Luke 9:1-6 – On Power, Authority, and Mission

Jesus and the Disciples by Rudolph Bostic (1941-2021)

Jesus called the Twelve together and he gave them power and authority over all demons and to heal sicknesses. He sent them out to proclaim God’s kingdom and to heal the sick. He told them, “Take nothing for the journey—no walking stick, no bag, no bread, no money, not even an extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. Wherever they don’t welcome you, as you leave that city, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” They departed and went through the villages proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere. (Common English Bible)

You have likely heard the old nineteenth century adage from a member of the British Parliament, Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The rest of the quote, which we seldom hear is this: “Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority.”

It’s almost as if Jesus knew this well before Lord Acton uttered it nearly two millennia later. Jesus Christ, in a truly wise and generous display of leadership, shared his power and authority with others. Rather than hoarding power and using authority to gain more authority, the Lord Jesus, rightful Ruler of the universe, delegated power and enabled those who ministered with him to share in carrying out his mission.

The only real Christian ministry is a bestowed ministry, granted to us by the delegation of Jesus. What this means for us, practically, is that believers minister as servants of God and stewards of the power and authority given to us. Grasping this basic accountability helps us to truly serve others with sensitivity and care – knowing we must give an account for the privilege of ministering in Christ’s name.

“There is no stronger test of a person’s character than power and authority, exciting as they do every passion, and discovering every latent vice.”

Plutarch (46-119, C.E.)

This has tremendous implications for us in all areas of life. Within the family, this means that parental authority can and ought to be delegated in wise increments, over time, as children grow and mature. The concept that a dad should be some sort of supreme leader who barks orders and demands fealty from mom and the kids is downright misguided, not to mention incredibly weird.

It also means that in the church and in faith communities, the wise use of power and authority will seek to identify and mentor younger disciples who will be given appropriate authority for expected ministry. Church leadership will listen to and equip those who have passions for particular service with the requisite authority to engage in effective ministry.

At the workplace, this involves forsaking a top-down approach of authority in favor of distributing power equitably amongst the workers with the greatest responsibilities.

In the political arena, this means Christians won’t tie their hopes in gaining power but rather in giving it away. They will seek equity and the common good of all citizens. And if that means deferring to a voice which isn’t being heard, then that is precisely what we do. Perhaps we see so little civility and concern for the other because Christians are much too enamored with dramatic miracles fueled by power.

Mosaic in the Papal Basilica, Rome, of Jesus and Disciples

Let’s not lose sight of the reality that healing sicknesses and suppressing the demonic is solely derived from Christ’s own authority, not ours. To press this reality home, Jesus instructed his disciples to take nothing with them. No staff, bread, bag, or money. Live among the locals, with them, on their turf and with their activities. Use the power and authority given to improve their lives and in so doing, lead them to greater spiritual truths.

If they don’t accept this gracious ministry, move on. No arm-twisting. No manipulation. No guilt-tripping. And definitely no using your given authority for grandstanding. A simple warning with shaking the dust off the feet is sufficient.

Every detail of the mission Christ gave to the disciples was a lesson in sheer and total dependence on God. Humble ministry and modest lifestyle will set the best table for a proper focus on benevolent and compassionate ministry. Just as increased knowledge ought to be used to love better and show us how much we actually don’t know, so increased authority ought to be used to serve others better and show us how much power we don’t have so that we might continually seek after the God who possesses all power and authority.

The good news is that God’s infinite and supreme power is given and focused in the person of Jesus Christ, who in turn, graciously bestows the authority to his followers so that they may proclaim forgiveness and new life. It’s a big message requiring large authority. And Jesus freely gives it:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, NRSV)

It’s enough to make old Lord Acton smile in his grave.

Eternal God, you call us to live with faith in a world filled with so many challenges. Help us remember our mandate and our mission to use our given authority properly, lovingly, and confidently with obedience to our Lord.

Teach us by your Word, through our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in our prayers to learn and understand what you would have us to be and to do, so that we may fulfil our calling as Christ’s Body here on earth.

Draw your church together into one great company of disciples, together following our Lord Jesus Christ into every walk of life, together serving him in his mission to the world, and together witnessing to his love, in the strength of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ephesians 5:21–6:9 – Submit to One Another

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for herto make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

Fathers do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.

