On this episode of The Disciple-Making Parent Podcast, we engage in a discussion about the concept of authority with our guest Jonathan Leeman.
Our conversation today revolves around Jonathan’s new book Authority: How Godly Rule Protects the Vulnerable, Strengthens Communities, and Promotes Human Flourishing.
We delve into what authority is, the principles of good authority, and different types of ways we exercise authority. We also discuss how the topic of authority is applied in our homes as husbands, wives, parents, and children. We further explore the importance of submitting to higher authorities, the dangers of bad authority, and the essence of good authority. Tune in to hear more about this enlightening conversation on authority.
Jonathan Leeman serves as the editorial director for 9 Marks and he’s co host of the Pastors Talk Podcast. He’s the author or editor of over a dozen books and teaches at several seminaries. Jonathan lives with his wife and four daughters in a suburb of Washington, D. C., and he’s an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church.
Resources From This Podcast
Topics Covered In This Week’s Podcast
03:42 Why write a book on authority?
08:52 Good authority is not unaccountable, but submits to higher authority; is not self-protective, but bears the costs
13:26 Good authority doesn’t steal life, but creates it; is not unteachable, but seeks wisdom
16:57 Good authority is neither permissive nor authoritarian, but administers discipline
22:00 Submission is the path to growth
24:51 What about bad authorities?
27:37 Authority of counsel and authority of command
36:09 When we fail to exercise parental authority
I’m Chap Bettis, and you’re listening to The Disciple-Making Parent, where we seek to equip parents and churches to pass the gospel to their children.
Authority. What comes to mind when I say that word? What emotion comes to mind? Hi, my name is Chap Bettis, and I’m the author of The Disciple-Making Parent, and we are on a roll talking about seemingly outdated words. Because in the previous two podcasts, we’ve been focused on the biblical duty to honor, to give esteem. In this podcast, we’re going to take a deep dive into a closely related topic: authority. And I think you’re going to love this conversation. I certainly did. In it, I talked with Jonathan Leeman about his new book, Authority: How Godly Rule Protects the Vulnerable, Strengthens Communities, and Promotes Human Flourishing.
In our conversation we talked about what authority is, five principles of good authority, and different types of ways we exercise authority. But it was not just an abstract topic. We applied it throughout to living in our homes as husbands and wives and parents and children. If you’re a pastor or a parent, you are going to want to listen to this podcast and go out and buy the book.
Well, Jonathan Leeman serves as the editorial director for 9Marks and he’s cohost of the Pastors Talk podcast. He’s the author or editor of over a dozen books and teaches at several seminaries. Jonathan lives with his wife and four daughters in a suburb of Washington, DC, and he’s an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church.
Well, before we start, though, I want to remind you that we have a second podcast, my audio blog, and that’s a short form podcast where I read my blog posts in audio format for your convenience. So you can consume good content while on the go or doing chores. So simply search for and subscribe to The Disciple-Making Parent Audio Blog. In addition, another resource we have for you is we love to give away the audio book of The Disciple-Making Parent. Absolutely free. The book has been endorsed by Al Mohler and Tim Challies, and is the premier book on discipling your children. But we would love to give it to you for free. Simply visit thedisciplemakingparent.com/freeaudiobook. So two resources that can equip you, the audio blog and our free audio book. But for now, let’s think about authority and how we exercise it as both parents and pastors.
Chap: Well, it’s a joy and privilege to have Jonathan Leeman on the podcast. So welcome, Jonathan. Thanks for taking the time.
Jonathan Leeman: Thank you, Chap.
Chap: Yeah, well, I read that introduction from the book Authority, and I’m going to read the subtitle. That’s quite a mouthful.
Jonathan: I have to do the same thing!
Chap: How Godly Rule Protects the Vulnerable, Strengthens Community, and Promotes Human Flourishing. I just think this is a profound subject that families need to understand, being comfortable exercising authority. And then also there’s this: since you are doing a comprehensive view, you’re talking about churches and governments and businesses as well. So before we get into the book, just, do you mind telling us just a little bit about your family as well? Because obviously a lot of the audience here is families, parents, grandparents.
Jonathan: Sure. Of course. I grew up in two Christian, grew up in a Christian home and had Christian grandparents on both sides. I’m very grateful for parents and grandparents, and my ability to write on this topic depends in part on the fact that I think, by God’s grace, I’ve been under very good authorities.
