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Ministerial Authority

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Is it wrong for a minister to 'command' a lay member?


"Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you." (Tit 2:15)  This verse is an interesting study into the proper function of the ministry as opposed to the impression the translators seem to want to give it.


‘Exhort’ in the Greek is 'parakaleo' the primary meaning according to Thayer is "to call to one's side". Liddell & Scott indicate a primary meaning of "call to one".  This is in basic agreement with Thayer.  In the New Testament it is typically translated some form of beseech, entreat or comfort.  Webster's primary definition of 'exhort' is "to urge earnestly by advice, warning, etc. (to do what is proper or required)". So while there is a connection with a warning, 'parakaleo' indicates a brotherly, non-threatening approach.


Paul is telling Titus to speak up and deal directly with people and not to let them ignore him.  Paul doesn't want Timothy to be either timid or dictatorial.  As I Timothy 5:1 indicates, use reason, sound logic and respect to encourage the congregation to do what is right.


‘Rebuke’ (Titus 2:15) in the Greek is 'elegcho'.  The primary meaning according to Thayer is "to convict, refute, confute: generally with a suggestion of shame of the person convicted and/or by conviction to bring to the light, to expose". Webster's primary definition of 'rebuke' is "to blame or scold in a sharp way: reprimand".  Convicting or refuting, causing mild shame, fits reasonably well with scold and reprimand.  It would be directed at those who should know better.  It would be directing them into proper conduct as taught by the word of God.  Scripture is the only basis for any show of authority. Paul is encouraging Titus to expose the error, refute the error and convict of that which is right.  It is not an attack on the person or attempt to shame, but an exposing of error.  Shame may or may not result depending on the problem.


An interesting thing about this verse is that in the next verse, Titus is told to teach the people "to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men".  Shaming people and teaching them to be gentle and humble do not fit together.  It is not the right example.  In the context it seems that Paul wants Titus to bring them to the point they see their error.  He's not asking Titus to embarrass them in front of others.  So when Paul says "Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you." (Tit 2:15)  He wants Titus to draw them to his side and show them the error of their way with a confident, clear, humble and concerned message.


The Greek word used for rebuke in I Timothy 5:1, 'epiplesso', is different than that used in Titus 2:15. "Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers".  It does indeed carry the meaning of the English word 'rebuke'.  This further reinforces that 'rebuke' is not a good fit in Titus 2:15.  If one is not to 'rebuke' an elder or really even a younger man, why would Paul then tell Titus to 'rebuke' anyone?


The primary meaning of 'epiplesso' actually implies a physical assault.  The secondary meaning involves harsh words.  We assume Timothy was not physically beating people.  Again, Paul is instructing that correction was to be given gently and with sincere concern for all, even the junior members of the congregation.  It should not be an attack, even of only words.


Authority of Leadership


"But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, 9 not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us." (II Thes 3:6-9)


Command here is an interesting word. It is ‘paraggello’.  ‘Command’ is actually a secondary meaning of this word.  The primary meaning is 'to send a message'.  The implication is a message from a higher power that is simply being transmitted by a messenger.  Indeed, in II Thessalonians 3:6 the ‘command’ is given "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ".  Frequently when this word is used of or by the Apostles, there is a reference close by indicating the ultimate authority is from Jesus Christ.  This is not always the case, but if it is not the case that doesn’t automatically justify using the secondary meaning of the word.  The meaning would be determined based on context.  The context of scripture, particularly the New Testament has Jesus Christ as the authority.  He is the head.  We are to be instructed by His word.


Verse 9 above also indicates Paul had certain ‘authority’.  Based on the context, he had the right to physical support from the congregation and the authority to require it.  It was his choice not to exercise this right or authority.  This same matter is dealt with in I Corinthians 9:13-19.  Verse 14 clearly states that Christ directed that those who proclaim the gospel should live by the gospel.  So again, Paul goes to the source, but among believers he clearly believed he had the right and authority to require physical support from the congregation.  This does not include a blanket authority over the private lives of those in the congregation.


The authority Paul and the ministry had was to teach and instruct in the way of God. "For even if I should boast somewhat more about our authority, which the Lord gave us for edification and not for your destruction, I shall not be ashamed--" (II Cor 10:8 see also II Cor 13:10).  Beyond those things Paul claims no authority.


Unbecoming a Christian


The handling of the co-habiting situation in I Corinthians 5 is interesting. Paul heard from some source that someone included in the congregation of Corinth was co-habiting with his father’s wife.  We assume this was a step mother.  Sexual relations with a step mother were clearly condemned in the Law (Lev 18:8, 20:11).  Paul’s reaction was swift and clear.


"For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." (I Cor 5:3-5)


It was obviously Paul’s understanding that such conduct was totally unbecoming of a believer.  It was egregious to the point that the perpetrator had disqualified himself from fellowship with the rest of the congregation.  There are standards expected of believers.  Different people may disagree as to what those standards are.  (Our examination of the covenants and judgments are a good place to start if you are interested in input on that.)  For Paul, a line had been crossed.


Without being on the scene, Paul ‘judged’ the situation.  This assumes authority to make a judgment. His determination: "Therefore put away from yourselves the evil person" (I Cor 5:13b).  The evil doer was to be avoided and refused admittance to their fellowship.  Paul directed the congregation to take that action.