And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (New International Version)

Submission – the word itself may stir a less than positive reaction within us.

For many people, submission implies someone else is going to have authority over me – and they might not like that. To submit to another person smacks of being forced into something we don’t want, like some mixed-martial-arts submission hold where the other person taps out.

It doesn’t help when many people have past experiences in which individuals in authority neither liked them nor treated them with respect. Their visceral reaction to the word “submit” is very raw and real.

Biblically, within the first pages of Genesis, the disobedience of Adam and Eve resulted not only in a separation between God and people, but also between man and woman. The Fall had terrible consequences for them. The entire world now lives under a curse. Relations between the sexes, because of the Fall and the curse, are twisted.

To the woman, God said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16, NIV)

The phrase “your desire will be for your husband” is a Hebrew idiom (a metaphorical phrase with a special meaning). This refers to women’s urge for independence from men. 

“He will rule over you” is also a Hebrew idiom, referring to man putting woman “under his thumb” (an American idiom). 

Women, in their fallen state, work to be independent from men. They diligently try and function without them. 

Men, in their fallen state, bring a “heavy hand” (another American idiom) to women by insisting on always “calling the shots” (yet another idiom) and dismissing females as if what she has to say or think doesn’t matter, or at least doesn’t “carry much weight” (idiom again!) as a man’s words do.

The way gender relations, in the Christian tradition, are supposed to happen is based in who God is:

  • The Son (Jesus) submits to the Father by placing himself under authority. The Father, in turn, lifts up the Son to share in reigning with him in the kingdom of God.
  • The Church submits to Christ, and Christ, in turn, lifts up the Church so that she reigns with him in the kingdom of God.
  • The wife submits to husband, and he, in turn, lifts her up so that she reigns with him in the kingdom of God.

This is mutual submission – and not a matter of the boss and the bossed.

To submit simply means we willingly place ourselves under authority – the choice is with us. Forced submission is slavery and oppression – not true submission.  

To function without submitting to one another brings disorder and chaos, keeping the curse going into generation after generation. Christians, however, are to reverse the curse.

“God has bound us together in such a way that none of us should reject submission. Where love reigns, this spirit of service is mutual….  Since there is nothing more opposed to the human spirit than the desire to submit to others, Paul calls us to it by reminding us of the reverence we owe to Christ. He is the only one who can tame our rebellious spirit and subdue our pride, so that we are willing to serve our neighbors.”

John Calvin

It is important to understand how the grammar of today’s New Testament lesson is set up, because if we don’t get this, we will not practice submission well.

The main verb of the section is “be filled” with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). There are five participles which explain how the action of the main verb is to be done. Submitting is one of those participles. Submitting to one another is everyone’s responsibility.

Submission is a spiritual practice. The following people and relationships are mentioned (Note: these were intended by the Apostle Paul to be a representative list, not an exhaustive list):

  • Wives to husbands (respect)
  • Husbands to wives (sacrificial love) The head and body metaphor is meant to convey intimacy, union, and relationship, not any kind of silliness in husbands doing all the brain work and making all the decisions. Spouses are two people in one, just as the Father and Son are two in one. You cannot have two independent persons doing their own thing, any more than a head and body can operate independently.
  • Children to parents (obedience)
  • Parents to children (compassionate and empathic spiritual support)
  • Slaves to masters (obedience)
  • Masters to slaves (fair and equitable treatment)

Scripturally, we do a disservice if we only focus on how husbands, children, and slaves must submit, because we are all to submit to one another, including husbands, parents, and masters. 

Christians bring order out of chaos when there is submission to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Misunderstandings and misinterpretations of today’s text typically result in one group of people trying to force authority on another group. Proper understandings will always result in practicing humble and compassionate service to each other.

Submitting to one another means we must cooperate with one another instead of competing against each other. For example, women are to respect men by not acting as autonomous persons who have no need of those stupid men. And men are to not abuse women by ignoring and dismissing them as inferior emotional beings. Instead, both sexes will volitionally choose to submit to each other and act in accord, comity, and harmony.

All believers are to function together as God’s co-heirs and God’s co-rulers in and over God’s creation. This is the good order to which God has called us, and it is a high calling for which we need the filling of God’s Spirit to help us.

