Jesus and the Powers
By Joe Boyd
We’ve all seen much attention this year given to power and those who possess it. But the church’s attitude toward power is different.
The Christmas story shows us true power comes to earth in the humility of a dependent infant. Power comes in the form of an impoverished peasant child. A desperate refugee. A homeless wanderer.
Power comes in weakness. This is so different from the power struggle we have recently endured as a nation.
The ugliest election cycle of my lifetime couldn’t end fast enough for me. Tasked to write this monthly article on the church and culture, I’ve had difficulty seeing much of anything over the last few months informing the culture more than this political firestorm.
But now America has voted and power will shift. That’s what this whole thing has been about. The totality of human history can be framed as a desire for power. We all want it. And we all have mixed motives for our desires to be in charge. And very few of us are willing to follow the way of Christ into power.
Our Scriptures speak to power. And what they say is counterintuitive. Philippians 2:1-11 serves as a primer in how Christ receives and gives power. Paul writes to the church in Philippi, breaking into what most scholars believe to be an early Christian hymn or creed about midway through this passage:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Notice the logic here:
Paul makes this appeal to those seeking their own form of power: If Christ has changed you and made your life better through his love, then make my joy complete by modeling the way he achieved power—through humility, selflessness, and ultimately, through death.
Only after death does Christ receive the full measure of the power he deserves—then GOD exalts him to the ultimate place of power where every knee bows and every tongue confesses his true essence. Death and resurrection is the only Christian pathway to power.
It is not an un-Christian thing to desire power. God desires to give his people power in every realm. What differentiates us is how we achieve power. In the kingdom of God, power is always attained through humility, love, sacrifice, and death. The earliest Christians were so certain of this that their first creeds and songs reflected this. Jesus came in weakness and died in weakness . . . only to receive ultimate power.
So what is the church to do today in an unstable, power-hungry world? I submit that we must do what Jesus modeled and Paul taught. We must do the most counterintuitive thing imaginable. The church and her leaders should die to the idea that the powers of this world hold what we need. They do not. The church historically has always been at its best when it does not hold a prominent position of power in a culture.
Paul also speaks to this in Ephesians 6:12:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
It’s easy to read this verse as speaking only to the spiritual powers, but it clearly also speaks of other “rulers, authorities and powers” apart from those in the spiritual realm. Our true power comes from God and the baby Jesus turned resurrected Christ. It always has. It always will.
Regardless of where the rulers of this world lead us, the church has one job—to point people back to the true source of power and the paradoxical way to access it—through death and resurrection.
Joe Boyd is founder and president of Rebel Pilgrim Productions, Cincinnati, Ohio.