In our jobs, families, neighborhoods, and church communities, we expect people to exercise an appropriate level of authority to carry out their particular responsibilities. As Christians, the authority that we exercise over people or things in our care require us to serve as one under the authority of God's instruction.
Fr. Sergius looks to Christ, the Theotokos, and the faithful Centurion as shining examples of those who humbly submit to the Lord's instruction and exercise the power of that instruction to carry out their responsibilities for those in their care.
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen, Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at St. Vladimir’s Seminary and contributor to Doulos – The Intensive Program in Servant Leadership, shares the final episode of a four-part series to explore serving with Christ-like authority and humility.
See the full episode transcript.
Hollie Benton 0:14
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian, I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. Fr. Sergius Halvorsen is joining me on this fourth session today, as we've been exploring servant leadership with respect to authority and humility, God willing, trying to imitate the example that we have in Christ. We've explored what false authority and what false humility looks like. Often we think of them as two separate things, but in Christ, we see a perfect union of humility and authority, and our session today is going to be looking at Christ-like authority. Fr. Sergius Halvorsen was an early partner in developing the intensive program in servant leadership. Fr. Sergius, Assistant Professor of homiletics and rhetoric at St. Vladimir's orthodox Theological Seminary, and he's the director of the Doctor of Ministry program. His seminary courses include homiletics, rhetoric, Christian education, Orthodox Christian apologetics and faith in science. Fr. Sergius welcome back to our final session. So happy that you've been able to take time to do this four part series with us through Lent.
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 1:23
My pleasure entirely.
Hollie Benton 1:25
So Fr. Sergius, could you give a little summary about what false authority and what false humility looks like?
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 1:30
So the world, the false wisdom of the world says that either you're humble, or you have authority, but you can't have both. The false wisdom of the world would say that if you're humble, then you're a pushover, you're a sycophant, you have no spine, and you just get pushed around. And if you have authority then you're a hard charging hard driving person who crushes every opposition in your way in order to get what you want, clearly you can't be humble and have authority. This whole notion is entirely contrary to Scripture and we explored examples of false authority. False authority would be anytime that I seek to use my power and influence my position to force others to serve me. That is false authority. We talked about Exodus, and how God said through His prophet Moses, God said to Pharaoh, “let My people go, that they may serve me”. The point is, ultimately, if we're doing God's will, then everything we do is about serving God. It is not about coercing other people to serve me or to bring me pleasure. We looked at a number of different examples of false authority. We also looked at false humility which in a way is a bit more dangerous because false humility, basically, I'm trying to wrap my sinfulness, I'm trying to wrap my exercise of false authority in some sort of pious camouflage. In a way it's an expression of pride, where I would say “well you know, these are all the excuses, these are all the excuses for why I probably shouldn't do what you're calling me to do, Lord, choose someone else.” As we also mentioned, perhaps the most destructive example of this is that at the end of the day, we might, in our false humility, decide that “Well, I'm so sinful I'm so wretched, even God can't forgive me, even God can't use me,” and then we're left in that black pit of despair that we find at the end of Judas’ life. So both false humility and false authority, they're closely related, and they ultimately lead to destruction.
Then we talked about Christ-like humility and how our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in everything He did we see this, particularly in an explicit way in John's gospel, how Jesus says “I do not do anything on my own authority, but on the authority of Him who sent Me.” And this idea, we talked about Isaiah’s call, and how, even if we realize that we're unworthy, we say “look”, to paraphrase Isaiah, “I'm not particularly well suited for this ministry because I'm a man of unclean lips and I'm from an unclean people,” but yet the prophet allows God to purify him to strengthen him. And then, Isaiah says “Here I am, Lord, send me.” Biblical or Christ-like humility is when we recognize our weakness, we recognize our sinfulness, and we are willing to do God's will, as God calls us and as God gives us the grace to do so.
