Relinquishing Power and Following Jesus in Humility
The struggle for power resides in all of us, we all desire to be strong and powerful (we live in society that has created superheroes and stars, though I confess, I am a comic fan). When one studies the history concerning civilizations and empires of the world, one is faced with the perplexing problem of human greed and human power. The Church has partaken in this power struggle through out history, this tension that exists in each one of us is not just a non believers dilemma, it is very much a Christian one as well. Human beings have obviously allowed power to corrupt us, it is one of the main reasons we still have starving children in this world. What I want to propose is this: what if being a follower of Jesus is more about giving up on this inherit power struggle that resides in each of ourselves? What if following Jesus means relinquishing our rights? What if following Jesus means using power for good and using our talents and gifts to benefit others in need?
In Paul's letter to the Christians living in Philippi he writes this concerning Jesus,
"Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Therefore, God highly honored him
and gave him a name above all names,
so that at the name of Jesus everyone
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (CEB Translation)
The Believers living in Philippi would have been very familiar with Caesar and the ways of the Roman emperors that dominated their empire and surrounding neighbors. The emperors were feared and respected by the people for being violent and forceful, powerful and domineering. Philippi was a Roman province, according to Cohick (2013) as she writes, "Philippi had the unusual distinction of being a Roman colony; that is, it carried the status of a city on Italian soil. It is the only city with this status that Paul visited (outside of Rome, of course)." When Paul penned these words, the audience would have seen the difference between king Jesus and king Caesar, many scholars believe this was a hymn sung during the time of Paul (see Martin ). The early church proclaimed the Christ (Messiah) to be a humble king, Jesus was not like the domineering leaders around him. Even in the Hebrew writings we read about King David who was very forceful and violent. In fact it is said that David was unable to build God's temple because of his violent ways (see 1 Chronicles 28:3). Many Jews wanted a warrior king, Jesus did not fit this bill, which partly explains why they wanted him crucified. Jesus was not like Alexander the great or Caesar Augustus, he was humble and lowly, and died by Roman crucifixion. Wright (2004) wrote, "Only when we grasp this do we see just how deeply subversive, how utterly counter - cultural, was Paul's gospel message concerning Jesus of Nazareth, whose resurrection had declared him to be Israel's Messiah and the world's true Lord. He was the reality, and Alexander and Augustus were the caricature. This is what true global sovereignty looked like.
One of the most perplexing things for me as a self professed follower of Jesus is this, "God is Jesus," and yet Jesus emptied himself by becoming man. This has always baffled me and will always baffle me. The fact that God humbled himself and relinquished his power to some degree by becoming a man (there have been many debates swirling around this, I will not address them here). The incarnation is about Jesus being the rightful human being who rules God's good world (see Psalm 8), the first man was called to steward the world, but failed this task. Human beings were called to bring order to the chaos, but instead of bringing peace and exercising proper stewardship (power), we have allowed the power to corrupt us and turn us into monsters, bringing chaos on God's good world. In Jesus we see what it means to use power, Cohick (2013) writes,"The Christ hymn smashes human arrogance even as it affirms the worth of the human body and creation. Christ's incarnation is not a mere vehicle used by the Godhead to rescue human souls; it serves to pull back the curtain that had separated a human vision of God. Christ became human, but his behavior was counterintuitive; rather than demand rights appropriate to a king, he demonstrated God's character of self giving. His humility in obedience changed forever the course of humanity, forward throughout eternity."
What is the application of all this?
Paul exhorts the believers living in Philippi to have the mind of Christ, the attitude of Christ, one that would be willing to give up and relinquish our rights and demands for this present age. The greatest image he gives the church is a hymn they sang, one that consisted of their Messiah (Christ) doing this for them and the world. I can't help but to ask myself this question, what would the church look like if we took this hymn and truth seriously? How would that change the disunity that exists? What would my own personal relationships look like in my life? Paul knew that if the church was going to have a lasting felt influence on this age, it would not come through the power of this present age ( 2 Corinthians 10:4), it would come by a people who followed Jesus into humility and gave up their rights to rule people the way most have done it (not using force aggressively). Jesus is the greatest example of what it means to be a true king and ruler, and in fact we will one day rule with him, but it will be much different than how people use power.
I will leave you with these questions? A) How do you use the power God has given you? B) Do you view others more highly than yourself? C) Do you ask God to give you a humble heart? These things are my prayer for my own life, may we all seek to be like Jesus in all that we do and say, and when we fail, thank God for grace. - Casey
Cohick, L. H. (2013). The Story of God Bible Commentary Phillipians. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Wright, N.T. (2004). Paul The Prison Letters For Everyone. Louisville, KY: Wesrminster John Knox Press.