2 Corinthians 10:8 - “For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed.”
Miss this service? You can listen to 'Good News About Power' here.
Power - the possession of authority, control, or influence over others.
The first thought that came to my mind when I read 2 Corinthians 10:8 was that it was kind of odd that Paul even needed to say that his authority was meant to build the Corinthians’ up and not destroy them....wasn’t that obvious? After all, he planted the church in Corinth…of course he doesn’t want to “destroy” them right?
Then again, when you think about it most of our experiences regarding power or authority are fairly negative or at least we know of a bunch that are really negative….right?
Our Power Problem
Whether it’s this dictator or that war lord, or this politician or that CEO that’s abusing power, or maybe it’s someone closer to home like a boss or a coworker or a spouse or a friend even. Well, whoever it is….we have a serious problem with authority….we don’t tend to like it very much when those in authority over us or those who possess greater power than we do ask us to do something that we don’t want to do….
I work on the Pastoral Leadership Team at our church and a few Sunday’s ago my wife and my sweet and normally sociable two year-old little girl, named Addy, came out of service. My daughter reached out for me to take her. With Addy in my arms, I approached the doors of our church so I could go to the car and help my wife get our daughter in the car seat. One of our Greeters or “Welcome Home Team”, as we call them, said, “Hello Addy!” and the usual response someone might receive was any adorably sweet “Hi” that made your heart melt...but instead she turned her head away and looked down to the ground.
Two of the things my wife and I are training our daughter in are:
- Obeying Mommy and Daddy (because when we learn to obey our parents that teaches us how to obey God)
- Honoring others - saying Hi when someone says hi to you, no hitting, pushing, respecting authority, etc...the basics.
So, as is our practice when communicating with our daughter, especially when we’re asking her to do something important, I said, “Addy, look at Daddy’s eyes...someone said hello to you, can you say hello to them?”
She kept her eyes fixed on the ground.
I told the greeter we’d be right back and we went to a private room in the church so we could walk through the discipline process with our daughter. Our discipline process includes spanking but it’s started and ended with love, encouragement, instruction, exhortation, etc. It’s about 90% communication, love, encouragement and 10% spanking but that 10% is what gets us to 100% when it comes to seeing success in discipline.
(Here’s a great resource on the subject that gets at the heart and vision of our discipline process and offers lots of practical advice: Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp )
After we walked through our discipline process, I asked Addy, “are you ready to obey?” and she said “ye shure” which translated, means “yes sir.”
We went back to find our greeter friend but were unable to...thankfully though another greeter was nearby wearing the same “Welcome Home” t-shirt so I thought “You’re dressed the part!” We walked over and asked if they’d be willing to help us as a stand in. Our slightly confused, but willing, new actor said, “Hello Addy!” and Addy said a barely audible “...hi…” with a slight hand wave...not exactly up to our standard of obeying quickly, completely, and cheerfully but it was enough for the moment...regardless, I had to get back to work.
Later that day, my wife’s sister and brother-in-law called via FaceTime to catch up with us and they wanted to say HELLO to Addy, so I couldn’t help but remember what happened earlier that morning. Sure enough, when Addy’s Aunt and Uncle said “Hi Addy!” she looked down at the ground and remained silent. I asked her to look in Daddy’s eyes and then I asked her to say hello...she kept her eyes fixed on the ground. I mustered a smile and said, “We’ll be right back.” We went to the bedroom and walked through our discipline process. Addy said, “ye shure” indicating she was ready to obey. We went back out and tried again...silence. Back to the bedroom. We walked through our discipline process...and then again I said, “Addy, look at Daddy’s eyes...are you ready to obey?” This time, however, something seemed to suddenly possess her and she became intent on getting her way. She began to scream, back bend, and writhe attempting to get down to the floor so she could put distance between us…I gently held her and tried to calm her down and reassure her of my love for her to no avail….I just held her in my lap as she writhed, kicked and screamed and as I wished I could somehow communicate how much I still loved her in that moment.