I’m married to Shannon. We have four daughters. They’re 17, 16, 14, and 10, the four girls are. And all of them are wonderful, and I’m deeply, deeply grateful for them. People are like, “What are your hobbies?” And my hobbies are hanging out with them, doing stuff with them.
Chap: That’s great. That’s great. That shows you have connected to their heart that they still want to hang out with you. So good for you. Well, let’s just start by taking the question for every author, really: why did you write this book? What need do you see that caused you to put in the time and effort to write the book?
Jonathan: Yeah, sure. Several reasons. Number one, it’s a crucial matter in scripture and to the very way God has created us. Think about the dominion mandate itself, the very first verses of humanity in the Bible: God says, be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion. Authority goes right to the heart of your existence and mine. So, one, for those theological realities.
Number two, because it is such a contested issue in our day, especially. Humans have fought against authority ever since Genesis 3. Nonetheless, I think there are cultures and places and times where that fight is worse than others. And ever since the Enlightenment, that fight against authority has gained a kind of philosophical legitimacy. And in our own day, speeding up to, 2023 and so forth, it undergirds all of our culture wars. It undergirds all the conversations about gender, politics, church, trusting pastors, and abuse, and identity politics, and on and on we could go. So it’s, it’s a hot topic, an important topic right now, and I think it’s crucial that we understand it rightly, both its good bits and its bad bits.
Chap: So let’s dive into that. What is authority? And then, what is good and bad authority? Or maybe we just start with what is authority and why is bad authority so damaging in the church and home?
Jonathan: To answer as concisely as possible, authority is the moral license people have to exercise power. Power is different than authority. Power is the ability to do something. I have the power to pick up a rock. I have the competence to, you know, complete a math problem or fix a leaky faucet. Authority is the moral license to exercise that power. So when my daughter was 15, she had the power to drive a car, but she didn’t have the authority to. Not until she turned 16 and went to the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles and they gave her a license, okay? That license was authority to drive on a public road. And authority always requires a granting agent. It requires an authorizer. Somebody has to say, You have the authority to do X, Y, and Z, but not A, B, and C, or whatever the case is. So that’s what authority is.
Authority is dangerous because ever since the fall, we have self-authorized. So, the evil one says, Did he really say? Don’t you know that if you partake of it, taste of it, you will be like God? What does it mean to be like God? In that instance, it means to decide the rules yourself, decide the job that you have to do yourself, be your own authorizer, right? And when we authorize ourselves like that and defy God’s law, we end up using authority to use, abuse, oppress, exploit, hurt, kill, you know, eat up. And that’s dehumanizing for us, the person in authority, and it’s dehumanizing to those over whom we rule. We’re using it for our gain and glory, not God’s gain and glory, and not treating people as God imagers when we do that.
To go back to your first question, why this book right now? Well, because so many of the good books on authority right now, Christian books, are all about the badness of bad authority, and we have to keep one eye on the badness of bad authority. That’s important. So I’m grateful for those books. The problem is, the solution to bad authority is not no authority, critique, critique, critique. The solution to bad authority is goodauthority, but what is good authority? So that’s another conversation we have to have.
Chap: Well, that’s really helpful. You’re differentiating between power and authority. So I may step out in the middle of the road and stop traffic. So in that moment, I am exercising power, but I don’t have the authority to do that. And a policeman does have that authority. And what you’re also saying is when he rightly exercises that, that’s great. When he doesn’t, if he’s exercising it poorly, or if he’s on the sidelines, passive, then we have an authority, someone who should be ruling over a certain area who’s actually not doing it well.
I appreciate your emphasis- as I was reading through the book and thought, Yes! This whole idea of rule, I’ve got a couple of blog posts on that.– Just this idea that it starts in Genesis and God is actually training us, I’d argue- that in our stewardship, we’re going to be ruling forever. And so that’s part of managing your household well. We are growing into becoming better managers, better rulers for eternity. So that’s great.
Jonathan: Well, that’s what good authority does. Good authority is working to raise others up into oneself. So you’re saying to your children, I want you to rule like I rule. I’m going to give you little opportunities, little chances at exercising authority, and as you prove responsible, I’m going to give you more and more, because that’s the goal. My goal isn’t just to oppress and abuse you however I want. My goal is to raise you up and give you life and opportunity and growth and power and strength, so that you can do as I do. And isn’t that exactly what God does with us, what he intended to do with us in creation, and what he’s completing his work of doing in redemption?
