The Authority of Commands
We have noted in a previous article that God’s authority (God giving man the right or freedom to act, especially in religious matters) is expressed in the Scriptures. In last month’s article we began answering the question: How can we discover from the Scriptures whether or not any given belief, teaching, or practice is authorized by God?
By examining instances in the New Testament where the early disciples and Jesus were teaching what God authorized, we saw that there are two basic and necessary elements involved in the proper method of establishing authority from the Scriptures for a certain teaching or practice. First, all available facts must be reported, Second, the conclusion drawn must have put all the obtainable facts together in such a way that they all harmonize, i.e., they do not contradict one another.
Since we must collect all the facts on any given subject before we know we have the whole truth on that subject, it is essential that we are aware of the various forms in which facts will appear in the New Testament. In this and the next couple of articles, we will show that the facts are collected from commands, examples and inferences revealed by God in the Scriptures.
The Authority of Commands in the Old Testament Era
Since the Old Testament Scriptures “were written for our learning” (Romans 15:4), we will begin by examining the authority of commands issued during Old Testament times. Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, were devoured by fire because they “offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them” (Leviticus 10:1-2). God had commanded them regarding the fire to be offered before Him; what God commanded gave them the authority to offer only the fire God desired. But they violated God’s will when they “offered profane (“unauthorized”–NIV, ESV) fire before the Lord.” They failed to heed the warning issued several times in the Old Testament: “Therefore you shall be careful to do as the Lord Your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left” (Deuteronomy 5:32).
When God gave Moses instructions regarding the Ark of the Covenant, He said: “And you shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. The poles shall be put in the rings on the sides of the ark, that the ark may be carried by them” (Exodus 25:13-14). When David sought to move the ark to Jerusalem, he discovered that this direct statement was a command that gave God’s authority to carry the ark only by these poles. When “they carried the ark of God on a new cart… the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzza, and He struck him because he put his hand to the ark; and he died there before the Lord” (1 Chronicles 13:7,10). David realized a few months later that “the Lord our God broke out against us, because we did not consult Him about the proper order. So the priests and the Levites sanctified themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel. And the children of the Levites bore the ark of God on their shoulders, by its poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord” (1 Chronicles 15:13-15). Clearly during the Old Testament age, God’s authority giving man the right to act was established by His commands.
The Authority of Commands Illustrated by Jesus
Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees, who were binding traditions that God did not authorize, for not doing what God authorized in caring for their father and mother. “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift of God”—‘then he need not honor his father or mother. Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition” (Matthew 15:3-6). Their worship was “vain” (empty, void) because they disregarded God’s authority given through His commands, and instead were “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (15:9).
Establishing God’s Authority Today through Commands
Jesus teaches that we are to keep His commandments; His commandments express what He authorizes. Jesus said to His disciples: “If you love Me, keep My commandments…He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me…If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 14:15,21; 15:10).
Jesus’ authority is stated directly by His commands. He told His apostles: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of (i.e., by the authority of) the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:18-20) One of the Greek words translated “commandment” means “an injunction, mandate…with every possible form of authority” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p.244); the word “stresses the authoritativeness of the command” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p.212). Paul’s authority, his right, to be “an apostle of Jesus Christ” was established “by the commandment of God our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 1:1). The authority for Paul to preach God’s word, he said, “was committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior” (Titus 1:3). Clearly commands revealed in the New Testament express God’s authority.
Jesus’ apostles admonish us to keep God’s commands. “But we command you, brethren, in the name of (i.e. by the authority 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” (2 Thessalonians 3:6). “I urge (lit. charge) you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate (i.e., “a ruler or officer of great authority”–Strong’s), the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:13-14). “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4).
The Scriptures teach that we are to look for the commands of God that apply to us in order to determine what God authorizes. The commands of Jesus and His apostles are binding on us today, and they must be obeyed by all who would seek Jesus as their Savior.