Thursday, February 6, 2014

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Does Power Lead to Sinfulness?

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“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 18:14

Our default nature is to thirst for power. 

You need only look at the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert as proof. How did Satan tempt Christ? He tried to capitalize on the human thirst for power—and the pride that drives us to demonstrate it. Satan first told Jesus to prove he was the Son of God by turning stones into loaves of bread—an act that would have demonstrated Jesus’ power.

But Jesus refused.

Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world—an opportunity for earthly esteem and influence—if he would only kneel down and worship Satan.

Again, Jesus refused. His pride didn’t compel him to prove his power.

There’s a reason Satan’s words were called “temptation.” Power is tantalizing. Intoxicating. Tempting.

But power itself isn’t the problem. Just look at King Solomon: He was famous for his riches, and his name was known far beyond his kingdom. But God granted him this power, which he was expected to exercise with wisdom.  

It’s when we thirst for power, often beyond what God has given us, that we veer into sinful territory. This is the kind of power that breeds pride. As 2 Chronicles 26:16 says, “But when [King Uzziah] had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall.”

Uzziah’s power was God given—“the Lord gave him marvelous help”—but he began exercising this power in prideful ways; he thirsted for privileges beyond what the Lord had granted him. Uzziah personally burned incense on the altar, a task that was supposed to be performed solely by priests. His yearning for power and autonomy tempted him to assume he was above God’s law.

This is an unfortunately common theme among Old Testament kings. King Jeroboam also burned incense, rather than commissioning a priest to do so (and God paralyzed his hand). King David took a census—the modern-day equivalent of a draft—in a time of peace, because he wanted to boast at the size of his army. (God struck Israel with a famine as punishment.) When Saul’s thirst for recognition led him to take credit for his son’s military victory, God ended his reign, since his heart no longer served God, but himself.

It’s not just kings who crave power. Adam and Eve wanted knowledge—a form of power—so they ate the forbidden fruit. The Jewish leaders felt their power was threatened by Christ’s sway over the people, so they had him crucified. A thirst for power is not to be mistaken with healthy ambition. This is a desire to play God. 

Most us no longer live in a world ruled by kings. But we do live in the hierarchy of the workplace, where the thirst for power is often rampant. As frustrating as a power-hungry boss can be, I believe we’re called to be merciful to these people. The thirst for power is the mark of a fallen world, and if your boss doesn’t know Christ, he’s simply grappling with his sinful nature. His only nature.

This isn’t an attempt to justify sinfulness. But it is a challenge to those of us who know Christ: Will we respond to authorities’ attempts at power with pride—or with humility? Jesus didn’t put Satan in his place by shouting, “I could claim the whole world if I really wanted to!” He responded with scripture. He glorified his Father, instead of trying to prove his own power, in response to Satan’s quest for it.

Our weakness is an opportunity for God to reveal his power. That can happen only when we humble ourselves—not when we match one person’s attempts at power with our own. Likewise, if God has given you a position of power, you're called to approach it humbly, as an opportunity to reflect Christ, not to glorify yourself. Power itself doesn't cause you to fall. But power paired with pride does. 


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