Chap: Yeah, that’s great. Thank you. Well, we just got into it a little bit. You talk about five principles of good authority. So why don’t we just walk through those, and then we’ll have little sidebars and think about specifically how they apply in the home. And then of course we’ve got pastors listening, thinking about the church as well. But how does good authority work?
Jonathan: Yeah, sure. Number one, I say- and you might have to remind me, Chap, I don’t have the book right in front of me.
Chap: It’s Not unaccountable, but submits to higher authority.
Jonathan: Good authority is always under authority, always. For everybody except God. For humans, good authority is always under authority. So for instance, when the elders of my church are considering new elders, and we have, say, a man come in and sit in on an elders’ meeting, one of the questions we’ll ask him is, “Are you willing to submit to the other elders?” Don’t make a man an elder, or a pastor, or even a senior pastor, if he’s not willing to submit to the other pastors, or the congregation as a whole. I don’t trust a man to lead who doesn’t know how to follow. We learn to lead by following. In the same way, the Son of Man himself came and he only did what the Father told him to do, or say only what the Father told him to say. The incarnate Son put himself under the Father’s authority entirely, and so won all authority in heaven and on earth.
And one philosopher puts it like this: he says, “To be in authority is to be under authority and to be under authority is to be in authority.” And that’s right. It says I put myself under your authority and obey your rules and do what you say is right, and I’m learning from you and being trained in all of that, that I am, as it were, beginning to exercise your own rules so that when the time comes, you can say to me, I’m going to step away. And I’m going to trust that you’re going to keep doing the same thing. That’s how that works.
Here’s one illustration I write about this in the home. A pastor called me not long ago and asked my opinion on a matter, which was a mother had slammed her 13, 14-year-old daughter into a fireplace. The 13, 14-year-old daughter was giving lip, being insolent, and just kind of a in fit of rage, this mother just put her hands on her shoulders and pushed her into the brick backdrop of the fireplace. And the girl got scared, ran out of the house, ran to a church member’s house. They called the pastors. The pastors, at some point in the process, called me and said, “What do we do?” And the girl was fine, but she was a little shaken up and traumatized from the experience.
And me and the pastor talked about a number of things. Do you call CPS, what do you say to the parents, these kinds of things. The one thing I said that’s crucial for this conversation right now is, what that mother needs to understand is that she doesn’t need to just apologize to this daughter for that act of violence. She also needs to let her daughter see her, the mom, submitting to the authorities placed over her. Pastors, CPS, if that’s what they decided to do.
That daughter is only going to learn to trust her mother again and her mother’s authority in her life as she sees mom submitting to those whom God has placed over her. And I think that’s true of everyone, even the president. We all have authorities over us on this earth.
Chap: That’s really good. So you’re saynig, well, several different aspects. Everyone needs to be submitting to authority. So a husband, even as he exercises authority in the home, the wife should be able to trust he is under the authority of the elders.
Chap: And then kids as we’re calling them to respect us and obey. We’re also talking about where, it’s not like we’re the dictators and can do whatever we want. We parents are under authority as well.
Jonathan: Well, so I told you my daughters are teenagers and we’re talking about what kind of men they want to marry. And I’ve said them multiple times, Girls, you do not want to marry a guy who will not submit himself to other men. He is not safe. If he’s living in the dark and will not submit himself to other men, bring his own sins and struggles into light, that is not a man you want to marry. So, whereas opposed to a man who’s like, Look, I sin, I make mistakes, but then I bring those things into light and I submit them to other close friends and elders God has placed over me. Okay. That’s a man who is going to sin, but you can trust him.
Chap: That’s interesting. I have a blog post, Protection, Not Secrecy, saying for wives, you owe him protection, but you do not owe him secrecy. Meaning I don’t go around gossiping about all of our problems, but if there’s a family secret, there are other authorities that I can go to.
Jonathan: Well, I was given a good example by this by my former pastor, Mark Dever. He would say to his wife early in the marriage, Sweetheart, it’s going to be tough being married to me, so you have my complete freedom to talk to other women and the pastors as you need to. You’ve got to pass from me. Don’t sweat it. So I appreciate that.
Chap: Let’s move on. It doesn’t steal life, but it creates it. It’s not unteachable, but seeks wisdom. Any comments on those, thinking about parents?
