Last week, we began a study on the biblical subject of authority. We learned that Jesus the Christ has all authority (Matt. 28:18). He is the only infallible source and standard of authority in religion--we are not! Whatever Jesus authorizes in religion is the standard by which we must be guided. We must humbly submit to His authority in all matters! But, how can one know what Jesus has authorized today in religion? That is the question we will endeavor to start answering today.
Jesus promised His apostles that after He departed they would be guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit (John 16:7,13). This guidance into all truth included the revealing of the New Testament Scriptures (cf. I Cor. 2:9-13; II Pet. 1:20,21). Thus, Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, spoke through His apostles and prophets in the first century. They wrote down the truths that Jesus wanted us to know; they wrote down "all things that pertain to life and godliness" (II Pet. 1:3). Today, the New Testament is our infallible guide in religion. It is the word and authority of Jesus Christ! It is our standard of authority. The Scriptures are able to make us complete as children of God (II Tim. 3:16,17).
Let's take a moment and talk about Colossians 3:17. I typically refer to this passage as the authority verse. Colossians 3:17 teaches - "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." This verse is exceedingly broad in its application. I call this the authority verse because it clearly teaches that a person must have divine authority for everything they say and do in every facet of their life! Now wait a minute, Stephen, Paul did not use the word "authority" in that verse! That's true. He simply stated that all things must be done "in the name of the Lord." This is simply another way of saying that everything must be done by the Lord's authority. For example, if a police officer is running after a criminal, he might yell: "Halt, in the name of the law!" He is commanding the criminal to stop by the authority of the law. So it is with Colossians 3:17. Everything a person says or does must be done by the authority (or in the name) of the Lord. If Jesus, in the New Testament, does not give us the right (or authority) to say or do a certain thing, then we should not do it! That is the teaching of the authority verse.
I hope it is becoming obvious just how important it is that we answer our initial question: How can we know what Jesus has authorized today? We must find the answer to this question. Otherwise, we will be unable to determine whether the things we say and do in life are truly pleasing to the Lord and done by His authority.
Let us begin to answer our question by noting an important fundamental truth: The Bible teaches in two basic ways--explicitly and implicitly. Explicit teaching is teaching which is directly stated. It is what the Bible comes right out and says. The Bible is composed of explicit statements. Implicit teaching, on the other hand, is teaching which is not directly stated but is understood from what is directly stated. In other words, implicit teaching is that which is implied from explicit statements. Let us closely examine explicit teaching at this time.
When we consider explicit teaching, or all of the things that are directly stated, we will quickly see that there are two basic types of explicit teaching: (1) direct statements and (2) accounts of action. Let's look at each of these individually.
First, let's consider DIRECT STATEMENTS.
When we study the Greek New Testament, we learn that there are as many as eleven different types of direct statements! We could spend time classifying all eleven of them, but I do not believe that would be a productive use of our time. Instead, I'd simply like to mention that some direct statements are commands (e.g., Mark 16:15 - "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature"). Other direct statements are declarative (e.g., Mark 16:16 - "He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned"). There are nine other kinds of direct statements, but it is not overly important that we recognize which are conditional, which are deliberative, which are mandatory, etc.
What is important is that we understand that direct statements authorize, or bind, certain things. When a mother issues a direct statement to her child, she expects him to obey. She has authorized him to do something, and she rightly expects him to do it. It is the same way with the New Testament. God has authorized certain things to be done and certain things to be avoided by the direct statements we read in the New Testament. Practically speaking, there is no clearer way to authorize something than by issuing a direct statement.
But, consider this: Are all direct statements in the New Testament binding upon us today? That is, does every New Testament direct statement authorize me to do the action that is stated? No, and I'll prove it to you shortly, but for now assume it to be true. So, if not all New Testament direct statements are binding today, how can we know which ones are binding and which ones are not? That is, how can we know when we read a particular statement in the New Testament if God expects us to do that very thing today?
Let's look at an example to help answer this question. I can confidently tell you that I know that Matthew 9:38 is binding upon me today, but, on the other hand, Matthew 10:5-8 is not binding upon me today. Let's read Matthew 9:38 first - "Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send our laborers into His harvest." This verse is composed of a direct statement spoken by Jesus. He tells His disciples to pray for spiritual workers. I am a disciple, or learner, of Jesus Christ, and when I read that statement, I should understand that Jesus wants me to pray for workers in God's kingdom today also. I understand Jesus' statement this way because: (1) There is no other New Testament passage that tells me to disregard what Jesus states here and (2) There are other New Testament passages that supplement what Jesus says here. God not only wants us to pray for spiritual workers, He wants us to be spiritual workers for Him! Because of these reasons, we are safe to conclude that today God has authorized us to pray for workers for the Lord.
