John 13:1-17 June 2009
THE USE OF POWER IN RELATIONSHIPS
Ill. When Robert Magabe became the prime minister of Zimbabwe in 1980 after Ian Smith’s Apartheid government was overthrown, his aim was to make Zimbabwe a better place for the African people but as time has gone by his main concern has been to hold onto political power. He has done this by killing off literally thousands of his opponents. He has tried to gain more support from the black population by driving white farmers off their land. He has intimidated voters during the elections and continues to persecute any who even dare to criticise him. The result is that Zimbabwe is an economic disaster. Last year the inflation rate in Zimbabwe reached 231million percent. There is massive unemployment, poverty, disease is rampant and law and order has collapsed. Why does Magabe continue to fight for his position even when he can see the disastrous effects of his behaviour on the country? Power, it’s all about power.
Political power makes him feel important, He believes that that position of power gives him his identity and significance. He believes that without that power he would be nothing and he can’t bear the thought of becoming a nobody, a has-been and rather give it up he is prepared to watch his country completely fall apart.
When Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the garden, he said to them, “If you eat of the fruit of this tree, you will become like God.” It was the temptation to have power.
In the NT there are two words for power:
Dynamos [dynamite] strength, force, energy.
Exousia – authority or power that has been delegated or entrusted to someone by someone else. And when someone has been entrusted with that authority they are answerable to the one who entrusted them with it.
Remember Jesus said to Pilate, “You could have not authority unless it was given to you from above.”
God entrusted Adam and Eve with authority to govern the earth but that meant they were answerable to God for how they used that authority.
When Satan tempted them, he was saying, “You can have power and authority without being answerable to God. You can be like God and use the power however you choose. So it wasn’t God given authority they were after, they were after independent power to rule and control without being accountable to anyone but themselves.
If they got that power they believed they could control the world, make their own rules, determine their own destiny do whatever they liked without having to answer to God.
Ever since then people have been striving for that kind of power, power to do whatever they want without being accountable to anyone. Somehow they believe that if they had that power they would become like God.
Interesting how many world leaders have even convinced themselves that they were God when they got hold of power – Egyptian Pharaohs, Roman Emperors, Chinese and Japanese Emperors. Others who may not have used the word God, had images, statues and posters of themselves publicly displayed and demanded the kind of obedience and worship that rightfully belongs to God. Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Stalin, Kim Ill Sung, Mao Tse Tung.
Behind so much greed is the desire for power, because people think that wealth and possessions will give them power. Power to do whatever they want to.
Behind the competitive spirit in us is the desire for power because we believe that winning and defeating our rivals somehow gives us a sense of power.
Behind the craving for popularity is the desire for
power, because when we can get people to admire us, look up to us, follow, we can manipulate them…..power.
Behind so much ambition is the desire for power because once we get to the top we believe we can exercise power over others.
Behind so much violence, conflict and war is the desire for power.
Behind a lot the conflict in churches is the desire for power.
It can be within the leadership or even individuals or groups within the congregation wanting power and control. It was a cause of conflict even among Jesus disciples when they argued over who would be the most important in the Kingdom. They were wanting power.
There have been Xs in ministry who have sought to use spiritual power for their own ambitious ends.Probably the first one was Simon Magus [Acts 8]. He wanted to buy the power of the Holy Spirit so he could make a name for himself and have control over others.
The abuse of power destroys relationships because we seek to control others for our own ambitious, selfish purposes.
This morning I want to talk about power in relationships. How we can use it destructively and how we can use it constructively.
Definition of power. Being in a position where we can influence others.
This does not mean that the only ones who can exercise power are people in positions of authority. Anyone who can influence others has power in this sense.
Power is not bad, like anything, it is how we use or misuse it that really matters. Power can be used for destructive, evil purposes or it can be used for creative good purposes.
As soon as we realise we can influence others we experience power. But we can use that power for evil or for good. Here are some of the ways we can use power, negatively and positively:
1. As parents we have tremendous power over our children, and we can use that power to screw them up or to bring out the best in them. We can discourage and damage them by criticising, controlling, repressing, abusing and dominating them. So much of the crime and anti social behaviour in our society can be traced back to bad parenting. So many emotional and psychological problems stem from childhood trauma involving parents. Some of that stuff you carry for the rest of your life.
A Christian friend of mine in her 80s told me that she was raped by her drunken father at gun point when she was a teenager and she said that although she had forgiven him long ago and the Lord had given her a very understanding husband, she said the scars are still there.
