Watch the evening news tonight. I guarantee you’ll see a story that exposes the work of the counterfeit god of power. You might learn about greedy investors bilking clients out of retirement funds, ambitious politicians using a tragedy for their advantage, or top executives raking in millions after laying off thousands.
Lord Acton is credited with saying, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” This seems to be true.
The idolatrous pursuit of the counterfeit god of power doesn’t limit its influence to the spheres of politics and business, although politicians and businesspeople have been worshiping at the altar of power for millennia. Every human being has the sinful tendency to strive for the upper hand, to acquire and exert power by any means necessary in virtually every realm of life:
“If you really loved me you would …”
“You’ll obey me because I’m your dad and I told you to!”
“I’m influential. Just look at my huge house, exotic car, and expensive clothing.”
“You don’t have the guts to follow through because you are too afraid of being alone.”
“What God really wants for you is [something not stated in the Bible].”
As a parent, a spouse, an employee, a neighbor, or a friend, have you ever said anything like that? If so, you may be bowing at the altar of power.
Power is about position and authority, but it’s not only about these things. Those who worship the counterfeit god of power can be ordinary people like you and me, people who attempt to coerce, control, or manipulate for the sake of self-aggrandizement, to compensate for insecurities, to advance an agenda, to win in relationships, or because they like to see others squirm and cower. An angry man keeps his wife and children in a state of fear. A controlling boss micro-manages her employees. An insecure friend shades the truth to manipulate people’s affections. Stressed out parents threaten to ground their kids if they don’t sit up straight and behave.
Power is alluring. However, like all other counterfeit gods, it makes promises it can never keep. As believers we must reject the pursuit of power and learn to live with others—especially our brothers and sisters in Christ—for the power and glory of the kingdom of God. So, how do kingdom people who have given up power plays and manipulation treat one another? We obey the golden rule: “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). When we’ve given up worshiping at the altar of power, then we can truly love one another.
Remember the quote I shared above? “Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” I reject it. It is untrue.
Does absolute power corrupt absolutely?
No! “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God” (John 13:3). Jesus had absolute power, all authority in heaven and on earth. If anyone had the right to lord it over others, it was Jesus. But, John tells us that it is precisely because of, not in spite of, his absolute power that Jesus, “got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:4-5). The most powerful man in history used His unlimited power to serve in the most demeaning fashion. Then, a few hours later, He served us most significantly by going to the cross. Our powerful Savior uses his power to serve!
Are all great men bad?
Absolutely not! The Greatest Man in history is holy, pure, humble, and good. And, because Jesus took on His shoulders the worst that the most powerful players in the world could heap on him, because He suffered and died on our behalf, He made it possible for us to be truly good. Great men and women who have been redeemed by God can be—and frequently are—truly wonderful people and they accomplish amazing things in Jesus’ name and for His glory. The greatest people use their power to serve God and His people.
How should Christians use power?
Jesus shows us the way. If we want to truly live for Him, we use whatever power we have been given—regardless of if it is a lot or a little—to serve others in love.
This is how Jesus explained it to his disciples:
You know that the 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 your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28, emphasis added)
According to Jesus, people will continue to worship at the altar of the counterfeit god of power. But not us. Because we worship Him and follow His example, we use our power to do good, to help, to build up, and to love. If we want to be truly great without bowing to the counterfeit god of power, we learn to serve.