What was the truth about my heart for her in that moment? I ONLY WANTED THE BEST! I just wanted her to remember and know how much good there was in my heart for her! How much I desired her to have healthy relationships that were flourishing! How much I desired to teach her wisdom, self-control, and how to navigate the raging sea of emotions that we have as humans! How much I desired her to have a thriving relationship with God one day where she trusts Him and obeys him and lives joyfully, fulfilled and satisfied in relationship with Him....how much I desired her to avoid the pain and isolation of rebelling against God’s authority and running from the one for whom she was made...
Unfortunately though, in the moment, Addy didn’t want to hear that….she wanted to do what she wanted to do, when she wanted to do it, because she WANTED to.
In this situation, Addy is just like the Corinthians that Paul is speaking to...and closer to home, Addy is just like us sometimes. Just like Addy, in the same way, we sometimes distrust the intention of our Father, not because we have any real reason, just because at that moment we don’t want to trust him. Just like Addy we rebel against his power, against his authority in our lives. Just like Addy, we scream and writhe and kick and say to ourselves, “I want to do what I want, when I want, because I want to.” We declare, “I will choose what is good and right and true in my life and NO ONE will tell me otherwise.”
Is Our Problem Really A Big Deal?
And if we’re honest here...there’s something in us that agrees with that….there’s something in us that says “is that so bad to want?....that’s what true freedom is...isn’t it?” If you believe that, the majority of the world, or at least the western world, would wholeheartedly agree with you. They’d pat you on the back and say, “way to fight for your right to choose!” Right now, debates about sexuality, gender, personhood, morality, politics are all going on and everyone is vying for the right to define what is good and true and beautiful, what is right and wrong, what the meaning and purpose of life is.
Some of you may have heard of a man named Friedrich Nietzsche. He was a German Philosopher who lived in the 1800s and he was extremely influential with regards to many of the philosophies active in our world today. Nietzsche is known for many different ideas but the two that are important for us today are the will to power and nihilism.
To summarize, Nietzsche believed that the advancements of science that were happening in his time would cause the “death of God” as he called it. Meaning, once our society believed God does not exist, God would, therefore, cease to be the one who defines what is good, true, and beautiful, right and wrong, what morality is or what the meaning and purpose to existence is.
Once God was taken off of that throne, Nietzsche believed that man would essentially become God.
Furthermore, Nietzsche believed that every person has a will to be that God...so, in the end, the one with the power to exert his will would be the one who would define what is good, true, and beautiful, what is right and wrong, what is good and what is evil. Basically might makes right….if you’re strong enough to exert your will over others then you have the right to define all things….you would be god-Almighty....or the Ubermensch, as he called it, which means “Super-man.”
I actually agree with Nietzsche's conclusion: IF we remove God from that throne in our hearts and in our lives we WILL default to the next higher power to decide and that’s us...you and I. Nietzsche has been seen as pretty controversial and at his time pretty new. He’s viewed as the precursor to existentialism, and modernism and postmodernism which are philosophies of our day that say similar things. However, what’s at the root of what he’s saying is not new at all...in fact, it’s very old.
Genesis 3:1-13 contains the same distrust for God...the same rebellion against God’s authority. Starting in verse 1 it says…
“1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”
What do you see here?
I see three things:
- A lie is spoken by Satan and we believe it….and it’s really a half lie… Verse 4 is a lie because we’ve been dying and killing each other ever since, both spiritually and physically. Verse 5 is a half lie...it makes the deceit palatable...we are like God and we did become like him. But I emphasize the word “like”. When we look in the mirror and see our fragility, our fallibility, our frailty and call it God….it’s laughable. The difference is what we call shame which is why they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves right after.
- That lie makes us doubt the goodness of God...it makes us distrust God’s intent toward us. It makes us believe that he’s holding out on us. That he really doesn’t have our good in mind...maybe even doesn’t really love us.
- Then, we take it upon ourselves to decide what is good and true and beautiful. We pick the fruit and take a bite. We define for ourselves what is right and wrong, good and evil, what is best for me because I AM NOW GOD.
This rebellion that’s deep within us believes a lie about the character of God and then says since God is my enemy “I will decide for myself what is good, and true, and beautiful.” And that’s a scary world to live in…..in fact, the Century we live in is saturated in the consequences of such rebellion. John Piper, in a sermon of his, says...
