Power comes in many forms. We can be in a position of power over others because of our job title, our relational network, our expertise, our wealth, our skill level, and more. Privilege is a form of power– the things we were born into, the gifts we have been given by our family history or heritage. We are getting better at naming various sources and kinds of power.
But we are are no better at knowing what to do with power. In today’s world, power itself is seen as the problem. We want to strip people of it, and deny the necessity of leadership. Surely power is an infectious disease, for as the adage goes: power corrupts, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
So, what should we do with the power we have? For the Christian, power has to be re-shaped by Jesus. There is one who, though He was rich, yet for our sake He became poor. Jesus showed humanity what to do with power.
Here are three things we observe about Jesus and power:
1. Jesus inverted the power dynamic. In John 13, when Jesus knew that the Father had entrusted all things to His care, He took off His robe— possibly a symbol of status itself— and began to do what servants do and washed the disciples’ feet. 2. Jesus embraced weakness. Jesus said that no one took His life; He laid it down. He did not fight to preserve or protect His power. He did not consider equality with God “a thing to be grasped”. He willingly “emptied Himself” and became “obedient” even to “death on the cross”, as Philippians 2 says in the climactic point of the poem. 3. Jesus distributed power. At the end of Matthew’s gospel when He sent the disciples into all the world. Having been given all authority, He sent others. The mission had to be bigger than one man. It had to multiply.
The lessons here for us are obvious but worth stating. To be a Christian with power— any kind of power: privilege, position, wealth, talent, gifts, influence, networks, and more— is to do what Christ did with power.
We use our power in the service others. What resources do you have that can be used to benefit others? How can our strengths not add to our status but but summoned for service?
We sacrifice our power for the sake of others. How can you put yourself at a disadvantage in order to give others an advantage? How can you refrain from things you may have a right to in order to leave some for others?
We share our power with others. What would it look like to collaborate instead of command? How could you give others a chance to do something you could do just as well if not better?
I’m not sure there is a way to eliminate power. And I’m not sure that should be the goal. But what we can do is name the power we have and be held accountable to use it in ways that are Christlike. This is how Christians become trustworthy people.