Respect for Authority​—Why Essential?

WHO is not grateful that the police have the authority to arrest criminals who steal our possessions or threaten our family? And do we not appreciate that courts have the authority to punish criminals in order to protect the community?

Other helpful public services, such as road maintenance, sanitation, and education​—usually paid for by taxes levied by governmental authority—​may also come to mind. True Christians are foremost in acknowledging that respect for duly appointed authority is essential. But how far does such respect go? And in what areas of life is respect for authority called for?

Authority in the Community

The Bible tells all people, whether believers or unbelievers, to respect civil authority, which works for the good of the community. The Christian apostle Paul wrote to his fellow believers in Rome about this, and it is helpful to consider what he says, as recorded at Romans 13:1-7.

Paul was a Roman citizen, and Rome was the world power at that time. Paul’s letter, written about the year 56 C.E., counseled Christians to be exemplary citizens. He wrote: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except by God; the existing authorities stand placed in their relative positions by God.”

Paul here explains that there would not be any human authority if God did not permit it. In that sense the superior authorities have a relative position within the framework of God’s purpose. It therefore follows that “he who opposes the authority has taken a stand against the arrangement of God.”

While citizens who do good may receive praise from the superior authorities, these authorities are also empowered to administer punishment against wrongdoers. Those who practice what is bad have ample reason to fear the authorities’ right to act as “an avenger,” since the governments do so as “God’s minister.”

 Paul concludes his reasoning by saying: “There is therefore compelling reason for you people to be in subjection, not only on account of that wrath but also on account of your conscience. For that is why you are also paying taxes; for they are God’s public servants constantly serving this very purpose.”

The responsibility for the disposition of taxes rests with the superior authorities, not with the taxpayer. As an honest citizen, a Christian maintains a good conscience. He knows that by subjecting himself to the superior authorities and paying due taxes, not only is he upholding the standard of the community in which he lives but he is also living in harmony with divine requirements.

The Family and Authority

What about authority in the family? In the early days of its life, a baby will often demand attention by crying or even by screaming. But a wise parent will discern what the baby’s real needs are and not let a tantrum dictate. Some children, as they grow older, are given free rein and are allowed to set their own standards. Lacking experience, they may become involved in crime or other wrongdoing, disrupting both the family and the community at large, as many local authorities know only too well.

“Parents discipline children too late,” says Rosalind Miles, author of Children We Deserve. “The time to start is the moment a child is born.” If from the outset parents speak with the voice of kind, caring authority and are consistent in their actions, their children will soon learn to accept that authority and the loving discipline emanating from it.

The Bible contains a fund of information regarding family authority. In the book of Proverbs, the wise man Solomon draws attention to the unity of God-fearing parents before their children, saying: “Listen, my son, to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother.” (Proverbs 1:8) When parents maintain that kind of reasonable solidarity before their children, the children know where they stand. They may try to play one parent against the other in an effort to get their own way, but united parental authority is a safeguard for the youngsters.

The Bible explains that the husband has the prime responsibility for the spiritual welfare of not just his children but also his wife. This is described as headship. How is this headship to be exercised? Paul points out that just as Christ is Head of the congregation so the man is head of his wife. Paul then adds: “Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation [his spiritual bride] and delivered up himself for it.” (Ephesians 5:25) When a man follows the example of Jesus and exercises headship in a loving way, he will earn the “deep respect” of his wife. (Ephesians 5:33) Children in such a household will also see the value of God-given authority and be encouraged to accept it.​—Ephesians 6:1-3.

How can single parents, including those who have lost a mate in death, cope with this issue? Whether father or mother, they can appeal directly to the authority of Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. Jesus always spoke with authority​—that of his Father and that of the inspired Scriptures.​—Matthew 4:1-10; 7:29; John 5:19, 30; 8:28.

 The Bible provides an abundance of valuable principles relating to problems faced by children. By locating these principles and following them, a parent will be able to provide loving and helpful counsel for the children. (Genesis 6:22; Proverbs 13:20; Matthew 6:33; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Philippians 4:8, 9) Parents can also refer to Bible-based material designed specifically to help them train their children to appreciate the benefits of respecting the authority of the Scriptures. *

The Christian Congregation and Authority

“This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5) These words, uttered by Jehovah God himself, endorsed Jesus as one who speaks with divine authority. What he said is recorded in the four Gospel accounts to which we can easily refer.

Just before his ascension to heaven, Jesus informed his disciples: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth.” (Matthew 28:18) As Head of his congregation, not only did Jesus keep a watchful eye on his anointed footstep followers on earth but, since the outpouring of the holy spirit at Pentecost 33 C.E., he has also used them as a channel of truth, as a “faithful and discreet slave.” (Matthew 24:45-47; Acts 2:1-36) What has he done to accomplish all of this in order to strengthen the Christian congregation? “When he ascended on high . . . , he gave gifts in men.” (Ephesians 4:8) These “gifts in men” are Christian elders, who are appointed by holy spirit and are given the authority to care for the spiritual interests of fellow believers.​—Acts 20:28.

For this reason Paul counsels: “Remember those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out imitate their faith.” Since these faithful men follow Jesus’ steps closely, it is certainly the course of wisdom to imitate their faith. Then Paul adds: “Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, [“continually recognizing their authority over you,” The Amplified Bible] for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account; that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you.”​—Hebrews 13:7, 17.

What happens when such direction is disregarded? Some members of the early Christian congregation did just that and became apostates. Hymenaeus and Philetus are mentioned as men who subverted the faith of some and whose empty speeches ‘violated what is holy.’ One of their assertions was that the resurrection had already taken place, evidently either a spiritual or a symbolic one, and therefore there was no further resurrection in the future under God’s Kingdom.​—2 Timothy 2:16-18.

The appointed authority came to the rescue. Christian elders were able to refute such arguments because as representatives of Jesus  Christ, they used the authority of Scripture. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) The same is true today in the Christian congregation, which is described as “a pillar and support of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15) Never will false teachings be allowed to despoil “the pattern of healthful words,” preserved for us as a fine trust within the Bible’s pages.​—2 Timothy 1:13, 14.

While respect for authority is rapidly disappearing in the world, as Christians we recognize that proper authorities in the community, in the family, and in the Christian congregation are established for our benefit. Respect for authority is essential for our well-being physically, emotionally, and spiritually. By accepting and respecting such God-given authority, we will be safeguarded by the greatest authorities​—Jehovah God and Jesus Christ—​for our eternal good.​—Psalm 119:165; Hebrews 12:9.


^ par. 17 See the books Questions Young People Ask​—Answers That Work and The Secret of Family Happiness, both published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.

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The Bible contains a fund of information regarding family authority

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Single parents can appeal directly to the authority of Jehovah God and Jesus Christ

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Christians recognize that proper authorities in the family, in the Christian congregation, and in the community are established for their benefit

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Photo by Josh Mathes, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States