan’s counterfeit systems of authority, to which the believer is not to submit. Corrupt leaders—like Satan himself (Gen. 3:1-7)—seek to lead people into sin, and these must be resisted. The third article will address the command to believers to submit to human authorities that may be harsh and unreasonable, though not sinful. Though it is difficult for us to understand, there are times when God will place us under harsh leaders, and we are required to submit to their authority. I’ll address this more in that section. Like all my articles, these are subject to revision as I consider the subject more and more.

     First and foremost, we must understand that God’s authority is supreme and He sovereignly rules over all. Scripture reveals, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all”[1] (Ps. 103:19), and “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6). Daniel wrote, “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan 2:21), and “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan 4:17; cf. Dan 4:34-35; 5:21; 1 Chron. 29:11-12; Rom. 13:1-2). God has established the governmental systems of the world to promote law and order. This means He has delegated authority to persons and groups who serve as administrative overseers to others. When functioning properly, government produces harmony by establishing and enforcing laws in society, and by restricting and punishing wrongdoers and promoting and rewarding those who do good.

     Paul wrote to Christians in Rome, saying, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves” (Rom. 13:1-2), and to his friend Titus, he wrote, “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Tit 3:1-2). And Peter wrote, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1 Pet. 2:13-14). Of special note is the fact that the king—or emperor—in Paul’s and Peter’s day was none other than that rascal Nero, who wrongly blamed Christians for starting a fire that burned much of Rome, and who, according to church tradition, had Paul beheaded and Peter crucified.[2] Based on Paul’s and Peter’s statements, we can say: 1) governing authorities exist by divine placement, 2) to resist those authorities is to resist God Himself, 3) to subject to rulers and authorities means being obedient, and 4) that we can generally expect punishment from the same when we do wrong, and praise when we obey and do what is right.

     The word submit is a translation of the Greek verb ὑποτάσσω hupotasso which means “to subject oneself, be subjected or subordinated, obey.”[3] The idea is of “submission involving recognition of an ordered structure…of the entity to whom or which appropriate respect is shown.”[4] Submission means that we subordinate our will to the will of another. New Testament examples of submission include: the young Jesus submitting to Joseph and Mary (Luke 2:51), God the Son submitting to God the Father (1 Cor. 15:27-28), the church submitting to Christ (Eph. 1:22), believers submitting to God (Heb. 12:9; Jam. 4:7), believers submitting to their pastor (1 Pet. 5:5; Heb. 13:17), Christians submitting to governmental authority (Rom. 13:1, 5; Tit. 3:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:13-14), the Christian husband submitting to Christ (1 Cor. 11:3[5]), and the Christian wife submitting to her husband (Eph. 5:22, 24; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1; 5-6). We submit to authority because it produces harmony in our relationships with those God has placed over us.

     As Christians, we hold dual citizenship. We are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), and citizens of whatever country we live in. Our first allegiance is to God, and then to those whom He has placed over us. God’s commands are found in only in Scripture, which is the basis for the Christian’s faith and conduct. This means: 1) our thinking is theocentric, not anthropocentric, 2) that our values are derived from God, not ourselves, or any other source, and 3) that we consciously submit ourselves to do God’s will at all times and in all situations. Ultimately, we can say that all submission is to God, Who commands us to obey Him directly, as well as to obey those whom He’s placed in authority over us.

     Worldly-minded persons seek to live independently from God and to establish their own rules and laws, which they arbitrarily create because they fit their personal values for the moment. These persons operate horizontally and not vertically. That is, God is not in their thinking (or is only included to the degree they permit), and this is often intentional, for they seek to be a law unto themselves. These persons are best described by the word autonomous, which comes from two Greek words that mean to be self-governed (autos = self + nomos = law). Though to some degree we are self-governed (for God made us rational and volitional creatures), we are never totally free from God or from the authoritarian structures He’s placed around us. Even if we were to flee from human governmental structures and live in the wilderness, we’d quickly learn there are laws there as well, even a hierarchical structure among the animals, and so we are never totally free to live as we please.

