What Is Godly Rulership?

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What Is Godly Rulership?

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A vital part of the destiny of those whom God has called and with whom He is working is rulership. We are called to a future of rulership-assisting Jesus Christ in His reign in the Kingdom of God (Revelation 5:10; 20:4) and ultimately reigning over "all things" (Hebrews 2:6-8; Revelation 21:7).

What kind of rulership will we be involved in? We are all familiar with rulership in this day and age. Although we consider ourselves enlightened-and government today is, in general, considerably more responsive to the needs of the governed-it's easy to see that human government is far from perfect. Tragic accounts of leaders plundering their national treasuries, intimidating and sometimes eliminating political rivals and abusing their positions for personal gain and aggrandizement are all too common.

The desire for rulership over others for all the wrong reasons is an ingrained part of human nature and an all too frequent part of the human experience. If the rulership we see exemplified in the world is the best we have to look forward to, the future doesn't look reassuring.

The Bible has much to say about rulership from a human and a godly perspective. What are the differences in the perspectives, and how should those differences affect what we think and do?

Misunderstanding proper leadership

The disciples of Jesus Christ were far from perfect. Their initial view of rulership was typical of the way most people view it. We occasionally see their misguided notions come through loud and clear.

One such example is recorded for us in Mark 10:35-37, where two disciples came to Jesus, saying, "'Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.' And He said to them, 'What do you want Me to do for you?' They said to Him, 'Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.'"

Christ, knowing what lay ahead for Himself and them, asked them to think about their question. "You do not know what you ask" (verse 38). "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"

They responded that they were able (verse 39).

Jesus said, "You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared" (verses 39-40).

James and John were the two disciples. When the other 10 heard what they were requesting, they were incensed. Why? Because they hadn't thought of it first! Of course, Christ, able to understand their motivations, called them together and gave them something to think about.

"You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave [or 'servant'] of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (verses 42-45, emphasis added throughout).

Biblical view of rulership

Christ demonstrated through His life and death what it means to humbly serve others (Philippians 2:5-8). He was the perfect example of serving and used this opportunity to explain a fundamental lesson in the differences between human and godly rulership.

The Greek word translated here as "ruler" is the verb archo. This word is used only twice in the New Testament. The other time it is used of Christ Himself.

We find that in Romans 15:12, which quotes Isaiah 11, a Messianic prophecy of Jesus Christ: "There shall be a root of Jesse; and He who shall rise to reign [archo] over the Gentiles, in Him the Gentiles shall hope."

So we have both a negative and a positive use of this word: the negative way in which mankind rules as opposed to the positive way in which Christ will rule.

In Greek, as in other languages, many verbs are related to nouns. The Greek noun arche is related to the verb archo and is used much more frequently than its verb form in the New Testament. To better understand the proper view of rulership, let's examine scriptures that contain the word arche.

One example is found in 1 Corinthians 15:22-24, which describes events at and after Christ's return. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule [arche] and all authority and power."

So Christ, as part of His responsibility, is going to rule, but He is also going to be involved in putting an end to all other forms of rule, together with all the authority and power that go with it.

A similar passage in Ephesians 1:21 tells us that Christ has been placed "far above all principality [arche] and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come."

Throughout the New Testament the word principality describes rulership. So Paul tells us that Christ has been placed above all rulership, not only in this world but in the world to come. All rulership will eventually be subservient to Christ.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians of our need to "put on the whole armor of God" (Ephesians 6:11). But why do we need to put on God's armor? Because "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities [arche, the form of rulership that exists in the world], against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (verse 12).

This form of rulership has been around for a long time. Jude 6 tells us its origins: "And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day." The term proper domain is the same word, arche, that is used to refer to rulership.

The angels, Jude tells us, did not maintain their proper rule, but left that state and are awaiting God's ultimate judgment. Comparing Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12-17, we see that this angelic revolt originated far in the past when Lucifer, the great angel, rebelled against God and became Satan, the enemy of mankind (1 Peter 5:8). The angels that joined in his rebellion became the demons-unseen spiritual influences on mankind.

