Three Power Plays of Jesus: Use

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This is part three (of three) about how Jesus models power for us as his disciples.

In Part 1 we looked at how we approach power. We looked at Luke 10 and concluded that Jesus channels power through the humble more than the strategic.

In Part 2 we looked at how we structure power. We looked at Matthew 18 and concluded that Jesus prefers family structure to corporate structure.

Now, in Part 3 we will look at John 13 to see how to use power:

Service

Jesus gives the example of service in John 13 when he washes the disciple’s feet.

Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Duane Elmer brilliantly explores this passage in his book Cross-Cultural Servanthood. He calls this passage, “The Way of the Towel”. Many of us as believers really like the idea of being like Jesus – because we really like the idea of being lord. We often want to emulate godly character because we want to be more than ‘godlike’, we want to be gods – lording over others, calling the shots, and generally being in charge. This is no different for the disciples – hence always asking who will be greatest. Jesus, knowing this, gives them – and us – an example of the way his Kingdom’s power is to be used by his people: We are not called to model Jesus in his lordship, but in his service.

To make the point even more clear, Jesus takes it a step further. When he’s washing the disciple’s feet, Simon Peter objects. Jesus replies: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” What Jesus is saying is this: If we cannot accept a posture which actively understands that our very life is wholly dependent on Jesus serving us, then we cannot understand the correct way to use Jesus’ power.

Jesus serves us in many ways, daily. The most obvious is the cross – serving us by doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. But he also serves us by giving us his life as a model, his Spirit as counselor, and himself – today – as our intercessor and great high priest before the Throne of Majesty.

Learning from him, we are to be like Christ in his humble servant’s heart – exclusively. This is the spoken word of Jesus: be like me in the way I serveThe way Jesus serves is beneath his position and beyond what is reasonable. Throughout the Old Testament, God makes it clear that his preference is for the marginalized; the powerless. His deepest rebukes are for those who use their power to make a name for themselves instead of using their power to hear the cry of the oppressed. And Jesus himself aligns his purpose statement with the marginalized:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Clearly, if our role as ministers of the Gospel of grace fails to include serving those beneath our position in ways that go beyond what is reasonable, we have severely missed a significant portion of what it means to participate in Kingdom work and we inherently abuse power. In a blog on power from the site Minister Different, they ask the question:

If we cross oceans to share the good news but forget that our job is to stand up for the powerless, are we really advancing God’s agenda?

In a similar vein, as Andy Crouch walks his readers through introspection about our existing cultural power, asks,

With whom am I sharing my power? How am I making it possible for others to cultivate and create culture? How can I become a steward, investing my cultural power in the dreams and plans of those with less cultural power than myself?

And, most fundamentally, we can ask whether our own transformation is keeping pace with the cultural power we have been given. Are we engaging in acts of service that take us into places of anonymity and invisibility? Do we sense stillness and confidence at the bottom of our own heart, or are we anxious, insecure, and yearning for more power?

The third power play of Jesus is this: Instead of inviting us to be lords, he invites us to be less.

Conclusion

While this is just the tip of the iceberg, three simple examinations of Scripture reveal that Jesus’ view of power and its use flies in the face of both our natural tendency and the structures given to us by our culture.

The world says: Work hard, think hard, strategically maneuver yourself into positions of increasing power.

Jesus says: Sit at my feet, listen to my voice; I am opposed to the proud but give grace to the humble.

The world says: Reach higher, strive further, climb the echelons of social, political, and industrial hierarchy to amass more power for yourself.

Jesus says: Welcome to my family, I love you. Be my child, enjoy my company, imitate me; you will find fullness of life and wholeness in my presence.

The world says: If you’ve got the chops, you can rise to the top and be the boss.

Jesus says: If you’ve got the chops, you will rightly see yourself as lowly in my presence and you will serve others; I will lift you up.

The words of Jesus feel so much more inviting than the words of the world! Jesus wraps us in his embrace; the world contends with us in a rat race. For all the allure of power this world offers, I choose Jesus: his power is both more contrite and infinitely more powerful than anything the world can muster. And it feels like home.

K Livingston
K Livingston
I believe in dreaming big, working hard, cheering loud, standing tall, bowing deep. All of it because I believe Jesus = life.
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