He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

Matthew 10:1

While the words “discipleship” and “authority” appear together several times in Scripture, their relationship is often misunderstood and misapplied. In this passage Jesus did not give his disciples general authority with no boundaries, he gave them authority specifically to deal with demons.

Following is a quick look at some basic biblical principles and boundaries of authority in the context of discipleship.

(Note: these comments on authority are in the context of discipleship, not church government. There are other scriptures that address authority roles and boundaries of pastors and elders in a local church context.)

1. All authority belongs to Jesus.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations

Matthew 28:18,19

When Jesus prepared his disciples to make disciples, He knew he had to address the authority issue. He made it very clear that all authority was His. If Jesus has all authority, how much authority is left for demons, strongholds, territorial spirits, principalities, and other strange renegade spiritual entities, real or imagined? None. Yes, demonic spirits have some power, but they have no authority. Therefore they can be bound, rebuked, cast out, and neutralized by the authority and power in Jesus’ name. Again, if Jesus has all authority, how much is left for me in a discipleship context? None. It is all His. This is the starting point of making disciples.

2. Authority must be given not taken.
Jesus called his twelve disciples and gave them authority (Matt. 10:1). They did not “take authority;” they received the authority that Jesus gave them. Even Jesus did not take authority. He told His twelve, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.(Matt. 28:18) Authority that is taken rather than given is usually illegitimate authority.

3. We are given authority over demons and diseases, not over people.
I have occasionally heard of people speak of “having authority over” the people in their discipleship groups. If you have demons or diseases in your group, then you have authority over them, but if you have humans, then Matthew 10:1 does not apply. Jesus said that it was the Gentiles who lord it over and exercise authority overpeople (Matt. 20:25,26), then He clearly said that our posture should be that of a servant not a lord. In discipleship we have authority over evil spirits on behalf of people, not authority over people.

4. We are given authority to teach God¹s word.
Saying we do not have authority over people, is not to say that we do not speak with authority in certain situations in a discipleship context. When God’s word is clear about an issue, we speak with His authority. When God’s word is not clear, then we have no authority, just our own opinion. For example, God’s word says nothing about whom I should marry or whether I should take job A or job B, therefore, I cannot speak with authority about these situations, but I can give my opinion, if asked. While not addressing whom I should marry, God’s word does clearly establish moral boundaries (Eph. 5:3, 1Tim. 5:2) as I pursue a possible marriage partner. And while not specifically saying which job I should take, God’s word says much about how I earn and manage money. In discipleship we point people to God and His word.

5. All disciples have authority.
One final thought on this passage: Jesus gave authority over sickness, demons, and diseases TO HIS DISCIPLES. Many Christians act as if He gave authority over sickness only to pastors or TV preachers. If the famous preacher is a disciple (one who denies self and carries a cross as he follows Jesus and fishes for men) then he has the same authority as all other disciples, authority over demons and diseases. Next time you encounter a demon or a disease, remember that as a disciple of Jesus, YOU have been given authority.