Enacting Power by Humbling Ourselves
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
A few weeks ago I gave a sermon on God’s power. And it’s interesting because power is something we are inadvertently attracted to in various ways. So when you were a teenager, you might have looked up to the guy who was strongest in the weight room (who could lift twice as much as you). Or we all are convinced by big numbers, ‘Thousands of people gathered in protest against this bad thing.’ ‘1.6 million Koreans participated in Lee Han-yeol’s funeral in 1987.’ The newspapers and online news sites know the power of the headline and use it to manipulate the populace (I think often this is done innocently, but not always). My second born child is more hyperactive and also uses her physicality to get what she wants from her older and younger siblings. We have a new creator class, the ‘influencer’ who uses their online persona to direct people to purchase mass-produced products. The disparate pursuit of power is everywhere, and I think it is both natural to humanity and hyper-accentuated in our day because of tech and the lack of flesh and blood relationships.
Can we get away from it? One author suggests we need to at least take a break as Christians from pursuing political power because it has become toxic to the church. But we should also ask what is the constructive use of power? I think to find an answer to this, the best place is to look to Christ. Christ is God, and as such he is omnipotent. He has the capacity to do anything, and in being able to do anything he does the one thing that at least can be described as emptying himself. An omnipotent emptier: it’s an impossible possibility. Doctrinally, we covered the truth that Christ was forever powerful, upholding the world by the word of his power even while he was on the cross. But the description is one that tells us the manner of the use of his power. His manner was defined by humility. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. The Lord, the master of all was obedient. Again, an impossible possibility. The point here is that Christ’s example for us is to use his power humbly.
So when we are vying and allured by pursuits of power, we’ve got to measure ourselves a little: are we pushing in a way that is contrary to Christ’s example? Instead, he calls us to serve. We are called to restraint. When I talk to our second born, I tell her to slow down, let’s learn some self-control. And unfortunately for many adults, we have never learned a balanced self-restraint. I wonder if its because we live in a fear that if we don’t push for control we’ll lose. We don’t want to lose. We push to exercise our power in politics to win. We push to win in a fight with our sibling because we want to win. We feel powerful when we hear reports of our side winning the a supreme court case on our political pet peeve. But how often is this power wise? When is the exercise of power an exercise in humility? When does an exercise of power bring glory to God?
If it happens anywhere, I hope that this would happen in any local church. You see Christ did entrust his church with authority and responsibility. The church isn’t a vacuum of power, but power used rightly. So pastors: they’re supposed to shepherd the flock among them, but do it willingly and through an example. And the church exercises its authority in ways that pursues the spiritual growth of others including those who are the most difficult to live with. And husbands might be the head of their household, but Christian husbands lead by sacrificing their lives. At least for Christians, we are called to exercise any authority and power in the spirit of sacrificial humility with an eye to bringing glory to God, the father. And I think we have got to work at thinking about our own problematic temptations to love power. Where do we look to power as more of a savior than patiently and humbly following the words of our Lord?