My friend’s quietly uttered question rattled me more than I let show: She was somehow taken aback that the introduction to our ladies’ Bible study that evening included an excerpt from an inspirational piece that I had written. Did she consider that use arrogance? To arrogate: to claim or seize (authority) without justification”— I recalled researching the word once when our local church fellowship was embroiled in a split, and I shuddered at even the potential of association with any such attitude or action.
The meeting proceeded without further ado, as the small group of wonderfully diverse ladies engaged. I was certain our church leadership trusted my judgement and would have no problem with it, but still the question gnawed at the back of my mind; was this a blind spot? I wondered. I had thought nothing of using a portion of an original essay of mine for such a purpose — we were a group of peers, and I was the one designated to guide our Bible-based discussion that evening— but was Heaven’s authority backing the use of my imaginative gift for purposes of Christian discipleship? The question lingered long after the last comment and closing prayer and even beyond the last drop of tea and goodbye hug of the evening: ‘Who invests my imaginative works with authority? And what is the evidence of that authority?’
The questioning of Jesus’ authority was an oft repeated scenario throughout the Gospel record of His three years of active earthly ministry. Again and again, He was challenged by the Jewish authorities — leaders and teachers of His day — “By whose authority do you say these things or carry out these acts?!” But while these experts in the law and the politicians wrestled and agonized over this question, one man of the common folk, who had experienced Jesus’ creative miracle of brand-new physical eyes and first-time vision, was incredulous: “Now this is remarkable!” he said. “You don’t know where he comes from yet he opened my eyes…Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” (John 9:30a, NIV/NKJV)
Of course, I would never compare my imaginative works of writing to the physically creative miracles that Jesus performed, but what evidence did I have to show? And then there is that mind-boggling declaration which Jesus made to His disciples before He departed. “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12, NIV) When I prepared my creative piece to share with my sisters that evening, was I being audacious or was I faithfully walking towards the fulfillment of the words of Jesus over the lives of His followers — our identity and telos? And how could I tell when the works of my artistic making, as a writer, confirmed my identity as a reflection of the Heavenly Father and served His purpose in creating me? Will I know when they are conferred with authority?
The philosopher, Aristotle, famed proponent of the idea of ‘telos’, believed that everything has a purpose and defined such as “the final cause of a natural organ or entity, or of a work of human art…”  This word is the root of teleology, the study of purposiveness, or the “intentional actualization of potential or inherent purpose,“ as Wikipedia verbosely explains. Jesus kept a tight bond between His identity, the exercise of His authority, and His telos or purpose, despite being constantly challenged by His detractors to capitulate to definitions and expectations which catered to their agendas.
His temptation by the devil, following His baptism and forty days of fasting in the wilderness, mercilessly tested all three of these. And though the battle was so fierce that angels had to come and minister to Him when the tempter ceased, Jesus came away having established three things — His authority and identity would be exerted only at His Father’s bidding, to fulfill the Father’s purposes and for the Father’s glory alone.
So when he subsequently stepped up to the podium of His hometown synagogue in Nazareth and read from Isaiah 61: 1, “The Spirit of the LORD God is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor…,” Jesus was possessed of Heaven’s power and confidence, dismissing any mistaken notion that He was just their hometown boy returned to use His smarts and talents for their personal blessing and elevation, or later, as their conquering King to overthrow Rome. His posture so countered their expectations that His family thought Him crazy. His townsmen were so angered that when He made His Father’s Kingdom-mission clear they rose up to stone and throw Him over the cliff. But, possessing and possessed of that authority and purpose, Scripture records of Jesus that, “passing through the midst of them, He went His way.” (Luke 4:18-30, NKJV)
Authority on display indeed—his earthly existence was under His own control until He chose to lay it down in fulfillment of His God-ordained telos as the final sacrificial Lamb.
My life has never been threatened before by an angry mob, though as a teenager, in my island homeland, Jamaica, I emerged unscathed through some dangerous situations during the times of violent social and political unrest in the 70’s and 80’s. In another season, I was graced to walk calmly and safely pass a pack of snarling barking dogs, not once but twice, even though they rushed at me menacingly in the first instance.