Jesus Christ was involved in establishing proper, godly rulership from the beginning (Colossians 1:16). But that rulership was corrupted by Satan and his demons, and now the world that they control operates according to their twisted, corrupt form of rulership (2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 John 5:19).

It was this form of leadership that Christ condemned and told His disciples "shall not be so among you" (Mark 10:42-43). Christ's followers were not to exercise that form of rulership. Why? Because without God's help we do not know how to rule over others.

Since humans have corrupted rulership, should we have no rulership? Not at all. We live in societies that have seen attitudes toward rulership transformed over recent decades. Because of the abuses of rulership, many have overreacted and want virtually no rulership over them; they don't want anyone to tell them what to do.

God's Word has much to say about right and proper leadership.

Should we have rulership? Colossians 3:15 tells us clearly that we should: "And let the peace of God rule in your hearts ..." Here we have a different word translated "rule." This word means literally "to act like an umpire." So the peace of God-or, more properly, God's Spirit from which that peace comes (Galatians 5:22)-is to rule in our hearts as an umpire, helping us in our decision making. That Spirit is to rule as a part of our innermost being, helping us come to godly decisions in our lives.

In a similar vein, Paul spoke to Timothy about the Holy Spirit, telling him to "stir up" that gift of God, "for God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:6-7).

Some modern translations, instead of using "sound mind," translate this as "self-control" or "self-discipline." God gives us the means by which we can rule ourselves according to the wishes of God, that we can exercise self-discipline so that control over our life comes from within us through the indwelling of God's Spirit. We then use the Holy Spirit to make decisions that are pleasing to God, and we don't have to rely on external controls.

Qualifications for positions

But is that the only form of rulership that we need? Does this mean that each of us should have total independence from control by others? We find many descriptions of the kind of rulership God expects in the instructions to the early Church.

The apostle Paul realized that there has to be some form of governance even within the Church, the body of believers led by God's Spirit (Romans 8:9, 14). He talks about some in the Church who have a responsibility of leadership.

He instructed his fellow minister Timothy that a "bishop" [or "overseer"] must be "one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence" and that deacons likewise should be "ruling their children and their own houses well" (1 Timothy 3:4, 12). There are qualifications for these positions because, as Paul explained, "if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?" (verse 5).

He later instructs Timothy, "Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine" (1 Timothy 5:17).

Is Paul contradicting what Christ said about rulership? No, they do not contradict each other. So what is Paul talking about?

Here again, as in his earlier instructions in this letter, a different word, proistemi, is translated "rule." This word means "to be set over"-but in terms of presiding, protecting or guarding. Paul is not describing a position in which a person has the right of life and death over others, but one who is entrusted as a protector or a guardian, someone who gives aid, cares for and is concerned about others.

Consulting other translations may help us better grasp Paul's intent in 1 Timothy 3. Several versions substitute the word manage for rule (see New Revised Standard Version, New International Version, Revised English Bible and New American Standard Bible). What Paul is talking about here is true godly leadership.

Instructions to the Church

Paul elaborated on these concepts to the congregations under his care. He wrote to the members in Thessalonica, "... We urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake" (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).

The term over you is the same Greek word Paul used in writing to Timothy to describe the roles of elders and deacons. Paul was very aware that there would need to be some form of oversight in the Church. This oversight would not be controlling, but would function to care for, to protect, to act as a guardian of those within the Church.

We find a slightly different perspective on rulership in Hebrews 13:7, which tells us to "remember those who rule over you ..." This is a different term from those discussed earlier and adds to our understanding. This word translated "rule," hegeomai, means "to be a leader" or "to go before" to lead. Here we have another aspect of godly rulership. It involves being a leader-not in the sense of control, but as someone who has concern and care for those for whom he has responsibility.

In verse 17 we find the same term used again: "Obey those who rule [hegeomai] over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account." These instructions to obey and submit to those who have positions of leadership bring up an interesting concept. We see that this type of rulership is not a matter of the leader enforcing submission; rather, this is an act by the led to submit themselves.