Jonathan: Yeah, sure. Well, that second one, it doesn’t steal life, but creates it in many ways. There’s two things I want people taking away from the book. It’s the first thing I said, good authority is under authority, and it’s the second thing, it doesn’t steal life, it creates it. In other words, I want every reader, every listener to this podcast to stop and think about all the different places in life where it’s giving you authority. You know, in the home, in the workplace, are you in the military, are you a police officer, in government? Now ask yourself, why do you have that authority? What is the purpose God has given you authority there? Pilot of an airplane. He’s given you authority to create, grow, strengthen, build up, be a platform for others, right?
We don’t have the authority we have to get so much as we have it to give and provide for others. I remember running around Disney World once with one daughter on this shoulder and another daughter on this shoulder and a third kind of trying to hold her hand. Why? Because we had to get to the princesses. The stupid… These ladies in costume. My little girls were dying to see the princesses. And so I’m out there in the Florida sun, sweating like a pig, caring, because we were trying to get there by a certain time or something, I’m caring, and you know, your neck’s cramping up, and your back’s hurting, and you’re doing all you can to help your daughter see the princesses.
My wife caught a photo of me, and I looked at the photo. And I remember thinking, that’s, I think, by God’s grace, a little bit like God, and so far as he makes himself a rock. In other words, good authority isn’t just top down, me telling you what you must do. It’s also bottom up sometimes, in that God, as I said, is a rock, gives us a place to stand. He tries to strengthen us. He gives us an opportunity to grow and to work. He supplies us. Hey, any tree in the garden you want to eat, it’s fine. All these vegetables, all these bugs, eat them, not that one, but the rest of them, they’re yours. I’m trying to resource you. I’m here for you.
So what are you trying to do in your kid’s lives? You’re trying to teach them to run faster, think better, know more, love God, worship. . . So we’re seeking to create life, not take it.
Chap: I’ve heard you use the illustration of a good teacher or a good coach,and you’re exercising authority. Your classroom is not out of control. My mom was an English teacher, pretty strict, I think. But the goal was that they would learn English and just had kids come back and say, “Your class was my favorite class.”
So it’s that. I am the head of my household, but it is not for me so that I can sit on the couch and watch football. It is to cause, in your case, for young ladies to flourish and grow, or five young ladies.
Jonathan: Which is to say, the one in position of authority in some ways is working the hardest. It’s like the principal whose car’s in the parking lot before anybody else in the morning and that car’s the last one to pull out of the parking lot because the principal’s just doing all he, she can to get everything done. It’s like the pastor is the last to leave the church sort of thing, or it’s any number of, you know, parents staying up late.
And so I want to say husbands, are you the hardest working one in your home? You know, are you helping with the dishes or whatever, the laundry, you know, so that your wife can have rest when she needs it for her purposes? So, yeah, going on with examples.
Chap: And that gets a little bit into the fifth one. So I think we’ve kind of covered this, good authority is not self-protective, but bears the cost. But I want to go back to your fourth one, is neither permissive nor authoritarian, but administers discipline. So I think that’s an interesting contrast there, permissive or authoritarian, but and then you’ve got the qualifier and the phrase at the end: but administers discipline. Talk about that.
Jonathan: Yeah, I think people today are afraid, as parents today especially, are afraid of discipline, right? Just recently a friend of mine, he and his three year old, the three of us were kind of walking out from a driveway into a street, and the three year old started to walk into the street, and she’s a very smart three year old, and she knows how to argue and so forth. And my friend, God bless him, he said, “Don’t do this.” She did it anyway. And she proceeded and she said, “Well, I’m going to do this, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And he just says like, “meh,” and let her go. And I’m just like, No. Stop feeding into it. If you’re going to draw the line anywhere, friend, it had better be on a street. That is life or death. You’re not loving your daughter right now. You insist in this situation.
And I think when we don’t draw boundaries, don’t draw lines, and don’t discipline our children, what do we do? We’re creating narcissists. We’re saying, look, the world’s going to conform to you and there’s going to be no consequences to it. So you go ahead and live the way you want, whatever you want inside, that’s fine. Nobody’s going to check you, correct you, discipline you. Okay, well, I feel entitled to everything. I can do what I want. The world’s here for me. I don’t want to conform myself to various structures. If a boss says you need to be here on time, why do I need to be there on time? If he says, “I need you to work harder and get these things done,” “Boss, I don’t know if you’re respecting my space,” so forth and whatnot, my internal needs. So when we don’t discipline our children, we are not loving our children. That kind of permissiveness is not love. It is hate, in fact, says Proverbs.
