Use and Abuse of Authority
All authority comes from God, but it must be used in God-honoring ways.
Today’s reading: Jeremiah 36-37; Philemon
23 As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. 24 Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. 25 Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. Jeremiah 36:23-25
8 Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, 9 yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— 10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. Philemon 8-10
There is a stunning contrast between King Jehoiakim and the Apostle Paul when it comes to their use or abuse of authority. Notice the differences. There are lessons to be learned.
Jeremiah received a message from God for the people of Judah. By God’s instruction, he had Baruch, his scribe, write the message down on a scroll. Since Jeremiah had been banned from the temple area (by order of the king?), the prophet sent Baruch to read the message to the crowd gathered to worship on a fast day. Word came back to the king’s servants about this reading and they investigated further. As these officials of the king listened to Baruch read, they were gripped with fear (Jeremiah 36:16). They knew the king needed to hear the message, so they arranged to take the scroll, send Jeremiah and Baruch into hiding, and have the scroll read to Jehoiakim.
The king listened to the reading, but had the scroll cut into sections and burned. Such was Jehoiakim’s abuse of God-given authority. He would pay for it with the end of his royal lineage and a shameful death without so much as a pauper’s burial.
Paul, on the other hand, shows great restraint in the use of his authority over Philemon. He appeals to his friend to take kind and forgiving action toward his slave, Onesimus. In God’s providence, Onesimus had met Paul and, through him, met Christ. Paul wrote to the Colossian church, possibly about the same time, as to the proper attitudes of a master toward a slave (Colossians 3:22-4:1).
As king, Jehoiakim discouraged his officials from what appears to be an initial desire to obey God’s word. Paul encourages obedience to his friend but without being heavy handed. Beware of ungodly authorities. Beware of the abuse of authority. Submit to God and, when appropriate to His authorities. Use your authority with grace and restraint.