From heaven you came helpless babe
Entered our world, your glory veiled
Not to be served but to serve
And give Your life that we might live
We’ve been thinking about holiness together for the last few of months. We began with the foundations of holiness, in God himself, progressed through the character of holiness, the heart of holiness and then looked at the how of holiness.
In my last post I described some of the problems that power (the ability to obtain something whether from other people or from somewhere else) brings. Power itself is neither good nor bad. Yet as with anything powerful, power itself is dangerous if it isn’t handled properly In short, it promises autonomy but brings isolation, it promises significance but corrodes our character, and it promises control but controls us.
This week I want to suggest how we can approach power in a more healthy way as Christians before looking at the example of Jesus himself. I should say that I’m not going to deal with ideas about how Christians should relate to the state or government. My concern is more how can ordinary Christians (like me) live faithfully.
Created and Loved
We begin by knowing both that we are created and we are loved by our Creator. In fact, God is at the very centre of our understanding of love. St John puts it this way:
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
There are two aspects to this.
We have a Creator.
That is the most liberating and humbling thought. It spares us from the exhaustion of trying to be God, trying to control the world around us, to bend others to our will and the frustration of our inevitable failure. It also humbles us because we see that we are accountable. We cannot use and abuse our power over each other with impunity – we will have to account for it to another.
Yet we are more than just creatures; we are infinitely, extravagantly loved.
- There is no need to obtain approval from other people – we are already loved.
- There is no need to earn or justify God’s love for us – we are already loved.
- We do not need to create lives of significance – we are already loved.
When we think about how we exercise power, we start from the humility and security of created people whom the Creator considered worth dying for.
Submit to One Another
Once we have understood that we are loved by our Creator, we can confront the idea that power relationships are inevitable. They are part of each of us being an effective and full moral person. Moreover, groups could not function without people being willing to exercise the power they have and even, at times, to lead.
Nevertheless, we should be careful that we approach the obtaining and exercising of power in a way that honours God and expresses his character.
There is much that could be said about this but a good starting point for us is Jesus’ teaching in Luke 22:24-27
A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
Jesus emphasises that where we have power it is to be exercised for the good of others and not ourselves. In turn this means not seeking results that benefit or enrich ourselves but others. This includes being accountable to others, being willing to be challenged on whether we are pursuing appropriate goals and are using proper means to achieve them, and being willing to defend others even at our own expense.
Exercising power with the heart of a servant and not a master means showing respect for others. This includes being firm when we’re resisting sin and evil while being patient and gentle with those we seek to persuade. We try to lead in our homes, our workplaces, our schools and communities not by force of personality, threat of censure or financial muscle but by the graciousness of our words and the attractiveness of our example. Through all of this we respect the freedom of others to agree or disagree, to follow our path or to choose another.
We see this worked out when we look at Jesus’ example. St Paul puts it beautifully:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This is how Jesus handles power, even that of being God himself. He doesn’t count it as something to be grasped but is willing to give it up for the sake of others. He uses it not for his own advantage but for the sake of those who are lost and need to be found. This should be how we do it too.
You can find a book of 9 reflections covering the material I’ll be sharing in these posts by clicking here. You can also check out our website to hear talks on the same subject.
If you’re interested in reading more, here are some of the resources I have found particularly helpful and which I have used to prepare these articles.
Foster, Richard J., Money, Sex and Power (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2009)
Hays, Richard B., The Moral Vision of the New Testament (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1996)
Hosier, Matthew, Sex Talks (Amazon, 2011)
Piper, John, Living in the Light: Money, Sex and Power (Epsom: Good Book Company, 2016)
Wesley, John, The Complete Sermons (Hargreaves Publishing: Kindle Edition)
 Graham Kendrick, The Servant King, © 1983 Thankyou Music
 1 John 4:9-11
 Luke 22:24-27
 Philippians 2:3-11