Loving authority sounds like an oxymoron. The world can’t define it biblically. It’s even hard for a lot of Christians to accurately articulate what loving authority is as exhibited in God’s Word. One way of illustrating loving authority is to consider the purpose of the local church. Loving authority is seen in three important functions of the local church and how that loving authority is used by God to accomplish his purposes.
First, when a man preaches God’s Word, faithfully, he is exerting loving authority. By faithfully teaching and preaching, the preacher directs the attention of his congregation towards God and knowledge of Him. It doesn’t stop there, though. Part of God’s means of sanctification in the lives of His children is to put us into His spiritual family. We can’t know, intimately and deeply, all Christians everywhere, so practically the spiritual family He has for us is the local church.
Discipleship in the local church body is another form of loving authority. What other reason is there to engage in discipleship – one another-ing, teaching, gentle rebuke, and formal correction – than to intentionally seek that our brother or sister become more like Christ. We do not call them away from sin or encourage them through a current trial because we are able, or because we have a certain preference that they exhibit particular behaviors. We disciple one another because we have authority from God’s Word to do it, and to do it in love. We sit under the authority of godly men who faithfully preach God’s Word and we have authority to lovingly seek another’s conformity to Christ, yet it doesn’t end there either.
As we are in fellowship with other believers, being taught by God’s Word and serving, and loving, and discipling each other, we become more like Christ, so that our witness to a watching world is clear. Evangelism is also a type of loving authority. When we proclaim the good news that Christ came to save sinners we lovingly announce, in the commissioning authority of Matthew 28:18-20, that the kingdom of God has come and commands obedience through faith and the casting-off of all sin. Repentance and belief are the means through which God’s goal in evangelism is accomplished – namely image-bearers dying to self, raised to new life as temples of His Holy Spirit.
Through preaching, discipleship, and evangelism we are to exercise loving authority – it is the purpose of God’s spiritual family – the local church. The world doesn’t have a biblical understanding of authority; why should it – when they are offended that anyone dare exert some authority over them, whether it be government, social mores, family values and tradition or anything else that attempts to establish a standard of morality? It follows naturally, then, that the world is deeply offended when we exhibit loving authority through the primary functions of the local church. Yet this is no excuse for abdicating our responsibility. The local church is Christ’s representative while He is away, preparing a place for us. By faithfully obeying the commission that we have, we radically redefine loving authority for a watching world.