There are a lot of self-help books and articles in the world that tell you how to get and use power. It seems that everyone wants power. When you have power, you can do a lot of things for yourself. Need I say that it’s a lot easier to become rich when you’re powerful? How many politicians find that their investment fortune rises once they’re in office? Or their books sell better when they’re in that position? Dacher Keltner has an interesting theory about power: we gain power by helping others and adding to the greater good of the community, but then, once we have power, we ignore the skills that got us there and abuse our power.
Jesus understood power. James and John took Jesus aside and tried to put themselves in positions of power by sitting at the right and left hand of Jesus. After all, once the Messiah kicked the Romans out, He’d need some help ruling. Jesus, knowing about the upcoming crucifixion probably laughed at their misguided ambition. Then, the other disciples got upset, perhaps because they didn’t think about this power play first. None of them realized that those positions of power actually led to the cross. Jesus set them straight on true power. “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.’” (Mark 10:42-44)
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus kept telling the disciples what was to come. He would be delivered to the Gentiles and be put to death. He also told them that He would rise again after three days. Maybe the disciples didn’t think Jesus meant that He would literally die. Maybe they thought He was speaking in parables. For whatever reason, though, they all realized that He was the Messiah and seemed to be jockeying for position in the Messianic government. Every one of them must have seen them sitting in positions of power once Jesus threw the Romans out and took control. They could taste that power. No more wandering around the countryside: they would be living in luxury as the new ruling class. In their quest for personal power, they missed the whole message of Jesus. Greatness, power, in the kingdom of God came not from being served, but in serving others. Leadership came not from lording your power over others, but in your willingness to become a slave and serve others.
I guess I can’t blame the disciples for not getting that truth. I act as if I don’t really understand it, as do most of the people in the church. We hear these words and yet we seek what we believe are powerful positions in society and in the church, because we want that power. We know that power corrupts, but we think absolute power is kinda cool. Besides, as followers of Christ, we wouldn’t let power corrupt us. Of course not. And so we admire those whom the world would consider the great leaders in the church: the televangelists who take in millions of dollars in offerings, or who have become rich because of their writing. We argue about which church Jesus would go to were He to visit churches on earth. And we miss the true greatness in God’s kingdom: the nursery workers and Sunday School teachers who raise children in the faith; the nameless people ministering to the homeless on the streets. If you want real power from God; if you want true greatness in God’s Kingdom, don’t seek positions of power that the world exalts. Instead, become a servant of all. Instead become a slave for the sake of the kingdom. Give up your personal rights and live in obedience to Christ. That is true greatness in God’s Kingdom.
Sometimes Lord, I see Your description of greatness and I just want to be “ok.” Help me to serve others as You did. Help me to understand the power that comes from becoming a slave to all for Your sake.