15 Jan Verbal Authority
When to speak? When to keep silent? Social media has demolished all notions of sensible boundaries. It’s no longer uncommon to see people putting their opinions where they don’t belong. Do you ever wonder why?
I wanted to share a rule I try to live by when considering whether or not to comment, write, or speak out.
My rule is this – I ask myself, do I have the authority to speak in this place, specifically, into this person’s or these people’s lives? Have they given me the right to speak over them about this particular thing?
What is authority?
An easy way to think of it is – Authority is the right to wield the power that is given to us.
If a police officer is on duty, in his jurisdiction, he has the authority to wield the power to arrest a criminal. This power is bestowed to him by the government and the people. If he is on vacation in a foreign country, he can not arrest someone, he’d have to wait for the local law enforcement to show up to make the arrest.
Our God is a God that respects authority (Romans 13:1, Matthew 8:9, John 5:27).
Satan does not. Through deceiving Adam & Eve, he unlawfully stole the authority that was rightfully given to man by God to have dominion over the earth.
So what is Verbal Authority?
Yes, I just made up this term “verbal authority”, but this is how I interpret it.
Freedom of speech is a power that we are given in the United States. But whether what we say is received by the people who hear it, that depends on our verbal authority over the listener’s lives. We can exercise our power and speak all we want, but unless the hearer has given us authority to speak into his or her life, there is a very high chance that our words will not be received.
In fact, corrective words spoken outside of the realm of rightful authority will likely cause the hearer to feel controlled and manipulated. The common response mechanism of someone who feels controlled is to rebel. Not only might they reject the corrective words, they may become defensive, angry, argumentative, withdraw, and more.
Exercise Your Rights
In the same vein, you absolutely have the right to grant or NOT grant someone else verbal authority in your life. In fact, I highly recommend it. Practice Godly boundaries by not allowing the wrong people’s words to take seed in your life.
Do you have a mentor, close friend, or family member who loves you the way God loves you? Even if you don’t agree on everything under the sun, you have the right to give them levels of verbal authority. It will enrich your life to see things from different perspectives and to be corrected by them!
Do you know a random person on social media who likes to menacingly stir the pot and throw hurtful comments around? You can absolutely choose to not give them the right to speak into your life. You may even consider unfollowing them, or removing them from your feed.
How do I know if I have Verbal Authority?
Many times it will be clear. If you are a seasoned mother, and you have a young friend who just had her first baby, and she comes to you for advice on feeding the baby, sleep training, milestones, baby gear you use, etc., chances are she has given you authority to speak into her life about childcare. But it may not mean that she will receive what you say regarding politics.
However, in the times it is unclear, I always find it best to ask the Lord. “Jesus, do I have authority to speak here?”
Also you may want to consider, “Am I speaking out of love or something else?” Be it frustration, anger, the desire to be right, the desire to appear superior, etc. this is a good time to check your motives.
I have quite a bit of verbal authority in my home, particularly with my young children. I can express to them my thoughts on faith, on politics, on food and culture and more. As they grow and become adults, my sphere of verbal authority with my children may, and most likely will, change.
On social media, I have a degree of verbal authority on my own profile. However, I am reminded that this authority is given to me by the platform provider. Since they created and own the mechanisms that run the platform, they have the ultimate right to decide who has what rights on their platform, and who doesn’t. If I don’t like it, then I better create my own platform where I can grant my own authority.
Developing Verbal Authority
From what I have observed, and as I alluded to in the example with my children, verbal authority can change and develop over time and seasons. Verbal authority seems to be heavily influenced by the factor of trust in relationships as well as by expertise or know-how.
When I read a book by someone who is an expert in small scale farming, I have receiving their words with verbal authority because I believe they are experts in what I want to know.
When I listen to my friend tell me about how great a food or restaurant is, and I become interested, I am receiving her words not because she is a nutritionist or food critic, but because our relationship has given her influence to speak into my life.
As we grow our relationships and our knowledge, our verbal authority extends further, but our responsibility also becomes larger. People with platforms need to be much more careful with what they say than people of whom no one cares to listen.
Personally, I’m glad that my verbal authority does not stretch too far. I have influence in my immediate family and my close friends, and I am thankful for that. There have been many times I have typed up response comments to posts I’ve seen on social media, only to ask myself before I post, “do I have authority here?” and then subsequently delete it.
The Bible says that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” (Proverbs 18:21) and “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” (Proverbs 21:23). Those are great reminders of the power and responsibility of our verbal authority.
What are your thoughts on this notion of verbal authority? Have you given someone verbal authority in your life that perhaps you shouldn’t have? If so, now is a great time to declare that you no longer submit to that verbal authority and ask Jesus to help you take the steps to regain your rights over who speaks into your life.