Just as parents can misuse the power they have over their children, they can also use it to bring out the best in their children. Parents are the most important people in a child’s life and what they say and what they do has a powerful affect in shaping their children’s attitudes, thinking and behaviour. Encouragement, loving consistent correction, affection, godly guidance, moral training will have such a positive influence on their children. The greatest power a parent can exercise over a child is the power of example.
Our children’s behaviour, attitudes and life patterns are shaped more by what we do and are, than by what we say. As Christian parents we need to constantly look to God for His resources and to His word for direction to use this power in a way that will encourage our children to want to follow Jesus.
2. Children also soon learn how to exercise power over their parents. They know what to do and what to say to get their own way with their parents. Its called manipulation.
I’m sure you have seen little children throw paddies and act defiantly towards their parents – this is all about power.
Ill. I remember one father saying, “My little daughter only has to look at me with those big beautiful brown eyes and say, “Daddy I love you”, and I would do anything for her.
When they become teenagers they learn other ways of exercising power over their parents. They learn how to argue and push the boundaries to get their own way.
Children also know how to use that same influence to bring joy and blessing to their parents. By obeying them, respecting them, showing them appreciation, affection and practically helping them.
3. In Marriage – in Gen.3:16, God told the woman that because of sin there would be an ongoing struggle in marriage for supremacy. “You will want to control Him and he will dominate you.”
As married couples we soon learn that we can exercise power over each other. Because we make ourselves vulnerable to each other, we know how to hurt, offend and emotionally screw each other up.
Ill. I knew a friend of mine before she got married and she was a bright, vivacious, outgoing young lady. She married a man who dominated, controlled and put her down to the point that years later she became just a shadow of the woman she was before. She had lost all her spark and was weighed down with sadness and depression. Here was an example of the destructive use of power in marriage.
But we can also use that influential power to encourage, uplift, support and bring out the best in our spouses.
Ill. I remember years ago a leading academic in Auckland telling us how his wife saw the potential in him long before he ever thought of going to university. “Left to myself, I would never have gone, but she kept encouraging me and telling me I could do it.” He worked hard with his wife’s encouragement and received his doctorate and became head of one of Auckland’s tertiary Colleges. That is power positively used for the good of others.
To have the power to do good and not use it is also destructive in a marriage.
4. In the work place, there is so much power playing that goes on. You can have employers who are think they are so high and mighty that they make their staff feel like they don’t really count. Or employers whose main concern is greater profits and ignore the needs of their workers.
Much of our self-worth comes from our work, and our employers play a big part in developing that. That’s power. If we are not encouraged and appreciated by our employers it can be very destructive to our feelings of worth and usefulness….and even affect our productiveness.
On the other hand employers can use their power to encourage their workers and show appreciation for their work and help them develop their potential.
The employee also has power in the work place. They can deliberately make their boss’s job more difficult by being uncooperative, awkward or by demanding unrealistic conditions etc. Or they can use their power to give them support, encouragement and help the company to succeed.
Lets look at the greatest example of the use of power:
If anyone had real power it was Jesus. He was God in human flesh. He was the One through whom everything came into existence. With one word He could have dissolved the whole universe. All the angels of heaven were at His beck and call. All the demons of hell trembled at His name.
How did Jesus use His power?
He didn’t use His power for His own advancement. He did the opposite. Instead of fighting to hold onto His position of authority he deliberately chose to step down and become a servant to others. Philippians 2:6-8 “Though he was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up his divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”
He didn’t use His power to assert His own importance. All through the Gospels Jesus refused to promote Himself or blow His own trumpet. Time and time again He told the people He healed not to broadcast what He had done. He didn’t need to impress people or try and convince people He was important. He knew what God the Father thought of Him and that’s all that mattered to Jesus. He was secure in His Father’s approval.
He didn’t use His power to control and repress others. Look at the way Jesus treated people – the children, the women, the outcasts of society. He didn’t dominate them, abuse them. He treated them with respect. He made them feel they were special, that they were loved and valued by God and He sought to bring out the best in them and become all that God intended them to be.
1. He used it in a restricted way.
Jesus had access to unlimited power. He could have destroyed His enemies with a word. At the cross, He could have called 10,000 angels to release Him and annihilate those who were crucifying Him, but He held back because He had something far greater than revenge in mind. To suffer for our sins so that we could be forgiven and receive eternal life.
He humbled Himself, He emptied Himself, He made Himself of no reputation, He submitted Himself to God’s will for our sake.
