(…continued) When you want to get someone to do what you want them to do, you can try and find ways to get power over them. But that is not the only way. You can also use ‘authority.’ There is a difference between power and authority. Those words can be defined in different ways, but this is how I will use them: by power, I mean the ability to FORCE someone to do something; and by authority, I mean the ability to INSPIRE someone to WANT to do something.
You can see this in any relationship where one person is in a position of power or authority over another. Teachers have power over students– power to discipline, power to give grades, and power to fail the student. For some teacher-student relationships, power is the only thing that will work. For some teachers it is only about power; and, some students will respond only to power, doing only what they are forced to do to get through the class. But it can work better than that. It is a two-way street, and when a student wants to learn, and the teacher is able to inspire in that student a love for what is being taught, then that teacher has authority, and the student will respond by wanting to learn for the love of learning, and not just to get the grade.
In the military chain of command, officers have complete power over those under them, and there are severe penalties for disobedience. Power must be obeyed, whether or not the officer is admired or respected. But many officers have not only power over their troops, but also this authority. These leaders are also admired and respected. Soldiers serving under an officer with that kind of authority will often perform ‘above and beyond the call of duty.’ They are inspired to want to do even more than they are required to do.
Jesus was a teacher and a leader, so think about how Jesus influenced people. The Bible describes his power over nature, but you never see him exerting raw power over people to force them to do his will. He had no earthly position of power. He held no official position or rank. He was simply a wandering preacher who invited people to follow him– and they did follow him. Not only the 12 disciples, but thousands followed him around the countryside, just to be with him and hear his words. Why? The people were amazed by his miracles, but also, time after time, the Bible says the people marveled at his words, because he spoke ‘as one who had authority.’ Authority. People were inspired to follow Jesus. Even Pilate, the Roman governor who had the most power of anyone in the whole country, even he was affected, not by any power Jesus had over him; but by this personal authority of Jesus– and it moved Pilate to try and have Jesus released.
On one level, Tony Campolo’s principle is true. In many relationships, on the surface anyway, the one who loves the least has the most power. That can be true if all someone is after is power over another person. But on a deeper and better level, it is not power that matters the most, it is authority, this ability to inspire people to want to do the right thing. In Matthew 28 it says that all authority was given unto Jesus, and that authority has inspired millions to follow him, even unto death.
There is one more aspect to this story of Jesus and his influence, and that is that God’s miraculous presence also entered in. Philippians 2:5-11 describes how Jesus gave up the power he had, and then in the end was granted all power. Verse five says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing.” Having given up his divine power, Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Then from the position of a servant with no power, Jesus worked to influence people. Yes, Jesus performed miracles, but first he would pray to God in heaven for the power to do the miracle. Jesus had given up his power and became a man. Verse eight: “and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” Jesus, God in human form, submitted himself to the wicked power of mere humans, even allowing himself to be executed. But then, after the enemies of Jesus had done their worst and Jesus was dead, God the Father entered in and raised Jesus from the dead. Verse nine: “Therefore, God exalted Jesus to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
This is the background to the events of Holy Week. On that first Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem as a hero, honored not because people were ordered to be there, but by people spontaneously responding in love and respect and admiration to this man who spoke with such authority. “Hosanna in the Highest,” they said, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Later in the week, Jesus would be crushed by the raw power and wickedness of those who opposed him; and Jesus would not call on any power from above to stop it. Even on the cross he was ridiculed for this lack of power. The people mocked him saying, “He saved others, why can’t he save himself?” Jesus did not save himself, but as the Philippians passage says, he was obedient even unto death. But then, he was exalted, and that is Easter message of the resurrection, the event and the promise that has changed everything.
Matthew 7:28 — When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
Philippians 2:1-11 — If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Blessed Jesus, who is ever teaching us by your holy example that we are not living for ourselves alone: Help us to find the joy and fullness of right living in the serving of you by serving others. May we help those in need with acts of kindness and mercy, and, may we be given opportunities to bring you those who do not yet know you. Amen.
—United Lutheran Church Hymnal, 1917