It should be evident at this point that one of the key issues at stake in spiritual authority is being able to recognize the authority of God coming to us through men. This is not a small thing, but rather an essential area if we are to make progress in God. God has not chosen to use angels in our lives, but men who are called of God and set aside for this purpose. In our own wisdom, we perhaps would have chosen another way, but we are not at liberty to devise our own way. Our place is to recognize the way God has made and to give ourselves wholly to it.
How do we know when a man has been called of God and given grace? Can we recognize the difference between man working on his own authority and God working through him? Can we discern? We must be able to discern, or we end up either being misled by following man or missing God by not recognizing His direction coming through man. We cannot afford either.
The life of God's servant must first be an example. He must be able to say, "Follow me as I follow Christ." The life of Christ opened the way for the words that He spoke. We are commanded to know the "fruit" of those who say they are called of God (Matthew 7:15-20). The word must first be working in the vessel before it can have any power or authority in the life of another. The life of God's servant cannot be a contradiction to his spoken word; it cannot be unstable. The requirements for elders and deacons speak strongly to this (I Timothy 1-13, Titus 1:5-9).
Secondly, we can say that a person who is called of God knows what God is doing. He must have a revelation that does not come from the natural mind or from human wisdom. It must be revelation that has come from God. Paul said that he was not taught by man but by God. This same testimony must be in the life of every servant of God. He is not the "blind leading the blind," nor a novice. Do men send out men who are not trained and prepared? Of course not. Is God less than men? Too often in the name of love (which is not love) we overlook when we should not overlook. We will never discourage anybody who has a heart for God by requiring them to meet God's standards. In fact, we do them a disservice to overlook where God does not overlook. If a man tries to labor in the Lord's vineyard before he is prepared, it could be his downfall (See I Timothy 3:6).
Thirdly, even when a life gives the example and a man is prepared and sees what God is doing, there must be the divine presence of God which makes every word alive and feeds us from the hand of God. This is in the hands of God, and cannot be controlled by man. It is the anointing that gives the word of God life to our hearts. God's servants must begin in God's presence and stay in God's presence. This is demanding. There is no earthly calling that can compare. To serve the living God and care for and feed God's sheep is a high calling that demands all.
Finally, we can see that even if God's servants are prepared as we have outlined, it does not mean that we will automatically recognize that authority. Each one of us must have ears for God. We must desire God to speak to us. We must be ready to obey, or we will not recognize God coming to us (John 7:17). Most men did not recognize Jesus, yet He was God manifested in the flesh with not a single defect. Are we looking for God, desiring Him to feed us from His very hand?
These few words are by no means a complete study on the question of spiritual authority, but perhaps they are enough to point our attention back to God and the scriptures so that we can see more clearly how God is directing men. Being able to recognize the voice of God coming through men is critical to being able to receive the grace of God coming through His chosen vessels. Being able to recognize the authority of God forms the basis of faith, and without faith it is impossible to please God (Matthew 8:5-13, Hebrews 11:6). God has chosen to work through man, and often the vessel He chooses is not what we think it should be (II Corinthians 10:7-11). We dare not veer to either side, rejecting God's working through man or just listening to man. Both are deadly.
We must walk the straight and narrow way of hearing God through man, recognizing the authority of God coming to us through man. It is God's chosen way, and His way is perfect. His way leaves God fully in control and man fully involved. It deals with every last ounce of pride, because no man has anything unless God gives it to him. God's way leaves everything connected to God by the Spirit, so that no man can move independently from God and bear fruit for the glory of God (John 15). It leaves each of us on our knees continually, utterly dependent on the Lord for the next step. It is an intimate relationship by the Spirit that knows no equal in any natural relationship. Apart from true fellowship with God, we will not recognize the word coming to us through others, and we will not be able to speak words of life to others. Head knowledge and natural authority are death, and will only produce death in others. The Holy Spirit flowing through vessels of clay is life, and will minister life in others (II Corinthians 3).
Brethren, may the Lord speak to our hearts and give us direction in these areas, that each one of us may be set aside as a fit vessel for His life, that God may be glorified in all things.