How do we recognize spiritual authority? Is it through titles or attire? Is it by physical bearing? Scripture has some interesting comments. I will start with Isaiah.
1 Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. 3 He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Isaiah 53:1-3 (NKJV)
Isaiah here described Jesus and prophesied that when He came we would not recognize or be drawn to Him by His physical appearance. Jesus would not fit in well with the elite of His day. Very few with cultural status would be able to recognize Him. Has this changed?
If we look back in scripture the Israelites at first did not embrace Moses as their leader and often challenged his spiritual authority in the wilderness. We see the same pattern with the kings. Saul looked good and failed and then when the great prophet Samuel was sent to anoint the new king he needed to learn something about discernment.
6 So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the LORD’S anointed is before Him.” 7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:6-7 (NKJV)
Samuel got caught up in physical appearance. Jesus challenged the religious elite of His day because they asked for a sign from Him to validate His message. Never mind that numerous ones had already been given. They refused to recognize Him because to even consider Him as the Messiah offended their religious minds.
42 The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here. Matthew 12:42 (NKJV)
Jesus point was that someone who was a stranger to the community of Israel would go through great hardship to hear Solomon’s wisdom but they could not recognize the embodiment of reality and true spiritual authority standing right in front of them! Are we any different? The pattern has repeated through church and secular history. If we as the church in this day are to fulfill our calling and purpose we need to learn how to function differently. We need to embrace the spiritual truth that Paul provided for us because the issue was still prevalent in his day. Immature believers failed to recognize his spiritual authority and the truth is we receive from others based on our ability to discern what they carry. Paul said.
12 For we do not commend ourselves again to you, but give you opportunity to boast on our behalf, that you may have an answer for those who boast in appearance and not in heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; 15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. 16 Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:12-17 (NKJV)
Paul was telling us that if we learn to relate to our fellow believers based on who they are in Christ and what they carry of His presence we will go a lot further as the church. I know pastors who carry great spiritual authority and wisdom but I know more people who are not official church leaders who carry great spiritual authority and wisdom. My friend the carpenter who loves the scriptures like no one else I know, my friend the janitor who constantly changes lives through his intercession, young men and others who have given themselves to prayer and are carrying increasing spiritual authority. I see them and many other who carry His presence but are not greatly esteemed by the world. I pray we learn this lesson and retain it. As Jesus said.
15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” Luke 16:15 (NKJV)
The converse is true, that which is generally lightly esteemed by men is highly esteemed by God!