     God delegates authority in all aspects of society, including political officials, military officers, police, pastors, teachers, coaches, parents, employers, etc. Human authority is limited to certain persons, for a certain period of time, and harmoniously interlocks with other laws and systems of authority. For example, the authority of a mother is only over her own children and not neighborhood children (Eph. 6:1-3), and only for the duration they reside in the home. Additionally, her authority operates harmoniously with her husband, who is in authority over her (Eph. 5:22, 24; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1; 5-6). The wife’s submission is to her husband’s godly and loving leadership (Eph. 5:25-33), as he submits himself to Christ who is his authority (1 Cor. 11:3). As a good Christian, the husband is to lead his wife into God’s will, and his authority is never divorced from Scripture. The wife is to reject her husband’s leadership if/when he seeks to lead her into sin, or subject her to violence. This same thinking can be applied to governing officials, police, pastors, teachers, coaches, employers, etc. We submit to human authority, whether saved or lost, until we are commanded to act contrary to God’s authority as it is revealed in Scripture, and then we must disobey, albeit respectfully.

     Lastly, we are to pray for those whom God has place in authority over us, in order that we might live godly lives and pursue righteousness. Paul wrote, “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Summary

     God is the supreme Ruler of His creation, and He has established human governmental authorities to promote law and order. This means He has delegated authority to persons and groups who serve as administrative overseers to others. As Christians, we are commanded to submit to those in authority over us, whether it is the president, state governors, local city officials, police officers, employers, parents, teachers, etc. Failure to submit to human authority is regarded as failure to submit to God, Who has placed those persons over us. Though human leaders may fail in their character and commands, this does not invalidate their authority or right to rule. The believer is to reject those commands that direct his/her behavior to sin. At this point, the believer says “no” to human authority only because he/she is saying “yes” to God’s authority. Lastly, we are to constantly pray for our leaders that they may be governed by God’s wisdom and character and that we may live peaceful and godly lives.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible, published by The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

[2] Both Paul and Peter knew governmental authorities could abuse their power for selfish ends; however, the occasional abuse of power does not necessarily mean their authority is diminished in any way. Paul and Peter called Christians to submit to Rome’s emperor as well as those officials he placed in office to serve as overseers and administrators to Roman citizens.

[3] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1042.

[4] Ibid., 1042.

[5] The word ὑποτάσσω hupotasso does not appear in 1 Corinthians 11:3, but the concept is certainly present.

Twelve Ways to Deal with a Bad Boss

     The purpose of this article is to provide several tools for the Christian who is struggling under a bad boss, and these are given at the end of this presentation.

     The Bible does not directly address the subject of bosses and employees; therefore, much of what is set forth in this article is an extrapolation of truths related to good and bad leaders, whether kings, princes, governors, or any who are in positions of authority. And, some points are drawn from the practical wisdom of everyday life.

     I write this article as a Christian who has spent the vast majority of my life in the secular workforce (since 1983), which is primarily governed by worldly philosophies and values rather than according to God’s Word. The challenge for me as a Christian, whether as an employee, or supervisor, has been the daily application of Scripture with my coworkers. Where Scripture is silent on a work related issue, I seek the Lord in prayer, as well as the counsel of godly persons who can help me work through a matter. Before I provide some biblical coping mechanisms, I’d like to take a moment to briefly describe some of the differences between a good and bad boss.