Hollie Benton 4:14
You know, as one who might be tempted to polarize authority and humility as you laid out, one image that may come to people's minds when we think about Christ's authority is that image of Him being in the temple courts, overturning the tables of money changes in the benches of those selling doves. He acted like He owned the place. He seems kind of mad and a little scary and like He's really exercising His power and authority here. Right throughout the gospels we hear that many people were amazed that Jesus taught with such authority. He came in and, and again, He exercised authority with the way that He was able to teach. In Matthew's Gospel, after Christ's resurrection He proclaims “all authority has been given to Me in heaven and earth”. What are some of the other examples and maybe on that other extreme, of not the humble servant meek and mild, but the one where it's like, “Whoa, watch out this Man has power”?
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 5:08
Yeah, absolutely. Well I'm so glad you mentioned that cleansing of the temple, Christ and the money changers which we have in all four Gospels. There's so much to be said about that. First of all, it's important to keep in mind for as powerful and as stunning an image that is, it's a relatively isolated instance in Jesus's ministry. And like you said, could be characterized as the most aggressive action that Jesus takes against other people. So it kind of stands out. But you know it's interesting, even here, really important Jesus does not force anyone to do anything. In my reading of Scripture, the only time that Jesus ever used His authority to force someone against their will, was when He cast out demons. It was certainly disruptive, there's no question about it, but He didn't want anyone to do anything except now He does when He cast out the demons so He doesn't give them a chance. I mean they might rebel. And He says “Out out out”, so we only see Jesus using His authority to crush or scatter or banish when He's dealing with demons but never with human beings, I think that's really important to note. One of the first things I think we can say about true Christ-like authority is that it's primarily, we see it expressed in the spiritual warfare to banish demonic powers in order to serve the neighbor, in order to deliver the neighbor from the torment of the demonic powers. St Paul really summarizes it perfectly in Ephesians 6:12, he says “we're not contending against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the world the rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” But getting back to that awesome important episode of Jesus overturning the table of the money changers, even though it's an incredibly small part of Jesus's ministry, I'm sorely tempted to think that one image I have here is my pattern for Christian witness. I start to think, “Hey, who are the money changers of my time? How can I overturn their table, you know, let me make a cord of whips and go out and, you know, teach some people what for.” Two things I think that are really important to remember about this money changers episode. First of all, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, the cleansing of the temple happens, when does it happen? Happens immediately after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, right before His passionate death. So the first point for me is, Well, if God is calling me to overturn table, then I can be absolutely sure that He's about to call me to my passion and death. And not only that, when He called me to my passion and death, He also commands me to forgive those who nail me to the cross. So, so that's an important corrective for me, you know, as I go out to try to create up my whip of cords, you know, Hey, if I am about to go to my passion and death, am I ready to forgive those who nail me for the cross? The second important thing is to remember that in John's gospel, second chapter of John. There's an interesting line right after Jesus drives out the money changers, the disciples remember that it was written “Zeal for Thy house will consume me.” Right again, I'm thinking I'm tempted “Wow, yeah zeal for Thy house right. Go! Go!” You know, but where did that line come from? “Zeal for Thy house will consume me.” Well it comes from Psalm 69. Right before the line about zeal, the Psalmist also says, “Oh God, thou knowest my folly. The wrongs I have done are not hidden from thee. Let not those who hope in me be put to shame through me oh Lord God of Hosts.” I love that. it's really important for us who are in positions of leadership in the church “Let not those who hope in Thee oh Lord be put to shame through me. Let not those who seek Thee be brought to dishonor through me, Oh God of Israel for it is for Thy sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face, I become a stranger to my brethren, and alien to my mother's sons.” Which is beautiful because it defines zeal in terms of humility. Right, defines with zeal in terms of humility.
Hollie Benton 8:50
In Matthew it's after Christ has been humiliated, humbled submitting to death, even death on a cross, after his resurrection after God raises him up from the dead, and Jesus comes back to Galilee to visit the 11 disciples. He says to them, “All authority in heaven on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you and, lo, I'm with you always, to the end of the age.” And I think it's remarkable here that turning out the money changers at the temple, the authority is God's commandment, he's submitting to what is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers”, but then we don't hear of Christ's authority till after the resurrection.
