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The Highest Authority

Are you a young person pondering a career? Have you considered becoming a pastor
or a Christian day school teacher? This twelve-part series is meant to coincide with the work of the
President’s Committee on Partners in the Public Ministry (CPPM). Its aim is to help you think more deeply
about the great importance—and many blessings—of the public teaching and preaching ministry.

I have never served in the military, but from what I have been told by those who have, much of the training that takes place in boot camp involves obeying lawful orders without question. The chain of command is instilled in each recruit. The end goal, I presume, is to prepare soldiers to follow orders when lives are in the balance. In the words of Tennyson, “Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die.”
To a lesser degree, following orders and a chain of command are part of most aspects of life. God provides us governments, bosses, and family who “order us around,” and we are expected to obey. Negative consequences often follow for those who do not: imprisonment, unemployment, and being grounded, to name a few.
As I write this, unprecedented authority is being used by the federal and state governments in our country in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. With the uttering of a sentence or two, those in authority can disrupt the everyday lives of millions. Not everyone will heed their orders, and there is no guarantee that even if the orders are followed the desired outcome will be achieved. That’s the thing about authority in this world: its power is limited. All the authority of the government, workplace, and home (well-intentioned though it may be) can only bring outcomes and blessings as God allows. Does this mean these authorities should not be obeyed? Certainly not. God speaks clearly on obedience (Romans 13, Ephesians 6), with the marked exception that, when a conflict between human authority and divine authority arises, we “ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
So, what does this all have to do with the “Best Job Ever”—that of a called servant of the Word? It has to do with having the Best Boss Ever. The call extended by a congregation of believers is a call from God. It is by His authority that one goes about His work. Jesus said shortly before His ascension, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18) We have a Boss Who is omnipotent. Just by uttering the words, He created the world. By Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection, He saved the world. It is by His authority that His followers are told to “make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all things” that He has commanded them (Matthew 28:19).
With His authority come promises that only He can keep: “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11) As His spokesmen, His called workers can be assured that teaching His Word will bear fruit according to His desire. We can also be assured that He has our backs. “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
As a child, perhaps you had the feeling that your dad could protect you from anything. He was big, strong, and loving. At varying points in our lives, disillusionment hits us all. We are faced with the reality that our dads, our government, and we ourselves are fallible, and that our trust must be in something bigger. Lives are in the balance, eternal lives. Our heavenly Father assures us that He has the power and authority to lead us safely home. As workers in His kingdom, we follow Him with confidence.
Joe Lau is a professor at Immanuel Lutheran College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.