Characteristics of a Good Boss

     The good boss has integrity (Ps. 78:72). This means he is not artificial, but is genuine in character, honest in speech and faithful to his promises. David writes of the man with integrity, and describes him as one who “works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart” (Ps. 15:2). Furthermore, he is one who “does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend” (Ps. 15:3; cf. Prov. 11:3; Tit. 2:7-8). He studies God’s Word (Ps. 1:2; 119:1), does not associate with people of low moral character (Ps. 1:1; 26:4), prays often (Ps. 4:1; 17:6), seeks to govern wisely (Prov. 8:15-16), listens to wise counsel (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:6), and brings stability to those under his care (Prov. 29:4). He associates with honest and gracious persons (Pro. 22:11), searches to find the facts of a matter (Pro. 25:2; cf. 18:13), preserves the rights of others by clear thinking (Pro. 31:4-5), and educates and delegates responsibility to trusted persons (read Ex. 18:13-26). He is selfless, humble, gentle, patient, compassionate, kind, and truly appreciates others (Eph. 4:1-2; Phi. 2:3-4; Col. 3:12). He encourages and builds others up (Eph. 4:29; 1 Thess. 5:11), and pursues peace rather than strife (Rom. 14:19). He recognizes his authority and uses it to serve others, not to tear them down (Matt. 20:25-28; John 13:1-17). He may, at times, criticize bad behavior (1 Thess. 5:14), but this is done to make the other person better, because he sincerely desires their success (Prov. 9:8; Isa. 1:17). He is slow to anger (Prov. 15:18; 16:32; 17:27; 19:11; 29:11), uses wise and gracious words (Ps. 37:30; Prov. 16:21; Eccl. 10:12; Col. 4:6), is not argumentative (2 Tim. 2:24-26), cares about justice (Lev. 19:15; Mic. 6:8), and the needs of the poor, orphans, and widows in the community (Isa. 1:17; cf. Ex. 22:22; Deut. 10:18; 15:11; 24:17-22; Prov. 14:21).[1]

     On a day to day basis, he is one who will listen to you, stand up for you, trust you and not micromanage every aspect of your work. He communicates clearly, constantly, and in a collaborative manner. He seeks your advice, listens to your concerns, and consults you on the best solutions for success. He sets high expectations and encourages you to be the best you can be, operating according to agency standards, and striving for new heights of excellence. He also cares about your life outside of work and wants you to have good physical, social, and mental health. Lastly, the good boss can be tough when needed. He lives in reality and knows there are some who will not respond to his leadership, and, he may be required to use his authority to reprimand and/or terminate staff; however, this is always his last recourse if all other positive strategies have failed.

Characteristics of a Bad Boss

    The bad boss refuses to listen to God and His Word (Ex. 5:2), is concerned about himself rather than others (1 Ki. 12:1-15), oppresses his staff (Prov. 28:15-16), listens to lies (Prov. 29:12), abuses his authority (Mark 10:42), does not follow the guidance he gives (Matt. 23:2-3), places heavy burdens on others but doesn’t offer to help (Ex. 5:6-19; Matt. 23:4; cf. Prov. 29:2), oppresses the helpless for personal gain (Prov. 14:31; 22:16), likes to be noticed by others and to sit in places of honor (Matt. 23:5-7), and may outwardly appear righteous, but is dishonest (Matt. 23:28).

    Bad BossThe bad boss can be threatening, unpredictable, hostile, and irrational. He generally feels insecure and does not like the thought of being out of control. This leads to a totalitarian style of leadership, which hinders optimal performance, while making staff feel undervalued. The bad boss is arrogant, and arrogant people rarely see their own faults, they only see the faults of others. He generally lacks the ability to introspect and does not care that others are damaged by his leadership. Once the bad boss does not like you, almost anything you say or do, no matter how great, will be viewed critically and devalued. He seeks to tear you down, only to defeat and destroy you. He cares little about you or your growth or success. He communicates very little, or provides misleading information, is hostile, and will criticize you on a personal level rather than discuss your work. Sometimes the bad boss won’t fire you; rather, he’ll work to make your environment so toxic that you’ll get frustrated and leave.