On the other hand, yes, you can go too far. Fathers, do not exasperate your children. And in that sense, I think every father and mother needs to know themselves and their tendencies. I tend to think, almost by different temperaments, we tend to err in one direction or another. Type A, type B, you know. For myself, honestly, I think I probably would err towards authoritarianism. I have a strong personality. I’m kind of independent, self-sufficient. I get it done. I expect you to get it done. And I’m going to say, Here’s the line. I’m kind of a truth guy, right, so I’m a writer. And so for me personally, I’m having to kind of push, work against that tendency and sometimes take a risk and being a little more permissive. But the goal of course for me is kind of that balance.
Now on the other hand, you might be like this friend I was with, inclined towards a little more easygoing, which is good, but recognize those tendencies and practice setting some boundaries, offering some correction, doing some discipline. You love your child by doing that.
Chap: That’s really helpful. I’m even thinking back to the way we began this, so I am to rule well, and we want to train disciples who will rule well, and that ruling will start with being willing to submit, being under a higher authority, having control of myself. When our kids were little, the magic word was “freeze.” And in your instance with your friend, “freeze” was, Do not question me, just freeze. You know, there are plenty of other times where they could interact with us, but in that life threatening street crossing, parking lot time. . . That causes them to flourish, and when they don’t obey, which we expect them not to, like you said, if we don’t bring consequences, then they’re going to say, “Oh, there’s, there are no consequences in life.”
This ties in a little bit with, you use a very interesting term and I want to you to talk about it just for a little while. You talk about “the office.” Now that is not a phrase I think I’ve seen in any book. Congratulations, you have a baby, and now we’re inducting you into the office of mother, the office of father. Talk about that.
Jonathan: That’s right. Yeah, sure. What I’m trying to do there is help people understand that these authority structures operate inside of the different family functions God gives us. In the same way it does at work, right? At work you have an office, you have certain responsibilities, certain duties, certain obligations by virtue of possessing this office. Or in the church, you understand, I’ll say elders and office, obligations, duties, responsibilities, limits, accountability structures to this office. Okay, what do we mean when we say Michael is Cecilia’s dad? Well, it means he’s her dad, right? She came from him, yes. But we also have a number of moral claims that we’re making at that moment, certain obligations, duties, responsibilities, accountability structures that he and she now bear towards one another that Michael doesn’t bear with you, the kids down the street, the next house over. He has a set of divine duties and structures that God has established that he is responsible to, and he can perform his job, office, well, or he can perform it poorly. And so I just use that language to function as a kind of x-ray machine that exposes the skeletal structure of these duties and obligations and responsibilities inside of the flesh of my relationship with my daughter, yours with your son, and so forth. So that’s what I’m getting at there.
Chap: Well, that’s great. It’s kind of bracing, but I think in a good way. That’s good to remember. Well, I’m trying to draw things into the light. Well, somewhat related to that with authority, then we also should talk a little bit about submission. And your chapter title, Submission is the Path to Growth, Authority, and Likeness to God and Man. It never has absolutes. It always has limits. But if we’re talking about the goodness of authority, can we talk a little bit about the goodness of submission? Because as we’re training our children to obey us, so we have to submit, but we’re also training our children in the goodness of submission. So just talk about submission there for a while, this growth and then. . .
Jonathan: Yeah, sure. In many ways, this chapter emerged from what I think was probably my conversion and how that all transpired. I grew up very much a nonconformist, oldest child. And not the obedient oldest child, but like the rebellious. You know, don’t tell me what to do oldest child. And if I was in a room full of Republicans, I would argue like a Democrat. If I was a room full of Democrats, I would argue like a Republican. That was just me in high school, college, early adulthood. And then I started attending a church where there was kind of a very strong, in a good sense, pastor who called me in a particular instance to submit. I won’t get into all the details of what he was recommending the church do. And he called me personally and he called us to vote in a particular direction for a particular motion he was making. And at first, I didn’t like what he was asking us to do. Yet, through a series of conversations, I decided, Okay, the best thing for me to do here is submit. He’s the pastor God has brought into my life, I should submit. And God used that experience to grow me, and to teach me, and to start even drawing me into more leadership in the church. And I remember at one point having this kind of eureka moment where I realized, Oh my goodness, submission’s a good thing.