However, if you continue reading the verses following that passage you'll see that not everything Jesus said is binding upon us today. Matthew 10:5-8 reads - "These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: 'Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.'" These verses are also composed of direct statements made by Jesus. He told His disciples to go and preach to the Israelites but not to the Gentiles or Samaritans. He also told them to perform miracles in conjunction with their preaching. How am I so sure that these direct statements do not bind these actions upon us today? I know this because there are other New Testament passages written later that tell me to disregard what Jesus said here to His disciples. In Matthew 28:19,20, for example, Jesus authorized the apostles to go and preach the gospel to everyone everywhere. Jesus' command in Matthew 28 is consistent with the rest of the New Testament. The disciples did take God's word into all the world, and there is no reason to understand that we are not to do the same today. But, what about performing miracles? Has Jesus authorized miracles to be done today in conjunction with the teaching of the truth? No. There are other New Testament passages that inform us that the age of miracles was not going to last forever (e.g., I Cor. 13; Eph. 4). This command in Matthew 10:5-8 was binding upon the disciples when it was spoken, but it is easy to see from studying the rest of the New Testament that these direct statements are not binding upon us today.
I hope you can see an important lesson here. In order to determine if any direct statement is binding upon us today, we must do three things: (1) We must understand the passage under consideration by applying appropriate principles of Bible interpretation, (2) We must study and understand the totality of what the New Testament says on the subject, and (3) We must use the skills of logical reasoning that God has given us and expects us to use. That is exactly what we just did when we examined the verses in Matthew 9 and 10. We first understood what was being said. We then looked to see what else--if anything--is taught on the subject in the New Testament. We then used simple logic to draw some reasonable conclusions based upon the evidence we had examined.
Second, let's consider EXAMPLES (or accounts of action).
The New Testament authorizes explicitly by example. Examples are recorded accounts of action, but the New Testament does not authorize by just any account of action we might read. In Matthew 27:5, we see Judas going out and hanging himself because of his remorse due to his sin of betraying the Christ. Obviously, this is an account of an action, but it is not an approved action; that is, it is not an action that authorizes us to imitate the behavior! Why? Because we can learn elsewhere in the New Testament that God does not approve of suicide (e.g., I Cor. 6:19,20). Therefore, no one can properly use Matthew 27:5 as a verse to authorize suicide today.
If we examine all actions (or examples) found in the New Testament, we will see that there are six different types of actions, but only two of them are authoritative or binding upon us today. Let's look at each of these six classifications briefly and then draw an important conclusion:
(1) The Bible records some actions that are sinful. We've already seen Judas as an example of this.
(2) The Bible records some actions that were right when they were performed but would be wrong if we imitated those actions now. For example, we saw Jesus give a command to His disciples in Matthew 10:5 to only go and preach to the Israelites. If we obeyed this today, we would be sinning by neglecting the Gentiles (cf. Matt. 28:19).
(3) The Bible records some actions that were TEMPORARY and OPTIONAL. Paul circumcised Timothy "...because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek" (Acts 16:3). This action was temporary in that it would not apply today. There are no circumstances today in which circumcision would be advantageous regarding the spread of the gospel. This action was optional in that it was not required. Paul circumcised Timothy, not because he had to, but because he thought it would make it easier for them to teach effectively among the Jews.
(4) The Bible records some actions that were TEMPORARY and REQUIRED. In I Corinthians 12:31, Paul commanded the brethren to "earnestly desire the greater [spiritual] gifts." They were required to desire the miraculous gifts in the first century. However, the age of miracles did not last much beyond the first century, and, therefore, this obligation was temporary. This obligation is not required of us today because for us to desire the miraculous gifts of prophecy, speaking in tongues, etc., would be foolishness since these miracles are no longer available for our use. God's word has already been confirmed (cf. Mark 16:20).
(5) The Bible records some actions that are PERMANENT and OPTIONAL. In II Corinthians 8:3, Paul writes that the Macedonian brethren gave "beyond their ability." They were not required to give beyond their ability, but they were allowed to do so. Thus, their action here was definitely optional, but we should realize that the principle of going the "second mile" (Matt. 5:41) is a permanent part of Christianity. We today would be wise to give beyond our ability, but such is not demanded of us.
(6) The Bible records some actions that are PERMANENT and REQUIRED. There are many examples in the book of Acts where men and women were required to obey the gospel to have their sins washed away. They heard the good news about the Christ which made it possible for them to develop faith. Their faith led them to want to repent from their sinful ways and walk in righteousness. They confessed their belief in Christ and submitted to baptism which would wash away their sins and put them in Christ. They were required to do this to be saved, and this is a permanent part of Christianity since God's word has been completely revealed (cf. Jude 3). There is nothing in the New Testament that has changed the plan of salvation seen time and again in the book of Acts. There are many other New Testament actions that are both permanent and required (e.g., the first-century Christians were required, as we are today, to observe the Lord's Supper; they were also required, as we are today, to give of their means; etc.).
Of these six classifications of actions, only the last two authorize anything for us today. Therefore, when we read of an action in the New Testament that is right within itself and relates to a permanent element of Christianity, we can conclude that we have the authority for imitating that action.
We still need to discuss how the Bible teaches implicitly, but we'll have to save that for next week. In this lesson, we've learned how the things that we say and do must be done by the authority of the Lord. We've also observed that Jesus grants authority through some direct statements and some examples in the New Testament. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.