We have seen that there is a power in the practice of the TRUTH that is wholesome and acceptable to the Lord. We have also seen that there is a power in the practice of THE LIE, which is corrupt, inwardly defiling, leading to the self-destruction of those who dabble in falsehood of any kind. In this article, we shall look at the subject of POWER itself.
First Baron Acton (1834 – 1902) the English Historian and Moralist, had this to say in a letter to Bishop MandellCreighton in 1887. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men . . . There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”
One of the commonest of human drives is the quest for power, and it has shown itself in history in all the wars, conquests, and political achievements of “great men.” But seldom can one find record of any great political man who has been a true Shepherd to his Sheep, one who does not glory in the acquisition of his high office, and once having obtained it, whether by military action, cunning, or intrigue, does not then abuse the power he enjoys. This is the sad tale of history, showing us that as human beings very few of us have the ability to handle power justly and mercifully.
Let us see what men of influence have said about the acquisition of power. Count Leo Tolstoy, (1828 – 1910) the Russian writer and moralist, said, “In order to obtain and hold power a man must love it. Thus the effort to get it is not likely to be coupled with goodness, but with the opposite qualities of pride, craft, and cruelty.” Thomas Jefferson, (1743 – 1826) third American President, said, “I have never been able to conceive how any rational being could propose happiness to himself from the exercise of power over others.” Stanley Baldwin, (1867 – 1947) British Prime Minister, said at an election rally in 1931, “Power without responsibility has been the prerogative of the harlot through the ages.” William Hazlitt, (1778 – 1830) English essayist, critic and journalist, wrote in 1819, “The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves.” And finally, Aung San Sun Kyi, the Burmese statesman and founder of the National League for Democracy, who was placed under house arrest in 1989, but was the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, said, “Concepts such as truth, justice, compassion are often the only bulwarks which stand against ruthless power.”
Surely power is an intoxication; Henry Kissinger called it “the ultimate aphrodisiac.” The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse. From the days of Nebuchadnezzar, through the power of the Medes and Persians, to Alexander the Great of Greece, and the Roman Caesars, we come down to more recent times and remember Napoleon, Hitler, and Stalin. And since then we have witnessed the rise of such evil men as Chairman Mao, Idi Aminof Uganda, Ayatollah Khomeini, Osama bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein. The Bible has depicted such men as horns on wild beasts. Each one rises to power, has his moment of zenith, and is finally eclipsed as another rises in his place on the world stage.
As in the world of politics, so also in the religious world, we find the corruption of power. The Old Testament is an embarrassingly accurate and self-condemning record of the failings of many Israelite rulers, such as Saul, Solomon (in his later days), Ahab (with most Northern kings) and Manasseh, just to mention a few. During the Messiah’s brief mission, He laid down all the necessary qualities needed for righteous government, but this was rejected by the ruling authorities of His day, so they disposed of Him. During the first century of Christian missionary work, those good principles were put into practice, but shortly afterwards the lust for power began to rear its ugly head, and we find the power house of Catholicism taking over in the world. History records its savage record with over 20 million slaughtered who refused its dictates. Its political power no longer exists, but its ecclesiastical power remains undiminished. Their catechism anathematises all who do not accept the Catholic Church as the only legal church. Alongside this is the rise of Islamic power, a raging bloodthirsty beast with a great horn, seeking to destroy all who do not accept the teachings of Mohammed. In both of these power houses, exclusivism is preached. A similar exclusivism is found in numerous other smaller religious organisations, for example, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormons. And the abuse of power is seen in many free churches where ministers lord it over their flock. Heavy shepherding, rife in many Charismatic Churches, is another example of where leadership has gone badly astray.
But history books only provide us with the actions and works of those who rise to prominence. All lesser mortals remain as silent as the grave in historical records. But we must consider the principle of power, not only in the highest echelons of government, but also at ground level in the lives of the average “man in the street.”