We have no direct example of what Paul would have done had he been in Corinth.  However, in order to have the congregation "put away from yourselves", the whole congregation had to be involved.  It only makes sense that Paul would fully explain to the congregation his reasoning and the justification for his judgment.  He would have used this example to further edify, i.e. instruct and teach the congregation what is acceptable and what is not.


In this particular case, Paul was a great distance away.  The responsibility for addressing the matter fell on the congregation.  Ultimately, it would have required the participation of the whole congregation anyway, but Paul considered that his judgment was appropriate and necessary for the safekeeping of the congregation (I Cor 5:6).  At the same time, it is no surprise that he was quick to invoke the source of his authority, our Messiah.  A true representative of Christ will not attempt to promote himself, but his Master.


Distance was evidently not the only reason Paul had the congregation handle this matter.  "For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things" (II Cor 2:9). Paul was interested in knowing whether or not they would obey his "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" instruction.


Some who would minimize the authority of true ministers of God examine the Greek word for ‘obedient’, "hupekoos", and emphasize its aspect of ‘hearing’.  The intent is obey.  The intent of this word is similar to ‘shama’ in the Hebrew or the phrase ‘listen to me’ in English.  Paul was a native Hebrew/Aramaic speaker.  The use of ‘hear’ in Hebrew/Aramaic meant to obey, just as much as to hear or listen.  It accomplished nothing to just listen if one did not act on or obey what was said.  The expectation of the speaker was that people hearing would act on what they heard.


The reality of the situation is that concerning the Law of God and the safe-keeping of the congregation, true ministers are to speak with the authority of Jesus Christ.  As stated in the beginning of this study, if the minister is speaking in accord with God’s Law, why would anyone want to be contrary?  The problem comes in if a leader decides he wants to dictate personal conduct not covered or addressed in principle by the word of God.  In that case, the individuals involved should weigh an opinion as an opinion.  They are responsible for their own conduct.  Their Master is Messiah.  They answer to Him, not the minister, unless the matter has repercussions for the congregation.


Where there is no law, there is no sin (Rom 4:15, 5:13).  Care should always be taken to assure that the matter is not addressed by God in principle, even though not in the letter.  This is not always obvious, which is why we have leaders that supposedly dedicate themselves to the study of the mind of God.


We should keep in mind that the Creator considered the leaders of Ancient Israel to be shepherds.


"Wherever I have moved about with all the children of Israel, have I ever spoken a word to anyone from the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?’" (II Sam 7:7, see also Num 27:17-20, II Chr 18:16)


Every leader of Israel from Moses to Saul was a shepherd to Israel.  I Chronicles 11:2 also seems to equate being a shepherd with being a ruler.


"But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel." (Mat 2:6)


This illustrates the intention of the Creator.  In Yeshua/Jesus, the Father has the kind of ruler/leader that He desires, i.e. one that truly shepherds His people.  The godly leader, ruler, chief of the congregation, whatever one wishes to call him, will relate to the congregation as Yeshua does.  He will be a good shepherd to his flock.  He will serve the sheep by providing them with a balanced diet of knowledge and understanding.  He will protect them from false witnesses that would lead them astray. He will conduct himself in a manner exemplary of the Father Himself and worthy of imitation.  The well being of the congregation will be paramount in the leaders’ mind.  He will work to enable them, not maintain or promote his own status.


"So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, And guided them by the skillfulness of his hands." (Ps 78:72)


"Here I am. Witness against me before the LORD and before His anointed: Whose ox have I taken, or whose donkey have I taken, or whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed, or from whose hand have I received any bribe with which to blind my eyes? I will restore it to you." (I Sam 12:3)


Although in a position of advantage and authority a true representative of the Master will not use his position to his personal advantage.  He will look to his Master to support his needs.  He will not seek to extract anything from those he leads.


"I will leave in your midst A meek and humble people, And they shall trust in the name of the LORD." (Zep 3:12)


The true leader will be an example to the congregation of meekness and humility.  He will fear the Creator and depend on Him to provide.  He will not depend on his own cunning manipulation.  The leader needs wisdom and understanding, but not so he can take advantage of anyone.  His wisdom will be in impartiality, fairness, mercy and justice.  He will not be particularly concerned about money, unlike the corrupt shepherds that are mainly concerned with and feed themselves (Eze 34:2-3, 8).


In Titus 1:5 Paul 'commanded' Titus.  Indeed this seems to be a reasonable rendering of the Greek.  If he could command another minister, could he not command a lay member?


Well, yes, and no.  Titus was Paul's assistant.  This is indicated in Galatians 2:1.  He was apparently fulfilling a similar function to that of Timothy (Acts 16:19).  Paul considered Titus to be his son in the faith (Titus 1:4).  It was apparent to the leadership of the church that Paul, in particular, had been chosen to lead the distribution of the gospel among the gentiles (Gal 2:9).  Certainly as Titus was around Paul, he learned to take on more and more responsibility.  Ultimately, he was more or less on his own, but because of Paul's unique calling and background and the initial relationship between Paul and Titus, Paul remained the senior.  Titus was there to assist Paul in the maintenance of the churches.  In this area, Paul had a right to command in matters concerning doctrine and the work of the ministry Paul led. This did not give Paul a right to dictate his personal opinion to members of any congregation.


Paul was dedicated to the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He was concerned with teaching people how to walk with their Creator, not unrelated details of life.  It was his responsibility to make clear the way of God.