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 9:43
And there are two things, Hollie, I think they're really important. Those last three lines of the Matthew's Gospel are so important. The first thing I want to point out is “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” We like to stop right there. We like to, we like to stop at that point, but we got to read to the very end, right, he says, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” There is no baptism without the teaching, there is no baptism without teaching, everything that Jesus has commanded so it's almost like Jesus is saying, Okay, now they've got to the end of Matthew's Gospel go back to chapter five, read chapter five through seven. Again, read the Sermon on the Mount, “what have I taught you? This is what you need to teach others.” And of course at the end “Lo, I'm with you always, to the close of the age.” You're not doing this on your own, but Christ is working with us. And then the other thing too that I think is really important to note, in terms of Christ like authority. When Jesus exercises his authority here at the very end of Matthew's gospel. He doesn't say, Okay, I'm the one in authority. Now, I'm going to go and make every decision. I'm going to go, baptize the nation's, I'm going to go to what does he do? He sends others out. That's an important thing for us to remember in terms of our ministry in the church, because it's really easy to fall in the trap “Well you know I'm the priest” you know “I'm the parish council president” or you know “I'm the steward of this particular ministry, therefore I've got to do it all myself.” Well no, that's actually not at all how Christ exercises His authority. What does He do? He has identified these people. He has trained them. He has taught them. He has been a witness, He sacrifices, literally died for them. And He said, “Look, now you guys do it.” He's prepared others to do the work and so that's super super important in terms of Christ-like authority. It's not about sitting on the throne, and just saying “I got all this handled but to take care of everything.” Rather, it is making disciples, and multiplying those who are prepared to go and do the work of the Gospel.
Hollie Benton 11:46
Right manifesting the inheritance, the promise to Abraham. It's the mission, the authority is not rooted in position, it's not rooted in genetics, it's rooted in the Scripture, the commandment, hearing and doing the commandment of God and that's where the authority is rooted both in the submission, and in the exercise of that authority, and that's how I think the humility becomes a part of it because you submit to the authority of God's commandment.
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 12:17
You know we have two perfect biblical examples, in terms of exercising this Christ-like, humility, and authority, and the first one would be Mary. How does she conceive the Word of God? She hears the Word and it's beautifully depicted in our icons, the ray of sun coming from the Divine Word doesn't point to her womb, it points to her ear. Right, she conceived by hearing, and very similar. It's like she's echoing Isaiah in Luke's Gospel is the narrative of the Annunciation, she questioned “Why should this happen to me.” He says “You have been chosen,” and she says, “Let it be done to me according to your Word” in humility, she accepts this unbelievable role to bear the Messiah, and she has this tremendous authority. We're, all I mean, the mother of Christ to care for him to teach him raise him up and all that, but yet the way she exercises her authority is absolutely humble, beautiful and it's a perfect icon for us about how we can in our own way incarnate the Word of God by hearing the Word, by saying “Let it be done to me according to Thy will” we are then able to do the apostolic work. According to Scripture there are apostles and that's kind of a rank in the Church, but still we are sent out in the same way. Christ's commandment at the end of Matthew's Gospel applies to you and me, in the same way that it did to Peter, James, John and the other apostles who were sent out in those days.
Hollie Benton 13:41
So what encouragement might you have for our listeners, our lay leaders in the church, our clergy leaders in the church. How do we function as Doulos, as a servant in the household of God, humbling ourselves to the authority of God's commandment in his household?