I don’t doubt there was angelic protection involved, but I count neither of those as displays of authority since my legs always went to jelly once I reached the safety of my destination. Besides, both before and since those occasions, my utter fear of roaches, spiders, and anything reptilian remains firmly intact, as was proven by an erstwhile mentor of mine who flicked the carcass of a dead roach my way, claiming to test my sense of authority. Of course, he was jesting, since Jesus neither called His followers to become strokers of irksome creatures nor snake-handlers, as some have grossly and erroneously concluded. Some would counter with reference to the dominion mandate given in Genesis, and to special New Testament applications of it, such as when the Apostle Paul remained unharmed despite being bitten by a deadly viper when shipwrecked on the island of Malta. That everyone survived the harrowing maritime event, because they remained aboard at Paul’s word, was an amazing demonstration of authority itself.
On another occasion, Paul testifies to the Corinthian church of having successfully fought wild beasts, and the New Testament records his surviving severe beatings and stonings though he had been left for dead. But like Jesus, Paul walked, and sailed, as one who had confident authority that he would not leave this life till he had completed the Father’s will for him– his telos; and his life and death bore that out.
The enigmatic ‘hall of faith’ recorded by the writer of Hebrews in chapter 11, lists others of God’s faithful who demonstrated similar authority, exhibiting mastery over themselves or the created order in dire circumstances, being given supernatural power to endure or to overcome evil in its varied forms. Like Jesus, these and countless others recorded throughout Church history, lived as though their very existence was determined, and sustained or released, according to their telos. Their purpose sustained their lives or else left them free to give it up as part of fulfilling that purpose, like Jesus did.
The quest for authority or power has hardly been confined to the faithful of God’s Kingdom, as we seek to resist the pull of the world, the flesh, or the devil. In fact, from the beginning it has been quite the opposite. Famed biblical examples include Adam and Eve’s eternally regrettable quest to become like God in omniscience of good and evil; similarly, the strivings of the post-diluvian world to reach to heaven by a tower; and, the notably audacious efforts of the Moabite King Balak, and the pagan seer Balaam, to curse Israel, through whom God had purposed to bring forth mankind’s Messiah. From medieval alchemists striving to turn brass into gold, to modern day Wiccans working to bend nature’s forces to combat their sense of powerlessness in other realms of society, the selfish lust for power over the created order is one that has always enamoured as well as eluded mankind.
Humanity’s futile striving against the authoritative, unstoppable, emerging Kingdom of God has persisted, especially since the so-called Enlightenment. C.S. Lewis’ 1943 triad of lectures, The Abolition of Man, warned of the inevitable consequences of this kind of striving for power or authority. Commenting on the unprincipled motives of the power-hungry of his day, in fields as varied as eugenics, air travel, and wireless communication, Lewis warned that the unscrupulous pursuit of power would ultimately result in Mankind’s abolition! He wrote, “From this point of view, what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.”  Each of the three areas he identified would eventually manifest the evils he foresaw — the devaluing of human life, the advantage of airplane-aided-warfare and the split-second dissemination of propaganda. Lewis lectures emphasized that as unethical men and women strive for hegemony and control over the works of the Creator and the bearers of His image, they erase that very image from themselves in the process, becoming something other than human — losing their identity and thwarting their purpose in the process. 
Resistance to authority is a knee-jerk I struggle to contain, though it might be the unavoidable consequence of my having been born and raised in an island nation whose previously enslaved populace prided themselves on having physically resisted the tyranny of the evil institution; and that now boasts the local motto “We likkle but we tallawah!” * I am not proud that I find I respond internally the way even small children do when their will is crossed: “You’re not the boss of me!” This is often labelled a rebellious spirit but when one considers how authority is more often abused than not, it can also be a safe-guard or a defense, to seek to know where the lines of authority fall and from whence they issue. This might have been the impetus for my Bible study friend’s hesitation to accept, unquestioningly, a paragraph of my writing for our group’s opening activity that evening; and it served as a good check for me to examine my motives, in serving the Body of Christ with my gift, to ensure that I am not serving myself instead.
Recently, I was intrigued as I followed the Facebook posts made by a fellow writer’s wife about her husband’s completion of ministerial studies and his subsequent ordination and investiture ceremony. Pictures of the setting showed the ritual, the color, the drape of his clerical robes; it was all so…official. The visuals declared that he had earned, was deemed qualified, and was now consequently being assigned a role of authority in that denomination and his community. He had not seized or wrestled it from someone but was being invested with it. The reverent pics from the event and the beauty of the word investiture lingered with me later that week as I read the book of John. I saw an unexpected parallel in what I considered the unusual action of the Apostle Peter, when he and his companions experienced a miraculous haul of fish, as the risen Jesus issued instructions to them from the shore.
