I would imagine that most followers of Jesus have been in a situation where an authority over them has expected them to act in an unethical manner. It could be stretching the truth to make a sale, to asking a person to do something that violates the law or their conscience. So how should you respond in this situation? Solomon offers insights in four possible ways that we could respond to ungodly authority in our lives.
Our study this past week focused on Ecclesiastes chapter 8 which is a continuation of Solomon’s insights on those unanswered life questions. The first answer in verses 1-9 focus on our possible responses to unethical authority. Solomon’s account focuses on a leader’s response to an ungodly king but the insights can be applied to any authority relationship today.
Solomon’s account begins with a description of a person whose is a genuinely wise man. We learn of how wisdom not only changes the mental disposition of a person, but also their physical disposition. Our first possible response when faced with responding to a request or an order from an ungodly authority is to disobey. Solomon’s reminds us that this should not be our first course of action. He writes “I say: Keep the king’s command,” (Ecclesiastes 8:2a). He offers the following reasons; first, the person is under authority not only to the individual but also to God. He writes, “because of God’s oath to him.” (8:2 b). The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 13 that we must be subject to human authority because God is the one that has given them the authority in the first place. Solomon’s second reason is that nobody questions the king for obvious reasons and third to avoid punishment.
Solomon offers three other options for when a person cannot simply obey the authority. He then warns against desertion. “Be not hasty to go from his presence.” (8:3a) Some students of Ecclesiastes see this as not acting too quickly unless the King changes his mind. I lean with the other understanding of abandoning one’s responsibilities. This action may still bring unwanted consequences. Yet, there is a time, when it may be time to move on from the ungodly influence, no matter the cost.
A third response when you cannot simply obey authority could be called defiance. Solomon puts it this way, “Do not take your stand in an evil cause,” (8:3b) Now we are not exactly sure of the particulars but it seems to be speaking of joining others in rebellion against the authority. Solomon warns against this course of action. Now this does not eliminate “civil disobedience.” It just means we cannot justify or reject human authority unless it is in opposition to God’s authority in our lives.
A fourth response is the preferred response, discernment. Solomon writes, “The wise heart will know the proper time and the just way” (5b). The Bible is filled with accounts of discernment in actions seen in the lives of Joseph, Nehemiah, Daniel, and the Apostles.
So, how to become discerning? I think Psalms 1:1-2 remind us of the necessity of a regular intake of God’s truth in our lives. I have seen God’s Word change my perspective on situations simply by reading a chapter of Proverbs each day. We must not forget the importance of prayer. James put it this way, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5) And of course there is great value in seeking Godly counsel. Yes, we will all face those authorities that may act or be asking us to act in an ungodly way. The challenge is for you to respond in a God honoring way!
-Pastor Joe Parkinson