“If God is not the measure of what is true and right and beautiful, then I am and you are. And since we—the god called “you,” and the god called “me”—may not agree, the result will be: Might makes right. And everything in education, and media, and politics in this God-evicting world becomes a battle for power. Not a quest for objective truth and goodness and beauty, since there isn't any, but a power-struggle. Because the one who has the power, in a world without God, defines reality. Defines what is true. Defines what is right. Defines what is beautiful. And there is no court of appeal in heaven for the weak. Man is god. And the powerful man is god-Almighty—the maker of the truth, the inventor of what is right, and the definer of what is beautiful. And the bloodiest century in the history of the world - the twentieth century - with its [Adolf] Hitler and its [Joseph] Stalin and [Benito] Mussolini and [Slobodan] Milosevic and [Pol] Pot and [Idi] Amin and Mao [Zedong] and [Kim] Il-Sung and [Saddam] Hussein and the abortion industry - prove it with horrifying evidence.”
That’s a sobering thing to realize, but the even harder truth to swallow is that those people Piper listed off were not especially evil people. They weren’t super-villains with super-powers, capes, and laser beams shooting from their eyes destroying people. They were the same as you and me. They were human beings with a will...remember what Nietzsche said, without God we all have a will that we exert over one another to get our way. They were children once, just like my daughter except they were mentored by the world. They were merely men taught and discipled by the world to serve their own God, namely, themselves. The same rebellion against God’s power and authority that enables such horror resides in me. It resides in you. Just like one of Stephen Murray’s points in his sermon last week, The Good News for Our Thought Life, he said, “NOTHING is below me” meaning no sin is “too bad” or “too low” for me to fall into. Not one of us is too righteous that we can say, “I would never do such a thing!”
Even if we accept that truth, it’s still so easy to say, “Well, I don’t have as much power as any of those guys!” And you’re right, you may not command an army or be a dictator...praise the Lord you’re not...but the truth is that every single person wields great power, authority, and influence in almost every single relationship you have. In every relationship, In every interaction with a person made in the image of God, you have great power.
Husband’s & Wives- How much are you a serving one another as opposed to just trying to get your own way all the time?
Husbands, how much of your interaction with your wife can be compared to how Christ loves the church?
Women, how much time do you spend encouraging and speaking identity into him and praying for him or is criticism the only thing you share with him?
How much are you both getting low, getting humble, getting underneath and using your power to lift one another up to God?
Parents, you have God given authority over your children and that’s one of your primary roles in life...don’t be afraid to be an authority and direct them, guide them, point them to God. But do you take out your frustration on them verbally? Or physically? Do you encourage them and speak life into them? Or is it so much easier to see their faults and shortcomings and tell them how they don’t measure up. Are you building them up or destroying them?
Bosses, do you equip and support your employees and make sure they know how much you appreciate their hard work? Do you show them the love of God by how you honor them and build them up as their authority? Or do you publicly shame them when they make a mistake? Do you use fear and intimidation to get people to comply with what you want?
Employees, do you honor your employer because they’ve been set up in authority over you? Do you encourage them and thank them for your job and ask them how you can serve them? Or do you get back at your boss for things by bad mouthing them and gossiping about them with other fellow employees?
Friends, and that’s everyone, do you seek to serve your friends and encourage them and build them up? Or are you always looking for what they can do for you and making sure they feel guilty when they don’t meet your needs?
Or on the road...this is a practical one…in busy rush-hour traffic, do you consider others needs above your own? Or do you endanger the lives of other people on the road as you perform dangerous, Evil Knievel, nihilistic maneuvers to ensure YOU get to work on time even though YOU didn’t get up early enough because YOU wanted to sleep in?
Do I hope you feel convicted of something? Yes!! Because we’re all guilty of some type of abuse of power. You may be asking though, “What’s the “Good News” here?! I thought that’s what this blog post was entitled!”
The Good News About Power
The good news is that the Gospel gives us the resources to heal our power problem, not only in how we related to power, but also in how we use power. In this letter to the 2 Corinthians, Paul has been pointing to the Gospel as the source and resource for a new way of living. When it relates to power we see:
- God has real power. He owns everything, sustains everything….people can try to define what truth, goodness and beauty are but it’s fleeting...it won’t last beyond this world.