People with “drive” always seem to attract attention. They receive the nod of the head of those around them, who say, “Oh yes, Jack Jones will go places. He’s got it in him to rise in life. Good luck to him. Wish there were more like him.” Then they might sigh, and say, “My Bill ought to take note of Jack instead of being satisfied with mediocrity.” Yes, the drive to “be at the top” is always honoured, and worshipped. But the very same people who look encouragingly at “Jack” in his early days, might very well change their tune when he reaches the pinnacle of power. They will then be heard to say, “Jack Jones ought to be ashamed of himself. He’s making the lives of many a misery. It’s awful the way in which he handles his high office.”
Should we then denounce all forms of power, and say that it is dangerous? Should we all be content with mediocrity?No, not at all. The Bible shows the way, and declares it with great clarity. First of all, let us look at what the Mosaic Law said about the responsibility of Kings. Deuteronomy 17:18-20. “And it shall be that when [the king] sits upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests, the Levites; and it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes to do them; that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand or to the left; that he may prolong his days in the kingdom, he, and his sons, in the midst of Israel.”
The words, “that he be not lifted up above his brethren” ring out with a clear and unmistakeable challenge. What was true of Israelite kings, should also be true of every other servant of the Lord who rises to any position of authority. See what Paul recommended for Bishops in the church. 1 Timothy 3:1-7. “If anyone aspires to the office of Bishop, he desires a good work. The Bishop then must be irreproachable, husband of one wife, sober, discreet, decorous, hospitable, apt to teach; not given to excesses from wine, not a striker, but mild, not addicted to contention, not fond of money, conducting his own house well, having his children in subjection with all gravity, (for if one does not know how to conduct his own house, how shall he take care of the assembly of God?) not a novice, that he may not, being inflated, fall into the snare of the Devil. But it is necessary that he should also have a good testimony from those without.”
The words “that he may not, being inflated, fall into the snare of the Devil,” are exactly similar to those appertaining to the King, “not being lifted up above his brethren.” Our Lord’s words ring true – “The Scribes and Pharisees have set themselves down in Moses’ seat; all things therefore, whatever they tell you, do and keep. But do not after their works, for they say and do not, but bind burdens heavy and hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of men; for they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the chief place in feasts, and the first seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But you must not be called Rabbi, for one is your instructor, and you are all brethren. And call not anyone your father upon earth; for one is your Father, who is in heaven. Neitherbe called instructors, for one is your instructor, the Christ. But the greatest of you shall be your servant. And whoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled, and whoever shall humble himself shall be exalted.” Matthew 23:1-12
The Apostle Peter was granted leadership of the 12, and to him were given the keys of the Kingdom of God, and he used them to open the door to the Gentiles with the conversion of Cornelius. His position could have gone to his head, but he was ever aware of the time when he denied his Lord. Writing in his first letter, he had this to say. “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am fellow-elder and witness of the sufferings of the Christ, who am also partaker of the glory about to be revealed;- shepherd the flock which is among you, exercising oversight, not by necessity, but willingly; not for base gain, but readily; not as lording it over your possessions, but being models for the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd is manifested, you shall receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you younger ones, be subject to the elder, and all of you bind on humility towards one another, for God sets himself against the proud but to the humble gives grace. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” 1 Peter 5:1-6 James gave the same advice in his letter, 4:6-10
When the Kingdom of God is manifested, we must expect that certain high offices will be filled by those who have listened to such words, lived lives of servanthood under the hand of God, and have been selected by the Lord as being able to reflect His own character to the world. Those who abused authority on earth, maintained positions of power for their own pleasure, and crushed others under their power, will be brought low. A reversal may be expected. Some of the first (here and now) will be the last (in the Kingdom), and some of the last (in the opinion of the world, here and now) will be first (in the Kingdom.) The result may very well be a “grinding and gnashing of teeth” by those who believed in their pride that they were “front runners” with God. But as we have seen, even some of the greatsecular leaders of the world have voiced their abhorrence at the abuse of power. But to misuse power as a Christian is utterly without excuse. The handwriting has always been on the wall.