     The advantage of suffering under a bad boss is that you’ll have a clear picture of how NOT to behave if/when you ever become a boss to others. It can also teach you coping skills you’d otherwise never develop. Just like going to the gym builds muscle, so enduring difficult people can develop our character, if we learn the right coping skills and consistently employ them.

Twelve Tools to Help the Christian Who is Working under a Bad Boss

     Suffering under a bad boss can be a real challenge, especially when I feel trapped with no way out. Often I pray about my difficult situation, but I realize what God does not remove (as I desire), He intends for me to deal with. Below are some biblical coping mechanisms that help me deal with a bad boss and still be successful on the job. These are as follows:

  1. Live by faith. The Christian life starts and ends with faith, which provides stability for the soul during difficult times. “My righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb. 10:38), and “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1), and “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us” (Ps. 62:8), and “This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your word has revived me” (Ps. 119:50).
  2. Know that God is for you. God desires our best, and He works all circumstances for our good, to teach us and to develop our character. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28), and “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom. 8:31).
  3. Make sure your character and work is excellent. As Christians, we are to live an excellent life and work hard. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Eccl. 9:10a), and “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:23; cf. 1 Thess. 4:10-11).
  4. Don’t give yourself over to complaining. It’s easy to start complaining when under attack, especially if we feel it’s unjust. But we must be careful, for if we start down this road, it becomes more and more difficult to turn back, and complaining does not solve problems. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Phi. 2:14), and “Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1 Pet. 4:9). The solution for this is found in the first point.
  5. Pray for those in leadership. We should always be praying for leaders in positions of authority. “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
  6. Submit to authority. We should be willing to submit to those in authority and follow orders. “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Tit. 3:1-2). An exception to this is when that authority seeks to lead us outside God’s will, and then we must resist (Acts 5:27-29).
  7. Respect leadership, even when the leadership is unreasonable. This can be challenging, especially if we realize those in positions of leadership may not operate according to the same ethical standards that direct us. It helps to understand that respect does not mean approval. “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly” (1 Pet. 2:18-19).
  8. Realize that God may be using difficult circumstances—and people—to develop our character. “…We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Rom. 5:3-5), and “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jam. 1:2-4).
  9. Avoid trouble when possible. “A shrewd person sees danger and hides himself, but the naive keep right on going and suffer for it” (Pro 22:3). It is valid, when possible, to avoid the attacks of abusive leaders. David twice fled when Saul tried to kill him with a spear (1 Sam. 18:11; 19:10), and refused to retaliate, even when he had opportunity (1 Sam. 24:4-6). Obadiah hid one hundred prophets of the Lord from the hostile attacks of Ahab and Jezebel (1 Ki. 18:1-4). Jehosheba hid Joash from the attacks of Athaliah, “So he was hidden with her in the house of the LORD six years, while Athaliah was reigning over the land” (2 Ki. 11:3). Twice it is recorded that Jesus “hid Himself” from some of the hostile Jewish leadership who wanted to kill Him (John 8:59; 12:36).
  10. Defend yourself against wrongful attacks when necessary. Some leaders are very abusive, and there may be times when legal action is required as a means of self-protection. The apostle Paul used legal force against his attackers by exercising his rights as a Roman citizen to protect him from a flogging that might have killed him (Acts 22:25-29), and on another occasion appealed to Caesar, the highest court in the land, because he felt he was not getting a fair trial (Acts 25:7-12).
  11. Let God deal out retribution. Do not seek revenge if you feel you’ve been wronged. “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head’” (Rom. 12:17-20).
  12. Take time to rest and pray. “One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind” (Eccl. 4:6). Taking time to care for yourself is very important, as it’s easy to let the pressures of work and life overwhelm you. Even Jesus, during His time of earthly ministry, found time to get away by Himself to rest and to pray. “After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone” (Matt. 14:23), and “Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray” (Luke 5:16), and “He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

 

[1] This list is by no means exhaustive, but representative of the qualities of good leadership as found in Scripture.