Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Responsibility of Being In Charge
Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.
Question 129 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What is required of superiors towards their inferiors?” It gives the answer, “It is required of superiors according to that power they receive from God, and that relation wherein they stand, to love, pray for, and bless their inferiors, to instruct, counsel, and admonish them; countenancing, commending, and rewarding such as do well; and discountenancing, reproving, and chastising such as do ill; protecting, and providing for them all things necessary for soul and body: and by grave, wise, holy, and exemplary carriage, to procure glory to God, honour to themselves, and so to preserve that authority which God hath put upon them.” Last time we looked at this question we saw how God requires those in offices of authority to love the ones subject to them in different ways according to the nature of the authoritative relationship. Today we consider some of the specific duties of love enjoined upon them.
First, authorities are required to love those under them. That love will look differently whether from a mother to her infant child, a professor to his or her students, or from a general to his soldiers. Yet while the particulars may change, love is always patient, always kind, it is never proud or rude, and it always protects and hopes. Because love seeks the real and eternal good of its objects, authorities who love those under them will pray for them. They will pray for their salvation and their sanctification.
They will intercede for them when they are sick and cry out for them when they sin. As loving prayer offered for others asks God to bless them, so authorities will personally seek to bless those in their charge. Blessing here especially includes instructing them in those duties which they owe to their authorities. A good instructor does not simply bark out commands but gives counsel, which is to say advice and guidance. He will listen attentively to questions or even suggestions from those under him, seeking not just the completion of the job but the good of those doing the job. If an admonishment is needed he will give it, but even here it is clear that the admonishment is for the sake of the good of the admonished unto the doing of the required duty. Godly admonishment can never be in order to satisfy some prideful or personal interest of the one giving the admonishment. All of these duties should be seen by the authority as being done in love, and therefore, as being a sacrifice and service from the authority unto the good of the one below.
Second authorities must be just. They must be fair. Parents cannot play favorites, neither can teachers or supervisors. Moreover, the justness of the treatment must be in direct accord with the nature of the relationship. Authorities who overstep their bounds, even if they do so equally with all, are not just. Parents who treat their grown sons and daughters like little children are grossly unjust to them, as much as those parents who abstain from disciplining young children with the excuse of wanting to be friends with them. Justice demands fair treatment according to the nature of the relationship. Teachers abuse their authority when they command students outside of school activities. So also bosses who make their employees do things that are not strictly required by their jobs, and how much worse when they excuse it by saying “I wasn’t making them, I only asked them to do it for me as a friend.” This too is a gross abuse of power as the boss knows full well the employee-employer relationship cannot be one of equal friendship and “asking” for things is both manipulative and dishonest and leads to jealousy and stress in the workplace. Thus, the Catechism wisely instructs that praise be given to those who do well and reproof to those who do ill. Here doing well or doing ill refers to the discharge of his contracted duty by the employee. The authority is over them only in regard to the hired task. Just treatment demands praise or reproof in regard to their obligated duties alone and nothing else.
Finally, authorities must be good. They must protect those under them, having more regard for the good of their employees than for the profits of their shareholders. They must provide the proper tools and working conditions that will allow their employees to complete their tasks without any unnecessary hardships. In all instances authorities should soberly consider that God will require from them an accounting of how they exercised their authority over His children that He temporarily placed under their authority for the good of those children. May God grant that authorities would soberly remember this truth!