What Does It Mean to “Lord It Over”? This is something heard in some Christian circles because the phrase is found in the Bible. God's church leaders are not to lord it over God's people, which is another way of saying they must not abuse God's people. Yet, genuine abuse of all kinds does happen in local churches. Some abuse, like sexual abuse is done secretly. Other abuse such as emotional, social, or even physical abuse happens under the guise of God's authority. This is arrogant manipulation of the apostate sort. However, it is too often tolerated.
At the same time, there are people in churches who have chosen to take offense at something the pastor(s), elder(s), deacon(s) or leaders have done who then accuse these leaders of abuse or lording it over them. So, according to the Bible, what does it mean to "lord it over" or abuse others?
The following is from one of the appendices in my book, The Perfect Pastor?
What does the Bible say about how church leaders govern?
A. Biblically, the jurisdiction of elders to rule or govern is shown by the following New Testament words:
- Exousia – a term that connotes delegated right and duty to exercise authority over something or someone. In the New Testament, the contexts refer to the authority that issues from the Head of the Church, King Jesus and is delegated to His ruling officers. It is an authority that is subject to Christ and His Law or Word.
Some principles we can glean:
a. This delegated authority is the duty and right to think, decide, act and govern within the sphere of authority to which the officers are placed (session, presbytery, or general assembly). This delegated authority is the duty and right to make policies that determine the direction and emphases of Christ’s church that is in keeping with God’s revealed will. We have illustrations of this:
(1) Jesus Christ (in Matt. 9:6-8; Mk. 6:39)
(2) The Roman Centurion (Mt. 8:9)
b. In a general sense, all believers are subject to all God-ordained rulers and authorities (Lk. 10:19; Rom. 13:1ff; Ti. 3:1-2; etc.)
c. This leadership authority is given to officers for the purpose of building up, and not for tearing down (2 Cor. 13:10).
d. This position is a stewardship from God Himself. Officers are answerable to the Lord for their faithfulness:
(1) Officers are accountable to the Lord under the biblical authority God has assigned (local, regional or national church rule).
(2) However, officers are not answerable to the people or congregation (1 Cor. 4:1-5; Ti. 1:7).
Note: It is often asked, “What about the command for all believers to be subject to one another?” (Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5).
(a) First, this subjection is to be done “in the fear of Christ” meaning that all are ultimately subject to Him, and all are to be subject in Him.
(b) Secondly, Scripture never teaches that the sheep or congregation has authority. In fact, many passages, such as 1 Thess. 5:12 and Heb. 13:17, teach otherwise.
(c) The subjection to one another is qualified by the context(s). It is a subjection under Christ, out of love, for the highest good and need of God’s people. God’s sheep place themselves under the subjection of the God-ordained authorities of His Church, and God’s officers are subject to the Lord, and demonstrate subjection to Him by loving and serving His people.
e. Scripture defines for us the manner in which this authority is to be exercised:
(1) From a motivation of love (John 21:16).
(a) making appeals from love for Christ’s sake (Philemon 8-9).
(b) with compassion for distressed sheep (Matt. 9:36; Mk. 6:34; Jas. 5:14).
(c) sacrificially, willingness to lay down their lives for the sheep (John 10:11,15)
(2) With a servant’s heart (Matt. 20:25; Lk 22:26).
(3) With a watchful care for the flock (1 Tim. 3:5; Heb. 13:17).
(4) Voluntarily as shepherds (1 Pet. 5:2).
(5) Examples as shepherds (1 Pet. 5:3).
(6) Guarding themselves and the church (Acts 20:28).
f. Scripture also informs us how officers are not to be characterized:
(1) Having uncontrolled home (1 Tim. 3:4,5,12).
(2) Desertion of the office and/or church in times of distress (Jn. 10:12).
(3) Not to serve under compulsion or greed (1 Pet. 5:2ff).
(4) Not abusively, ‘lording it over the sheep.’ (Matt. 20:25; Mk 10:42; Lk. 22:25f; 2 Cor. 1:24; 1 Pet. 5:3) (for more, see below).