- In Christ, God took the initiative. That same God loves us so much that he came down, entered our world as the man, Jesus, lived a life just like ours but was without sin and then willingly went to the cross on our behalf and received the punishment for our sins….the punishment that was meant for me and all my abuse of power was put on him and I was set free.
- In the Gospel, we get a revelation of God being a Good Father who uses his power to build us up. God is a good Father and therefore he’s trustworthy No matter what your experience has been or how you’ve seen power used against you or how you’ve used it, it doesn’t define what God is like. God is the definition of what a good father is...God defines how we ought to use the power he’s given us. A good Father cares for his children...not a sparrow will fall to the ground without your heavenly father knowing and how much more valuable are you and that even the hairs of your head are numbered. See Matthew 6.
- God transforms the way we use power: Relating to God differently then helps us to relate to or use power differently….God FREES us when we receive the Gospel to use power like he uses powerWhen we receive the Gospel, when we receive Jesus, are forgiven, changed, loved, and taken care of by God who has all the power we no longer need to use power for selfish gain or to get what’s mine….we are FREED to use the power we’ve been given by God to build others up.And he showed us and told us how to live how to use power...Jesus is the perfect image of what God is like and he lived as we lived and showed us how to live a life obedient to God that’s filled with more joy than we can possibly imagine, both in this life and in heaven.
In Matthew 20, two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, and their mother come up to Jesus and ask him if they can be seated on his right and his left in his kingdom...basically, they’re asking, “can we be given great power in your kingdom one day?” The rest of his disciples overhear this discussion they become indignant which means they became angry at this perceived unfair situation. In verse 25- 28 Jesus calls them over to him says:
“You know that the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
And when we do that people will be drawn to Jesus. They’ll be drawn to the practical love of Jesus pouring out of us because when you see power that is used for your good you can’t help but be drawn to it because the world doesn’t operate like that.
So, there I was, having a lovely Sunday afternoon...writhing child in lap? Check. Exasperated and desperate father? Check. Growing desire to give up on parenting? Check. Seriously though, I was just about done...this had gone on for about 5 minutes which felt like 15...but I felt like the Lord said “don’t give up” so I said, “okay, Lord, I won’t give up but I need your help if I’m not gonna give up.” So I started praying over Addy that she would remember how much her daddy loves her and God would bring peace to her little heart and I just kept praying that over and over again. About 20 seconds into my praying, she took this deep breath, sighed, stopped writhing, and relaxed in my arms….IT WORKED! I was just as surprised as you are! It was a faith building moment for me. So, we sat there for a while in that moment. Her laying on my chest and I was stroking and lightly scratching her back, which she loves, and repeating over and over again, “I love you so much Addy….Daddy loves you so much.”
After soaking up that moment, I sat her up and had the following beautiful dialogue:
Me: “Addy, I love you so much sweet girl...look at Daddy’s eyes….Are you ready to obey?” Addy: “Ye shure” Me: “I’m so proud of you Addy...Let’s practice...Addy, can you say hello?” Addy: (adorably cute) “Hiii” Me: “Let’s go say hi to Aunt Lyss and Uncle Tom, okay?” Addy: “okaaay”
We went out, her aunt and uncle said “Hi Addy!” and Addy said, “....Hiii” and we all erupted with cheering and laughter and “good job sweet girl!!” and that was it....this huge smile came to her face and she was reconciled, living in her father’s blessing and covering once again and because of her obedience she was able to be fully free and joyful in my presence as if the last 15 minutes of craziness had not occurred. It was beautiful.
We have an amazing God who uses power to build us up and not to destroy us. To save us and to serve us. In Luke 12:37 there’s this amazing, unbelievable, mind-bending passage speaking about when Jesus will return in glory to raise the dead and usher us into heaven, it says,
“37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.”
God-almighty, the most powerful being, the one who owns and controls everything in the universe is going to “dress himself for service” and come and serve ME? That’s amazing and that’s the kind of beautiful, all-powerful, all-mighty, humble, servant king we love and live for.
This is the Good News about Power!