Lord Jesus, we bow down and humbly bring to you our gift of submission. Thank you for submitting to the Father until the end, achieving salvation for us. Teach us the meaning of meekness, and may our wills submit to your will. Graciously remove our disobedience and pride and shape us to your will. Guide us on the road of resigning our wills to yours. Mold our souls into total divine submission. Help us to walk in the path of righteous submission to each other, hand in hand. May we be filled with the Holy Spirit so that we will completely embody a submissive and teachable spirit. Amen.

1 Samuel 8:1-22 – Be Careful What You Ask For: You Might Get It

Now when Samuel got old, he appointed his sons to serve as Israel’s judges. The name of his oldest son was Joel; the name of the second was Abijah. They served as judges in Beersheba. But Samuel’s sons didn’t follow in his footsteps. They tried to turn a profit, they accepted bribes, and they perverted justice.

So, all the Israelite elders got together and went to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “Listen. You are old now, and your sons don’t follow in your footsteps. So, appoint us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” It seemed awfully bad to Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” so he prayed to the Lord.

The Lord answered Samuel, “Comply with the people’s request—everything they ask of you—because they haven’t rejected you. No, they’ve rejected me as king over them. They are doing to you only what they’ve been doing to me from the day I brought them out of Egypt to this very minute, abandoning me and worshipping other gods. So, comply with their request, but give them a clear warning, telling them how the king will rule over them.”

Then Samuel explained everything the Lord had said to the people who were asking for a king. “This is how the king will rule over you,” Samuel said:

“He will take your sons and will use them for his chariots and his cavalry and as runners for his chariot. He will use them as his commanders of troops of one thousand and troops of fifty, or to do his plowing and his harvesting, or to make his weapons or parts for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, or bakers. He will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves and give them to his servants. He will give one-tenth of your grain and your vineyards to his officials and servants. He will take your male and female servants, along with the best of your cattle and donkeys, and make them do his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and then you yourselves will become his slaves! When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you chose for yourselves, but on that day the Lord won’t answer you.”

But the people refused to listen to Samuel and said, “No! There must be a king over us so we can be like all the other nations. Our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles.”

Samuel listened to everything the people said and repeated it directly to the Lord. Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Comply with their request. Give them a king.”

Samuel then told the Israelite people, “Go back, each of you, to your own hometown.” (Common English Bible)

“No one but a fool would measure their satisfaction by what the world thinks of it.”

Oliver Goldsmith

In the days of the prophet Samuel, the people asked for a king. They had never had one before. Samuel, and others before him, served as Judges, leading the people in special times and acting as intercessors between the people and God. 

Samuel was quite displeased that the people asked for a king. Ever the wise and discerning leader, Samuel understood there were two realities behind such a request:

  1. Israel wanted to be just like all the other nations in having a king.
  2. Israel was rejecting God as their rightful king.

The ancient Israelites wanted from an earthly king what God was really supposed to do for them. Whereas an earthly mortal king can only rule partially and temporarily, the eternal sovereign God reigns supreme over everyone and everything. 

It is impossible for an earthly king to provide the totality of everyone’s needs within a geographical realm. Yet, even in this present day and age, all kinds of people still look to earthly politicians, pundits, presidents, prognosticators, pastors, and/or people in charge to meet their every need. That’s likely why so many people get upset and have strong visceral reactions to politics and the church – far too many of them expect a human authority figure to do for them what God is supposed to do. 

No other human being can fight your battles for you. No other person can do your relational and spiritual work for you. We must all take charge of our own lives and be responsible to develop and cultivate spiritual and relational practices which connect us with the God who is in charge of the universe. 

We can then ask God for what we need and want according to divine purposes, and not ask for what everyone else has that we don’t. God ended up giving Israel a king, even when it was not the best of ideas on their part. 

Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

All-wise God, I look to you for the discernment to even know what I ought to be asking for in prayer. Guide me into truth and grace so that in everything I will make wise decisions that reflect your sovereignty over the church and the world. In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

**Above art comes from the Morgan Picture Bible, c.1250. The aging Samuel is approached by four elders representing the people of Israel who ask him to anoint a King so that Israel will be powerful like other nations. Samuel warns them of the dangers a king would pose to the liberties of the Israelite people.

