As I’ve been meditating more on Sunday’s sermon, I thought it would be profitable to consider Ecclesiastes 8:1-15 from the perspective of those who are in authority. Though the passage is written primarily for those under authority, there are some important implications in the passage for husbands, parents, bosses, ministry leaders, public officials, or anyone else serving as an authority over others. Here are five applications for authorities that come to my mind from the text.
1. Set Realistic Expectations. One of the frustrations of life under the sun is that even those who want to lead with full wisdom, justice, and success will not be able to do so. Wisdom cannot guarantee great outcomes (Eccl 7:15), some issues just don’t have perfect answers (Eccl 1:15; 7:13), even righteous authorities are beset by weakness and sin (Eccl 7:20-22), and many who should submit to authorities simply will not do so—at least, not always (Eccl 7:21, 29). Every wise authority, therefore, needs to understand and accept the vaporous reality into which he is stepping.
2. Own Your Imperfections. Authorities are always tempted to cover their faults and even punish or ignore those who point out sins. Yet the Bible’s teaching about the benefit of accepting counsel and correction applies to authorities also (Eccl 7:5). In fact, an authority who owns his failures and seeks to make things right with those mistreated not only shows himself to be under the highest Authority but also makes it easier for other persons to submit (Eph 6:9).
3. Seek to Improve. While leaders should know that they will never be perfect, they should nevertheless always be looking to improve. After all, the righteous exercise of authority honors God and benefits man, both those in authority and those under their care (Prov 16:12; 29:2). Authorities must not be lazy, but, out of fear of God and God’s coming assessment of rulers (Eccl 8:12-13), should seek to reward good and punish evil more accurately and more quickly (cf. Eccl 8:10-11). There is reward in the final judgment for righteous rulers just as there is for the righteous ruled (Mt 25:21).
4. Encourage Submission. If obeying even imperfect authorities is God’s wisdom from Scripture, then authorities should encourage those under their care to submit for the submitters’ own benefit. We see this kind of reasoning used in the Bible for children and parents (Ex 20:12; Eph 6:1-3), subjects and rulers (Rom 13:3-4), and church members and church elders (Heb 13:17). Of course, seeking to persuade others to submit in this way will likely backfire if those so charged do not see the exhorting authority himself submitting to God (Ps 50:16).
5. Enjoy Life. Just as those under authority can lose hope over oppressive circumstances or worry about how authorities will act in the future, so, too, can those in authority despair or become prone to anxiety. Leadership can be very stressful, especially when important decisions turn out poorly, those under authority do not readily submit, or there is the possibility of losing one’s position. But leaders, too, must learn not to worry about the future and instead fear God and enjoy God’s good in the present (Eccl 8:15). Trouble is simply part of life, even for authorities, yet God will bring his people through (Mt 6:25-32). After all, even authorities do not uphold themselves; God does (Ps 127:1-2; Eccl 8:8). God’s counsel to authorities is simply to fear him, act in wisdom as best they can, and then leave the rest to God (Mt 6:33-34).
Ecclesiastes 8:15 (ESV), And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.
Questions to Consider:
1. Why are unrealistic expectations about leadership so dangerous for someone in authority?
2. What are some other applications for authorities from Eccl 8:1-15?
3. How can you apply the above principles in the authority relationships you have in your life?