I’m like, what? The submission actually grooming. How come we never talk about this? I think we, in a kind of a Sunday school mindset, construe submission as a necessary evil that you endure with for a time, but then you kind of can cast off the constraints of what you’re called to obey. And yet I realized, Oh no, this is how God has set the whole thing up. And this is what grows us into authority. And as I said to you earlier in the conversation, it’s the people who know how to follow that we entrust with leadership, but even when you’re leading, you’re also submitting. So there’s a sense in which authority and obedience very much are two sides of the same coin. If you’re doing one well, you’re doing the other as well. Always two sides of the same coin. Again, think of the Son of Man, incarnate in Jesus, and submission to the Father and exercising all authority and heaven on earth.
Now, as soon as we talk about submission, we absolutely have to talk about the limits of submission, because as you said a moment ago, Chap, no authority on earth is absolute. Only God’s authority is absolute. So we have to talk about the limits of submission. Still, before we even do that, I think it’s crucial that evangelicals recover an understanding of the goodness of submission.
Chap: That’s good. Do you want to take just a few sentences and make sure we hit on, It’s never absolute. I’m thinking perhaps of the mother who is dealing with the unsaved husband and wants to follow the Lord. Even though it does say “Wives, submit to your husbands,” what’s going on in this dynamic?
Jonathan: Yeah, sure. Well, the larger principle is only God’s authority is absolute. Authority is not something we possess innately. It’s an office -there’s that word again- we step into, that somebody has to give to us always. We never just grab it. It must be given to us. And therefore it always needs to be in a posture of submission, but the submission is never absolute that we’re called to, and it has its limits, as I said. And the three limits I outlined in the book- let’s say, a wife of a tough husband, or children of an abusive parent, or even, even an office.
Limit number one, if they ask you to sin, I think people understand that, that’s a pretty common thing to say. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Daniel, Paul, and John.
Number two, when legitimate authority figures exercise that authority, or ask for something outside of their jurisdiction that God has not authorized them to ask for. And there’s a few examples, I think, we have of this in Scripture, like Saul says, Anybody who eats before the end of the day will be cursed, or whatever, and Jonathan comes along and eats some honey. Saul didn’t have the authority to do that, and that’s why I don’t think there were any legitimate consequences, or other examples I could give from Scripture.
So for instance, do the Taliban have the authority to require women to wear burqas, or hijabs, or does the government have the authority to require the women to wear those things? I don’t think so. And so if I’m in a situation with my wife in Afghanistan and daughters, they can get away with not wearing it without consequences, I’d say, “Sure, I don’t think you’re obligated to.” So number two, outside of their jurisdiction. And just to kind of make that clear: to say otherwise, to say anyone- the government- anyone has comprehensive authority everywhere, even a parent everywhere is to say, again, we’re self-authorizing. No, we’re not. We only have authority where God has given it.
And then third, of course, I think the limit is the threat of harm. I think there is a right of self-defense. So if a duly-established authority is acting in a way that would unjustly, wrongly harm me, a father swings his fists, well, I think that kid should duck and run. He doesn’t need to submit to that fist about to cross his face.
Chap: That’s helpful. And I think there have been times even we were raising our kids where a father’s authority was so exalted that he could basically cause harm. He was not submitting to others and there was harm that people were experiencing. They were not flourishing. So that’s very helpful. And again, I don’t think I’ve ever heard this before or thought of this before, but you talk about the authority of counsel and the authority of command. And you say that a husband and an elder has the authority of counsel, whereas a parent has the authority of command. So can you talk about how those are different and apply them at home?
Jonathan: Yeah. And those may not be the best terms, because people might say, Okay, one has command and the other is just counsel. Well, no, it’s not actually counsel. It really is an authority. And what both columns- you kind of think of two buckets or two columns- in both columns there is a real authority, which is to say the right to make commands, to say to you, You must. And you are then under obligation, morally as it were, to submit, to say, Okay, because that’s in both columns or both buckets.
The difference between these two kinds of authority comes to the right of enforcement or discipline. An authority of command has the right to enforce that command through discipline. So think of the government as the power of the sword, or parents of young children, power of the rod, or even the whole church, power of the keys to excommunicate. That’s that column.
