In John’s gospel, there is an intriguing interchange between Jesus and Pilate, the Roman governor that ultimately allowed the execution of Jesus. In John 18 and 19, Jesus has been delivered over to Pilate for trial in the hope that he might be found guilty of something worthy of death. Pilate asks Jesus a series of questions about his identity and purpose. Ultimately Pilate begins to fear that Jesus might actually be who he claims to be–God. He questions Jesus one more time, “Where are you from?” But Jesus refuses to answer. If Jesus had answered according to his human nature and said Bethlehem, Pilate would have discounted him immediately, as Bethlehem was a small, obscure town with no reputation. If Jesus had answered according to his divine nature and said Heaven, Pilate might have accused him of being crazy. The real issue was not Jesus hometown, but his nature and identity. In the midst of Jesus’ silence, Pilate makes a statement that trumpets his own position of power and authority, hoping to coerce Jesus into guilt or declaration. Pilate says, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus must offer a response to this statement because Pilate is dealing in pride and is claiming ultimate authority–as many leaders are prone to do. Jesus answers him with a reply that every earthly leader must pay attention to. In verse 11 Jesus states, “You would have no authority over me unless it had been given you from above.” Jesus could not allow Pilate to think he is a god when there is only one with all power and authority.
Authority is one of those funny leadership words, that as Christians, we are not quite sure how to handle.
As spiritual leaders, we do not want to come across as an authoritarian. We know better than to play Pilate and simply claim our authority as a trump card to win the day. But in reality, every leadership position carries with it some measure of power and authority. It must.
The issue is not whether we have authority, it is where we see the source of that authority and in how we use it.
Webster defines “authority” as “the power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior.” Jesus tells Pilate in no uncertain terms that all authority is from above–meaning that it has its source in God himself. In John chapter eight, even Jesus states that his own authority is derived from God, the Father, and that he does the things that are pleasing to him. In this scenario, Pilate had no real self-derived authority to crucify Jesus. The crucifixion of Jesus is part of salvation history. Jesus was willingly submitting himself to the Father’s will to be crucified on the cross to fulfill God’s rescue plan for mankind.
Leaders, secular or spiritual, all stumble badly when they begin to believe that they are autonomous authoritarians who can do as they please. Yet this is the mold for most leaders. What will help to keep us grounded in our leadership positions is the realization that all authority is derived authority and we must steward it well towards serving others. Authority has a source and it has an aim. Its source is in God himself and its aim is to be used in building God’s kingdom. A leader’s power to influence must be held very carefully and stewarded with great wisdom so that it might be effective in serving God’s will.
How do you view your own leadership authority? How do others experience your leadership authority? Do you see your ability to influence as that which is granted from above and meant to be stewarded well?