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Authority and trust (August 27, 2023)

God has ultimate authority, but God's kingdom isn't fully complete. How do we live in the meantime, Tara W. Bulger wonders?

Outlook Standard Lesson for August 27, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Two ways of being

For Paul, there are two ways of being in the world. One is to be “in Adam,” when a person is defined by the sin and rebellion Adam introduced to the world. The second way is to be “in Christ,” meaning someone who allows the Holy Spirit to sanctify them and thus grow closer to the image of Christ. (See 1 Corinthians 15:22; Romans 5; Ephesians 2:1-3.) In Christ, we have freedom, grace and redemption, but recognizing Christ as our Lord also means recognizing God’s authority over all things. As it was for many early Christians, accepting authority remains a challenging prospect.

Authority and trust

Authority and its counterpart trust have gotten a bad rap of late. In 2019, the Pew Research Center found that 75% of Americans reported their trust in the federal government was shrinking and that 64% of people reported that their trust in one another was shrinking.

This decrease in trust can be seen in our attitudes towards institutions and each other. For instance, our social media rhetoric assumes that no one can be trusted except those who agree with us. We assume those who disagree with us have ulterior, nefarious motives. We believe institutions are used to protect a select few individuals, who are motivated to protect their own power. We are governed by a general impatience with one another. Grace seems to have fallen by the wayside. In this reality, it is hard to believe others will lead with good intentions. And when we don’t trust others, we can feel a lack of hope for our present and future.

Finding hope

Paul reminds the early church that the same God who came to humanity in Christ, who was crucified and defied death, is the same God who is working out God’s ultimate purposes for all the earth. To have hope in Christ is to have hope in God’s redemption of all the world. Paul describes it this way: Christ will destroy “every ruler and every authority and power” (v. 24). God will also destroy even death itself (v. 26). God alone remains as the final power and authority over all things. Therefore, while we are being transformed by being “in Christ,” we have hope for the day when God’s complete authority will ultimately redeem the world. There is no authority more significant than that.

This is where our hope comes from. While we are being sanctified, we keep our eyes on the hope of God’s ultimate authority over all things and beings, whether we believe in God’s power or not. This trust frees us from the illusion that we must control everything. We may have to live under the authority of those who we don’t agree with, but we can believe that even now, in the in-between time, God is working out God’s purposes for humanity.

So are we supposed to just sit around and wait? To answer in the style of Paul: By no means (Romans 6:2)! While we believe that God will make all things well, God’s gift of free will means that we don’t lose our agency. We are still called to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). We are still called to act, but we act with the knowledge and trust that God has absolute power over all things, and God has unfailing love for God’s people. This trust can transform our lives if we let it.

Trust in God, if not others

God has ultimate power. But the fact is we still live in a world where other people have authority over us, whether we agree with them or not. This is because we live in the “already but not yet” — meaning Christ has already begun his reign but God’s kingdom is not yet fully realized. In this reality, there will be times to follow (Mark 12:17) and times to flip the tables in protest (Mark 11:15-18). The Holy Spirit will guide us through prayer and community. What today’s passage tells us is that, in all of this, we can have hope.

I am not immune to the cynicism and skepticism of the present day. I, too, struggle with people in positions of authority, especially when we disagree. But accepting that God is the ultimate authority of all makes it easier to try and trust. I may not trust a particular leader, but I trust God to work out God’s purposes even through imperfect people. It is easier to hope because I trust in the final hope that God has promised for our broken and hurting world. Paul’s reminder to remember God’s ultimate authority is needed now more than ever.

Questions for discussion:

  1. What does it mean to you to be “in Christ?”
  2. Do you find it difficult to trust others? Do you find it difficult to trust in God?
  3. Does Paul’s writing give you hope?

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