Okay, but over here in the authority of counsel column, there’s no right to enforce. So, think about a husband. Can you think of any verse in the Bible, any example, where husbands are given the right to discipline or coerce their wives? You know, just kind of scan through the Old Testament, dude. Can you think of anything? I hope the answer to you’re going to give me is no. You do not have the right to discipline or require something like that of your wife the way you do with your three-year-old. Okay, elders of a church. Again, same question. Now, I understand our Presbyterian and Anglican friends, I’m a Congregationalist, will disagree with this here. Okay, fine. We’ll make some adjustments for that. I’m making the claim that just as with husbands, so elders, pastors do not have an authority of command. They cannot enforce their discipline. They can go to the church and say, Joe has done this and you should remove him, but I can’t invite you to my office as a pastor and say, You’re out. I’m excommunicating you.
And again, some denominations with bishops would say you can. I don’t think that’s right. And the reason this distinction, these two columns are absolutely critical to understand is it affects the way you exercise that authority. So when you have an authority of command, like a police officer, you can require decisions now, slow down your car now. As a parent, Sweetheart, a three year old, you need to go to bed now. And yes, I will enforce it, if you’re not going to listen. It aims for immediate actions and immediate decisions and it exercises itself accordingly. Whereas pastors and husbands, it’s not about now. It’s about seeking unity and Christ-likeness, unity husband, Christ likeness elder, in the long run.
And so I’m using my authority very patiently, very gently. I’m trying to win. I’m trying to woo. “Teach with great patience,” Paul says to Timothy. “Live with your wives in an understanding way,” he says to husbands, right? And so I’m trying to win my wife as a husband. As it were Song of Solomon’s power of attraction and love towards her. And as an elder, I’m trying to win the congregation with my integrity and uprightness and trustworthiness and my care and, my beloved, my joy and crowns, says Paul, I’m trying to win them, imitate me as I imitate Christ. And it’s a long game, it’s a slow thing, doesn’t force decisions. All that to say, yes, recognizing these two columns, these two different buckets, kinds and authority dramatically should shape how you exercise that authority.
Chap: Oh, that’s so good. That’s so good. Thank you so much in there. Well, okay. So I want to ask you a question that I could not have asked you 10 years ago. Authority of command become authority of counsel. How do you shepherd teenagers? Because you have a great quotation. I’ve included it in my upcoming book as well. “It takes skill and wisdom to simultaneously lead people in the right direction while letting them figure out their direction on their own.” I can’t remember whether the context was family, but I’m like, That’s parenting teenagers right there. And 20 year olds, influencing them. So yeah, just thinking personally, how have you exercised that transition over time? Would you say that’s part of the dance of a parent? Am I going to command? Is this something I’m going to command my 15 year old to do?
Jonathan: Yeah. Yeah. Moving from 3 to 13 to 23, you are moving from command to counsel. Absolutely. Precisely what you’re doing. And frankly, even beyond that. I don’t know that my 30 year old child will be required to submit to me in the same way, but certainly by when I moved from three to 13, I’m not going to discipline in the same way.
I was coming home on a plane just two days ago with a daughter and she wanted to watch a movie and she’s 17. It was a horror movie. And on a plane, I knew truly bad things would be screened out. So that was my context. And I decided, Okay, am I going to insist she not watch it?
Or am I going to advise she not watch it? And I chose to advise. I said, “Sweetheart, I would encourage you not to watch that. I don’t think it’s wise. That’s all I’m going to say, though.” And then she watched it. Again, thanked me for what I said. She didn’t like it. And I’m like, Okay, that kind of worked out actually. I didn’t exercise a real heavy hand and she saw my point.
Here’s a silly illustration. Literally just yesterday, I was helping the 14 year old edit a paper, and look, I’m a professional editor. So I go in and I start to fix it and I was like, Stop it. It’s got to be her paper. I’m like, I know, but that’ll take forever. This is so much easier. And my 14 year old was like, No, no, no, no, I’ll let dad. And so we played something of a little game. I’m like, So, sweetie, do you want the word consequently here? Yes. And didn’t you want to put a comma there? Yes! Okay.
But that tension right there is precisely what we’re trying to do as parents. We’re trying to get them to, and in the quote that you just read, I’m trying to help my daughter learn how to write sentences in ways that are compelling, energetic, clear. And I can go in to do it because that’s my full-time job. But how do I help her do it and not just do it? And movement, again, from 3 to the 13 is all about making that adjustment.