He deliberately held back His power for our sakes.
2. He used it to liberate others.
People today use power to control, manipulate and enslave others. There are many people in leadership who oppress and keep others down in order to stay on top. They use intimidation and force to do this.
Jesus could have done that. He could have forced people into submission. Enslaved them so that they had to obey Him.
He didn’t try to coerce them, control them or manipulate them…He gave them the freedom to choose. The result is that those who follow Jesus and obey Jesus do so because they want to.
Jesus used His power to set us free from the things that bind and enslave us that we could follow Him of our own free will.
3. He used it to heal others.
So many today use power to crush, disfigure and destroy others emotionally, mentally and physically. Jesus had the power to do that.
But He used His power to heal people of the damage evil and disease had done to them. Everywhere He went His love and compassion motivated Him to use His power to undo the damage done by sin and evil.
4. He used it to serve others.
What strikes me when I read this passage is verse 3, where we read, “Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God.”
Jesus had been given all authority and power over everything that existed. Every human leader who has
exercised power looks pathetic alongside Jesus.
When Jesus was most aware of how powerful He was, of the power He could exercise, the power to dissolve the universe if He wanted to, what did He do with this power?
v4-5. He dressed as a servant and washed the feet of disciples. In Jesus day there was an order of slaves in each household. The most important slaves looked after the money and managed the lower slaves. The slave who was the second from the bottom in the order used to untie the sandals of people when they entered the house and the very lowest slave in the household would wash their feet and dry them.
Here we have the most powerful person in whole universe doing the job of the lowest person in the community.
When you consider who Jesus is and the power He commanded, this act blows your mind.
He showed by this act, how to use power and authority in the Kingdom of God and in X relationships. It is just the opposite to how people use it in the world.
4. He used His power to demonstrate His practical concern for them, even in the very mundane things like washing their feet.
5. He used His power sacrificially for their good.
He was willing to sacrifice His reputation and appear as a slave so that they could have the filth cleansed from their feet.
He was willing to sacrifice His reputation and appear as a criminal so that we could have the sin cleansed from our lives.
Everyone of us in this room have a certain amount of power in our relationships. We can choose how to use that power….destructively for our own selfish, ambitious ends or creatively for the blessing, encouragement and growth of others.
Ill. Choosing people for leadership in churches.
The truth is that we will never influence people in a healthy sense by using force, manipulation, or control. We will never get people to follow us by asserting our
own importance and promoting ourselves. When we use power in this way people may do what we want them to do, but it will be out of fear or duty.
Instead of using power and influence to further our own selfish ends, we use it in ways that honour God and help and encourage others, God will bless us and we will gain the respect, love and loyalty of others.
Ill. In 1998, The President of Uganda, addressed the nation and in his speech he said, “Humility is one of the greatest requirements for becoming a good leader. Many leaders follow their desires for power, they are only concerned to satisfy their own greed and self-interests. Once they achieve prominence, they suddenly forget the people around them, with their poverty and needs. They forget that they could become great instruments of help for their countries, and behave like small kings and dictators. Only if we humbly recognise that those with great responsibility are in truth simply servants of God and people will we be able to lead our people out of their third-world existence into a new future. The Bible says: “God opposes the proud and helps the humble.” If you have time to pray for me, please pray that God will give me the strength, wisdom and understanding to be humble. Jesus once said to Pilate, “No one can exercise authority and power unless God gave them the right to.” Sadly Yoweri Museveni, like many political leaders has lost sight of his original ideals and has become a dictator who is doing everything he can to hold onto his power.
What is it that causes people to follow Jesus, to give over their entire life to Him, to be loyal to Him even in the face of death? Is it because He threatens to destroy us if we don’t? Is it because we are scared stiff of the alternative? There may be some of that initially?
But for me, when I look at the example He set. He who
was God in human flesh, He who had enough power to blow this universe apart – put that power aside and came into this world of rebellious, proud, power hungry people and loved, served and sacrificed His life for us.
His humility, His unconditional love, His selflessness, His
willingness to take the wrap for me, has so influenced and affected me that I want to live the rest of my life for Him, to love, honour, serve and obey Him. There is no one else and no other Cause that is worthy of my love, sacrifice, loyalty and devotion except Jesus and his Cause.
It may be that this morning you realise you have abused the power and influence you have had….ask God’s forgiveness and for grace to use that power for to honour Him and bless others.
The all powerful Jesus stands before us dressed as a servant with nail pierced hands and says, “I have set
you an example that you should do as I have done.”