Mark 10:42-45 – True Leadership

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (New International Version)

Leadership as Service

I remember a time when all politicians, government officials, and police were known as “public servants.” It was routinely assumed that such persons served the common good of all persons, regardless of who they are. I am also not delusional about the fact that, back in the day, just as today, there are those who served themselves first. However, at least, the ideal and vision of service was continually before the people.

Power is to be wielded for the benefit of the powerless. Authority is to be used to help those who cannot help themselves. Contemporary understandings of authority for many people today often do not have the common good as their guiding principles of leadership.

Misuse of Leadership

Rather, authority becomes the means of convincing others of the leader’s opinion or position. Power is used to influence, even arm-twist people toward the leader’s ideas. What’s more, those who enabled the leader to come to power expect that leader to use authority to benefit a particular agenda and only one slice of the human population. Lost is the vision of meeting needs for everyone, not just a certain constituency.

The ultimate use of power is to share it, even lay it down. Jesus did it in his incarnation, life, and death. He only took it up again after his mission was finished. We are to follow his cues on power and authority. We have opportunities galore to follow Christ in his leadership practice. For example, I once lived in a community with a large single parent family population. After talking with the elders of my church about this situation, they became excited about the prospects of reaching moms and children struggling to make it day to day.

The discussion did a hard turn of direction when I suggested we have some of those moms come in, sit around the table with us, and dictate what would constitute effective ministry which meets their needs. I was intentionally proposing that we, as church authority figures, share our power with the moms. The elders weren’t having it. One of them said outright, “Well, we can’t do that! We know better!” (than the moms do)

Whenever those in power and authority believe it is their mandate to make decisions without even having conversations with those whom those decisions effect, then they have become masters of small worlds, lords of folly, and ideational bullies. It is not the way of Jesus.

Appropriate Use of Leadership

Proper use of authority doesn’t mean we boss people around. It means we do what we need to do to help everyone in our scope of power. Taking charge must always begin with self. The self-control and self-discipline of the leader is the basis of leadership.

The heart of Christianity is loving service to one another as Christians, and humble service to a world which doesn’t believe, or act like us. Christian leaders are to focus on others’ well-being, success, and growth. They are to value character over career.

Christian disciples follow Jesus in the use of power and authority through:

  • Taking a humble posture of consulting and collaborating with others. And when decisions are made, they maintain relational connections.
  • Including others, and never vilifying or casting blame when stating a case for something.
  • Dealing with trouble and working to clear a toxic environment of noxious attitudes.
  • Directly confronting those they have an issue with, without creating destructive triangles to diffuse responsibility.
  • Encouraging a healthy dynamic of love and service which seeks listening before acting.

Leadership is more about being than about doing. Responsible use of authority comes from the person who understands themselves, is curious about others, and seeks to wisely apply Christ’s compassion to meet human need.

The Leadership of Jesus

Jesus healed people and delivered them from evil, sometimes at great risk to himself. He continually eschewed the perks of power to single-mindedly pursue the Father’s will. Even in his selection of disciples, Jesus purposely overlooked others to choose a rather motley band of men made up of uneducated country bumpkins, the poor, and the overzealous.

The Lord Jesus proclaimed a kingdom that belongs to children, using power to drive out demons and forgive sins. Christ delegated his authority to the disciples to do this same sort of work.

Jesus isn’t offering leadership theories; he is offering himself. Christ is our model of the appropriate use of power. Therefore, humbling ourselves must become our ambition! Our Lord, the ultimate authority above all authorities, humbled himself. Though being powerfully divine, he took the form of a servant, and became obedient to death, even the particularly shameful death on a cross—the ultimate humiliation. Yet God exalted Jesus Christ as Lord of the universe. (Phil 2:5-11)

Will you divest yourself of the pride in believing you know what is best for everyone around you? Will you cease speaking and start listening? Will you follow Jesus to the risky place of sharing power and authority with the powerless?

God, I am far too often influenced by what others think of me. I am always pretending to be either richer or smarter or nicer than I really am. Please prevent me from trying to attract attention. Don’t let me gloat over praise on one hand or be discouraged by criticism on the other. Nor let me waste time weaving imaginary situations in which the most heroic, charming, witty person present is myself. Show me how to be humble of heart, like you. Amen.