This describes a different relationship from that condemned by Jesus Christ: of rulers lording it over those they rule. This describes a relationship of voluntarily submitting to those placed in authority, recognizing that they are in their positions for the benefit of others, "for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account."

To whom will they give account? Jesus Christ! They will be held accountable for how they exercised the authority they were given, how they nourished and cared for those entrusted to their care. Those in such positions do not have the final say. They are responsible to Jesus Christ, and they will receive reward or punishment based on how they handle their responsibility. "... They watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" (verse 17).

Paul understood that any leader in the Church is to first follow Christ if he is to be worthy to have others follow his leadership. "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ," he told the early Church (1 Corinthians 11:1).

What does God expect?

Paul describes this productive, beneficial kind of rulership as it should be exercised within the Church. "So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another" (Romans 12:5). He notes that the members of the Church are all in this effort together, individually chosen by God (John 6:44, 65), and this should bring them together in a unified group.

"Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness" (Romans 12:6-8).

Paul describes how these gifts-talents and abilities-should be used for the benefit of others. Those whose talent is "ministry" -serving- should use that ability to serve others. Those who give should give "with liberality"-generously, not expecting something in return. He who "leads" (the same word Paul used in 1 Timothy in describing those who are "set over") is to lead with diligence.

All these are gifts and abilities given by God to individuals. God uses those gifts, and those given the responsibility of leadership are accountable to the One who gave them that gift. This kind of rulership is a gift, not a right, and it is to be used wisely, just as God expects all gifts to be used wisely in a way that is pleasing to Him.

Christ's example of rulership

Matthew 2:6 cites a prophecy describing Christ's first coming. God said that out of Bethlehem would "come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel." Here we see a different word, which sets the tone for all other words used to describe proper rulership. This particular word means "to feed," "to tend the flock" or "to keep sheep"-to furnish pasture for food, to nourish, to cherish, to serve.

This is the kind of rulership that Jesus Christ will exercise when He returns to reign on earth as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 17:14; 19:16). His goal will be the opposite of the goal of those who exercise the power of life and death to control others. As Christ said, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). Christ will rule as a shepherd, taking care of and providing for the needs of His flock-humanity.

Christ will share this responsibility with others. In Revelation 2:26-27 Christ promises that "he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations-'he shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter's vessels.'"

Most of us live in a power-hungry society. Humans want power, to influence and control others. Is Christ promising that, under His rule, humans will be dealt with by an iron club, smashing them to pieces?

Some, because of their defiant actions and attitudes, will have to be dealt with firmly. Prophecy shows that, rather than welcoming Christ at His return, many will actively resist and even fight against Him (Zechariah 14:1-3; Revelation 17:14; 19:19). After all, the natural human mind is hostile to God's law and rule (Romans 8:7).

We find two sides to Christ's rule described. On the one hand, He will no longer tolerate rebellion against God's ways. But, on the other hand, the word rule is exactly the same word we read earlier in Matthew 2:6, which describes Jesus Christ as one who will shepherd, care for, feed and tend His flock.

Consider a shepherd's purpose for a rod. Psalm 23:4 describes it: "Your rod and your staff, they comfort me." A shepherd's rod was used to help rescue a sheep out of difficulties, to pull it back to where it should be, not to destroy it! Those who will reign with Christ must have an attitude geared to being a shepherd-taking care of and being concerned for others, seeing that they're fed.

Humanity will initially resist Jesus Christ's rule. However, once people begin to recognize the many positive fruits of that reign, and as the heart of man begins to change, even the initially rebellious will respond to the pasturing and shepherding that will characterize Christ's reign.

When Jesus Christ told His followers that they are not to rule over one another as gentiles rule, He was telling them that is not the kind of rule God wants-within His Church, within society or within His Kingdom.

Jesus Christ will not rule in that way. He will rule and lead as a life giver. He will offer the greatest blessing possible: eternal life in God's Kingdom. GN