The text records, that “As soon as Simon Peter heard [John] say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.” (John 21:7) Why the mention of the disrobing and re-robing? And why robe just before jumping into the sea to swim to shore? Was he flustered or unnerved by Jesus’ appearance and the fishing miracle? Was the robe a symbol to him of his thus far mishandled authority? (Rebuking the Son of God, squabbling for ascendancy, slashing off a servant’s ear, denying the Lord in the high priest’s courtyard…)
The rest of John’s account details Jesus’ reinstating of the previously guilt-ridden Peter and his peers, after encouraging and feeding them. Peter’s humbling, through his thrice-questioned and thrice-declared love for Jesus, perhaps disposed of the fruit of his wrong notions of authority. The event culminates in Jesus’ commissioning the restored Apostle to feed His sheep and His lambs; being now invested by God to “strengthen his brethren” as Jesus had prophesied.
The authority and confidence later displayed by Peter at Pentecost is proof-certain that the acceptance of his telos — as reliant solely on God’s power, His prescribed time and bidding — resulted in the fulfillment of the lead Apostle’s own identity and his investiture with power.
If Mankind’s bent inclines us to arrogance or audacity — from Babel to splitting the genome — what safe-guards can the Christian maker apply to the confident exercise of our God-given vocations, giftings and capabilities without eventually falling into the same holes which Adam and Peter, for example, had? Jesus’ calm response to the flustered but audacious Pilate, provides an instructive example as a clear clue. Pilate had ostentatiously demanded that Jesus defend Himself against the charges brought. When Jesus declined, Pilate deigned to remind Jesus of the existential authority he wielded over Him– his ability to “release or to crucify Him.” Jesus replied, “You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above….”
Power and authority come from above and await God’s purpose and intent. Similarly, our gifts to make come from the Father of Lights (James 1:17), along with any effect of which they are capable. To the extent that I obey Jesus’ exhortation and follow His example in motive, patience and purpose, His Holy Spirit will invest my works with His power; however, wherever and whenever He wills. Mine is to make.
As I reflected on this, I stumbled upon an incident in the life and worship ministry of the one called Israel’s sweet Psalmist, David, recorded in 1 Chron. 16:7 (NKJV): “On that day David delivered this psalm into the hand of Asaph and his brethren, to thank the Lord.” The whole scene set my heart at rest about the employ of my imaginative works in the house of God: The occasion was the longed-for return of the Ark of the covenant to the tabernacle of David in Jerusalem! David and the priesthood had finally figured out their previous procedural missteps in attempting to bringing the Ark to rest in Jerusalem. It should not have been a mystery; they had simply neglected to read the Book and it had cost Uzzah his life. But when all was rightly set in place, one translation of the verse above describes a holy scene — King David offering his first Psalm of Thanksgiving to the worship ministers for use in the temple, “to thank the Lord.”
I love the humble confidence of the scene. Previously, David had sung to calm sheep, and later to calm a demonized King, but this time his telos was fulfilled as he submitted his poetic piece to the ministers and “left Asaph and his brothers to do their part with it before the Ark.” (1 Chron. 16:37) We have no record of whether anyone wondered if David had the authority to submit his work for use in worship of Yahweh. However, when the psalm was subsequently ministered in the tabernacle, Scripture records that “All the people said, “Amen! And praised the Lord.” (1 Chron. 16:37b) And today, people continue to say ‘amen’ to David’s poetic works as God imbues them with His power in His will and timing. The authority of the maker is the responsibility to make, and the authority of the Creator is to imbue with power from on high.
*(we are small but a force to be reckoned with)
 “Teleology | Philosophy | Britannica,” accessed September 8, 2022, https://www.britannica.com/topic/teleology.
 C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man or Reflections on the Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools, Kindle. (Sydney Australia: Harper Collins, 2009), 35.
I am Denise Stair Armstrong; born and raised Jamaican. I received all my formal academic education in the land of my birth at Shortwood Teachers’ College and the University of the West Indies, specializing in English Language & Literatures in English. The remainder I’ve gained home educating our three wonderful children – Joseph, Charis and Timothy, parenting them with my husband Claude, and in caring for my wheel-chair bound mother. I enjoy reading, cooking, gardening, theatre and ballroom dancing with Claude (only!) and digging into the Word of God.
My passion is worship expressed primarily through writing inspirational pieces that urge readers not to miss how much the Lord has “cramm’d earth with heaven”. My heart is to encourage them to traverse the gap between all our hearts and the cultures that shape them, via the Bridge that is Calvary’s cross.
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