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 13:57
To answer that, let's just turn back to Scripture for a moment and let's think about in Matthew's Gospel, the centurion who comes to Christ. who is this guy? He's a centurion. He's an officer in the Roman army. He's an officer in the most powerful military on the face of the planet. His servant is sick, dying, he comes to Jesus, to ask Jesus to heal his servant. “Lord, my servant lying paralyzed at home in terrible distress.” In Matthew's Gospel chapter eight. First of all, this guy he takes an incredible risk coming to Jesus. He's an officer in the Roman army, and yet he's going to ask an itinerant Hebrew for help? But yet, he is responsible for his servant. So he comes to Jesus and by coming to Jesus and by asking Christ to help his servant, the centurion is demonstrating true authority and true humility. Because on one hand he's acting for the good of His servant. And the servant is clearly somebody who is subservient to the centurion, but yet he's acting, he's taking this incredible risk, so that this person who serves under him might be helped. Jesus, hears the centurion’s request and He says, “I will come heal him.” Now, here's the kicker, the centurion answers, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be healed.” From “I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one go and he goes to another come and he comes to my slave do this and he does it.” And this is a perfect example of how true humility and true authority go hand in hand, and how we in our parishes, in our churches, in our seminaries, wherever we may be, how we can fulfill our vocations, as doulos, as servants, as people who are both exercising Christ-like humility and Christ-like authority. And the centurion acknowledges his authority over others, right, he doesn't mince words he didn't say like, “Oh I'm just nothing.” You know, no, he's an officer, “I tell this guy go, he goes, I tell this guy come, I know how this works” While at the same time, he acknowledges that he's responsible for them. This totally like up ends what we mentioned earlier, the worldly notion that either you're humble, or you have authority. Oh no. In the centurion we see, of course, we saw that in the Mother of God as well but maybe in the centurion we can see a little better maybe something we can identify with a bit more, that here you have someone who's clearly in authority, and he's clearly humble. In Christ, he sees that the Scripture defines humility and authority as totally compatible. And in fact according to Scripture, you must be humble, if you are to have authority, and to do God's will. And to complete the story in Matthew's Gospel, when Jesus heard the centurion he heard his response, he quote “He marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness. Their men will weep and gnash their teeth. And to the centurion Jesus said “Go get done for you as you have believed” and the servant was healed at that very moment.
Hollie Benton 16:56
And in many ways, it seems like the emphasis isn't on, do I have the right attitude of humility? Do I have the right attitude with my authority? Really what's at hand is the trust, the faith, the work of “Just say the word and my servant will be healed, like I am here for the sake of my servant.”
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 17:14
Yes, yes, exactly. We don't want to in any way imply that if I just have the right kind of mental belief, then somehow God is going to do all the work, God is going to work miracles, and he's going to send me to do the hard work of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and visiting those who are sick and in prison, fulfilling those commandments that are so essential in terms of how we love the neighbor and we actually incarnate, the gospel in our own lives, in our own community.
Hollie Benton 17:44
It isn't the question, Lord, where we humble enough, you know, again it's service in love to the needy neighbor, there's work to be done, and it's just doing the work with faithfulness with trust that what is needed, God has already provided.
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 18:00
Hollie Benton 18:01
So this is a great series, thinking about what we might think as extremes in authority and humility but really they are united perfectly in Scripture through Christ. Any last words Father on this series around leading and serving as a doulos in the household of God. We all have responsibilities we all have some sort of authority, whether it's a child who has authority over their toys or a mother over her children. What would an exercise of scriptural authority and humility look like in these everyday responsibilities that we have?
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 18:35
So to be a servant leader, I think is to live in obedience to the commandments of Jesus Christ, and to exercise Christ-like authority and humility, no matter what our station. Doesn't matter how exalted, we might be. Doesn't matter how lowly we might be inside it, you know, every one of us has been placed in some position of authority, we've been asked to care for someone or some thing, and we have an opportunity to exercise, true Christ-like authority from the child who has authority over some clothes if he looks toys maybe a pet animal, to the single working parent who has authority over that one child, all the way to the CEO of a multinational corporation who has authority over that parent and 10s of 1000s of others. Christ is giving us, every one of us an opportunity to exercise true authority to take responsibility to serve and love our neighbor. And I would say it's especially true when our neighbor gives us no reason to want to serve them, especially when our neighbor is not easy to love. So similarly, from the CEO to the single working parent to the child, we're all called to live in true humility acknowledging that we are men and women under the authority of Scripture, under the authority of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We can even say that we are under the authority of those that God has appointed for our care. And ultimately, we are all under the authority of our Heavenly Father. Today, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and every day, the crucified Messiah, He gives us the grace and the courage and the confidence to exercise true authority and true humility, just like the wise centurion. So may the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, bless us and strengthen us to follow His commandments, and live as servants as obedient slaves of the Gospel.
Hollie Benton 20:23
Thank you for this.
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 20:25
My pleasure, thanks be to God.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai