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A Disembodied Head? Part 7: Power

The Logo of the Brethren in Christ Church

12 So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly, for that is what I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example – you should do just as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13.12-17)

I love the intentional reference to this in the Brethren in Christ logo through the basin and towel (see right). It seems to me that Christ is subverting the thirst for power. This is consistent with other instructions to the disciples, such as:

25 But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. 26 It must not be this way among you! Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave – 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20.25-28)

Clearly, the power in the Kingdom is to be different. Of course, what Christ accuses the “Gentiles” of in this passage is essentially what the Pharisees were doing. They were using their power and authority to set up high ideals that the average person couldn’t attain. This solidified their position as the authority, and secured their continued power. Christ came and served. He washed the disciples feet. He walked with them daily showing the way of the Kingdom and explaining it to them. Ultimately, He laid down His life to pay our penalty, thus ushering in the Kingdom of God on earth. Then, He rose. After a very short time He went away again, commissioning (empowering) the disciples to spread the Gospel of the Kingdom to the world. This is to be the way of the Church.

Once again, the epistles echo this call to a servant attitude toward power.
1 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, 2 complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. 3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. 5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had,
6 who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
8 He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
– even death on a cross!
9 As a result God exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow
– in heaven and on earth and under the earth –
11 and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2.1-11)
The way the NET breaks this passage makes it apparent that this is felt by scholars to be an early form of a Christian hymn. Paul tells us that we (the Church) should take Christ as our model. I think that this is clearly aimed at all in the Church. This is not just for laity as we look to our pastor, or just for pastors, since they lead. We are all to be modeling Christ, and thinking of each other. We are not to aspire to greatness and power, but instead to seek ways to serve others. If we do come into positions of power, we are to use that as a greater platform to serve.
Living this out will, of course, look counter cultural. The fact that this will look counter-cultural is, perhaps further evidence that our culture is not “Christian” in any sense of being like Christ. Everyone from politicians, to corporate executives, to far too many pastors, seem to be trying to climb the ladder of success. If we are climbing so that we can serve more, I suppose that could be a good thing. Or if the promotions come simply as a natural side effect of our using all of our God given abilities so well in service that others promote us, then that is not something to be fought, necessarily. Still, with increasing “rank” in the eyes of the world, we need to be even more careful not to rest or lord it over others, but should be reminded to strive even harder to find ways to serve those around us in our ever-increasing sphere of influence.
This is a point that sometimes makes me uncomfortable in the world of academe. We are encouraged to promote ourselves, and even required at times to defend our application for tenure or promotion to the next rank. While that promotion may be warranted and earned, and the increased rank includes increased influence from which we can serve and pay with which we can give to Kingdom efforts (more on wealth/giving another time), we should be cautious. As James says:

1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If someone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect individual, able to control the entire body as well. (James 3.1-2)

If that isn’t good enough, how about this reminder:

48 But the one who did not know his master’s will and did things worthy of punishment will receive a light beating. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked. (Luke 12.48)

Christ here is explaining the parable of stewardship, and I’m pretty sure this applies to stewarding those under our leadership as well. We should be very careful, since we have a clearly laid out model of leadership set out for us. We are without excuse is we fail to lead as the servant to all those “under” us from the world’s perspective. Jesus has really ushered in a “power under” form of leadership, rather than the model of exercising power over you. In Jesus model, I use my power to serve you and supply for your needs. In the world’s model, I use my power to make you supply what I need. This is true everywhere from marriage to the boardroom to the Church to whatever political power (if any) we may be granted as Christians.

Questions for thought:

  1. Where do you have power or authority?
  2. How can you use that power or authority to serve like Christ?
  3. Where have you used that power or authority to rule over others?
  4. Is there someone you need to apologize to for this unGodly use of power?
  5. Is there some way you need to “give back” power, at least for a time, in order to get the attitude of Christ?

Feel free to comment below as you wrestle with these questions, or if you think there is some area of obvious application that I may have missed!

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4 comments on “A Disembodied Head? Part 7: Power

  1. How interesting… this idea of “power” and the authority it gives is hinted at in my own recent article… If we feel we are right, that gives us power. It gives us authority to speak and to correct others. After all, if we are right, we should try and get others on board, right?

    But what if, instead of trying to convince someone that I’m right, I instead defend them and the grace they are given to be where they are? It’s a challenge, really… to give up that power of being “right” to defend someone else for the express purpose of allowing them to enter into fellowship.

    Check it:

    http://abnormalanabaptist.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/a-strange-place-defending-my-opponent/

  2. […] Christ is fully divine and fully human. In short, the Temple was His house. His zeal in this case may reasonably be explained as His divine zeal for His house being expressed through action. Surely, we have the Spirit inside of us, but this does not give us the right to act as if we are allowed to use this divine mandate for justice through violence ourselves. (See the previous point.) That is, for Christ as God to use limited violence (if that is what happened) is not to imply that we have authorization to do so. Christ was using His rightful power. Violence is always about power. I’ve discussed power previously in this series here. […]

  3. […] is a clear lack of instructions for how to exercise power if you are in the government/political […]

  4. […] 25 But Jesus called them and …read more […]

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