And can I give one more story? On the advice an older man, one of my disciples, I would say, gave me. He said when your kids are little, you’re kind of out front of them, and he held his hands out like this. He said, “You’re out front of them, and you’re kind of pulling them along. But then when they get to the teenagers, you need to pull alongside them,” kind of put his hands next to each other, like this. “And there you’re starting to ask questions, you’re reminding them of the principles that you believe and maybe they believe and you’re asking questions: is this the wisest way to do that? And then as they move out of the teen years into their 20s more and more and they move to the first hand and behind the second hand- you’re behind them kind of cheering them on and we need to make that movement.
And my wife and I have discovered that as our daughters moved into the teen years, we had to help each other with that. Because when they’re littles, it’s easy to say, Hey, sweetheart, go clean up. I asked you to clean that up. You need to clean that up. You’re just going to give the command. And we had to remind one another that we need to ease up at times and invite them into things, you know, conversations with things. And on different days and different situations, my wife would be better at it, or I would be better at it, at making that transition. And the thing is also, we would frequently say to our kids, We’ll give you as much freedom as you prove responsible with. If you don’t prove responsible with it, we’re going to retract it. The playpen’s going to get smaller. But if you’re responsible, man, look at that playpen. It’s huge, big as you want it. But you’ve got to prove that you’re internalizing the principles of wisdom that we’ve been trying to teach you.
Chap: That’s really good. That brother was Matt Schmucker, right? He was just up here preaching and his podcast is the next one coming up. It’ll be out before this one, with his permission and posting that sermon, which was so good. I love how you used insist and advise, and I have to say, as a dad, that was probably the perfect situation. So you know that the bad parts are out of the movie. You’re sitting right beside her, and part of this wisdom is letting people make their own mistakes and suddenly figure out the conviction that my dad’s pretty wise after all. So that was good.
Well, I just thank you so much for our time. Let me just finish up with one last question or maybe two here. But ending our time, speak to the young mom or dad who’s afraid to rule, to give clear commands or consequences. We may have already covered this, but I just want to encourage in this day. I say to parents, It’s authority and affection and, and to paint with a very broad brush, this generation is nailing the affection, but they’re not nailing that authority. So how would you encourage the young parents who perhaps are letting their kids run wild and . . . well, even that’s derogatory. They’re giving them huge amounts of freedom too soon. Too much freedom too soon.
Jonathan: Yeah. I’d say you’re weakening your kids. You are not letting them reach their full potential. That’s one way to put it. A more aggressive way to put it is you’re, is you’re sowing the seeds of life decisions that are going to hurt them, destroy them. A man without discipline is like a city without walls. You’re not teaching them to have self-discipline because it’s that correction and discipline which teaches us self-discipline as we internalize external discipline. That’s the goal, to help them internalize external discipline. Proverbs says, you know, man who spares a rod hates his child. What’s going on there? Why hate your children? Well, again, because it’s finally selfish to not discipline your kids. Ironically, you think you’re being nice. You think you’re being compassionate, loving, and maybe in some respect, your heart is those things. But in a considered sense, you’re being selfish and lazy, because it is hard work, and it’s hard work to do it well, right? It’s easy to do it violently, angrily. That’s not what we’re talking about here. It’s hard to do it slowly, compassionately, gently, calibrated to their little frames, calibrated to this one’s sensitivities, and do it well. It takes studying the child and knowing the child, and knowing what’s too much, and what’s not enough, and what is truly helpful to them.
And so I think in some respects you’re at risk of being lazy and unloving when Proverbs says, hating your child. Discipline is what a coach does to make the people run faster, to shoot the ball better, to dance a better dance The Lord disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness. He is treating you with sons, it says. And he disciplines the one he loves. So do you love your children? I promise you it will pay dividends. Not that you can carry into your kid’s going to be a Christian, but you can teach your kids the basic of sowing and reaping. We don’t have control over their regeneration, but we can teach them the sowing, reaping principle and principles of wisdom in life.
Chap: That’s really good. It’s really good. I feel like in trying to be a gospel parent, we’ve forgotten that character training. So character training is important. As well as praying that God regenerates the heart, obviously, but we’re still disciplining. And when they fail, gospel, gospel, gospel, gospel.
Jonathan: Yes. Yes. Absolutely. Discipline and gospel. Both.
Chap: Well, thank you for your time. Uh, I have really enjoyed this conversation. And I just, I really feel like this book, Authority by Jonathan Leeman, should be read and on the shelf of every pastor and thoughtful parent. So I highly encourage you and thank you, Jonathan, for that labor of love. It will help many.
Jonathan: Good. Good. Thank, thank you, Chap. And thanks for the great questions, brother.