2. Hegeomai – a term that means to “lead” or “guide.”
a. Of a political ruler (Mt. 2:6; Acts 7:10)
b. As chief speaker (Acts 14:12)
c. As church leaders (Heb. 13:7,17,24)
3. Proistemi: literally, “to stand before” as a leader stands before the people.
a. To have a charge over (1 Thess. 5:12).
b. To lead (Rom. 12:8).
c. To manage (1 Tim. 3:4,5,12).
d. To rule (1 Tim. 5:17).
B. What does it mean to ‘lord it over’ the sheep?
- What it does not mean:
a. It does NOT mean that God’s officers should not reprove and rebuke (2 Tim. 4:2).
b. It does NOT mean that God’s officers should never at times reprove or rebuke severely (Ti. 1:13; 2:15).
c. It does NOT mean that God’s officers should not ‘come with a rod” when it is appropriate (1 Cor. 4:21).
2. What it does mean:
a. Abuse – (from Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language)
(1) To use ill; to maltreat, to misuse; to use with bad motives or to wrong purposes
(2) To violate; to defile by improper sexual intercourse.
(3) To deceive; to impose on.
(4) To treat rudely, or with reproachful language; to revile.
(5) To pervert the meaning of; to misapply; as to abuse words.
b. “Lord it over” is translated “subdue” in Acts 19:16.
c. Two verses that demonstrate the abuse of authority are
(1) Matt. 20:25
(2) Luke 22:25
d. Therefore, to “lord it over” means:
(1) The excessive or coercive use of authority for unbiblical, sinful, and/or self-serving purposes rather than for the glory of God and the edification and loving welfare of God’s people.
(2) Hence, officers of God’s Church are not to “lord it over” His sheep by ruling abusively or coercively (1 Pet. 5:3). The abuse of authority happens when leadership steps beyond the boundaries defined by the Word of God.
C. Therefore, some questions to consider:
- Have the elders acted in any way that has clearly violated Scripture?
- Has the Session developed policies that are out of sync with their delegated authority to determine the direction and emphases of the local church according to Scripture?
- Have the policies or actions of Session built up or torn down the church (2 Cor. 13:10)?
- Is there anything session has said or done that demonstrates or proves they have NOT acted
a. From a motivation of love for the sheep (John 21:16)?
b. With compassion for distressed sheep (Matt. 9;36; Mk. 6:34; Jas. 5:14)?
c. Sacrificially (John 10:11,15)?
d. With a servant’s heart (Matt. 20:25; Lk 22:26)?
e. With a watchful care for the flock (1 Tim. 3:5; Heb. 13:17)?
f. Voluntarily as shepherds (not under compulsion or greed) (1 Pet. 5;2)?
g. By guarding themselves and the church (Acts 20:28)?
5. Have the elders led or guided the church down the wrong path doctrinally or behaviorally (sinned)?
6. Have they failed or abused their role by having a charge over, leading, managing or ruling?
7. Have the elders sinfully mistreated or subdued any member or members of the church?
8. Has there been any excessive or coercive use of authority for unbiblical, sinful, and/or self- serving purposes rather than for the glory of God, and the edification and loving welfare of God’s people?
9. Can any of these questions be factually, truthfully, and Scripturally demonstrated by two or more witnesses?
D. When should a charge be brought against an elder, elders or pastor?
1. When it can be proven that his actions demonstrate the above definition and description, and such sin is injurious to the body of Christ. It is injurious when it is disruptive and destroys the church’s testimony.
2. What are the some of the sins that necessitate church discipline?
a. Unresolved problems between members of the church (Matt. 18:15-17)
b. Disorderly and undisciplined conduct (2 Thess. 3:6-11)
c. Divisiveness (Rom. 16:17-18; Ti. 3:9-11)
d. Obvious and persistent patterns of sin (1 Cor. 5:1-13; 1 Tim 5:20)
This an edited and revised study taken primarily from an unpublished booklet by Dr. George E. Meisinger, The Local Church and Its Leadership. (self-published) 1981.