You have power. How will you use it?

Stephen Um | April 17th 2018

How do you use your power?

Most of us don’t realize the power that we have. And most of us don’t notice when we use it to serve ourselves, or protect ourselves (that includes church leaders). But we do do it. For instance, as we have conversations at work, most of us calibrate our co-workers’ value and worth relative to the specific context; if we sense that they have little more rank and influence and favor than us in that context, then we often engage in a power play to come out top. Equally if we sense that they have greater power, then we will treat them differently than someone who has no power, as we want to enjoy the patronage of that power. Add to that the dynamics of class, rank, gender, age, and race, and a complex dynamic arises in which it is easy for a power play to take place without us even really noticing we are doing it.

Most of us will have encountered someone who was condescending because of our younger age or lack of experience or perhaps because of our particular race, culture, or gender. Many of us have been perpetrators as well victims of such misuses of power. In what subtle ways might you be like that?

There is a chapter hidden away in the middle of the book by the minor prophet Micah that gives us a way to navigate these things.

Reimagining power 

Micah 3 calls out the misuse of power that is self-serving and corrupting: it speaks of rulers who “hate the good and love the evil” (3:1); of prophets who say what those who pay for their ministry want to hear “but declare war against him who puts nothing into their mouths” (v 5); and of leaders who “detest justice and make crooked all that is straight.” But Micah himself is “filled with power” (v 8) and uses it to pursue justice and declare truth (even deeply unpopular truth). In other words, Micah teaches us to be wary of power, but then instead of dismissing it to ask the question: how do we reimagine the use of power so that it leads to human flourishing—so that we can use it to help those people who are under-privileged?

Here are a few aspects of the proper use of power:

  1. It exposes falsehood, even in our own lives.

  2. It seeks the good of others—it is willing to embrace personal sacrifice so that others might gain and refuses to sacrifice others for personal gain.

  3. It leads to flourishing and restoration.

These were all evident in Micah’s use of power. Micah is different than Jonah—he uses his Spirit-given power to preach truth and warn of God’s anger, and he mourns over the coming judgment (1:8-9), rather than, as Jonah did, over the judgment not coming. Jonah hints negatively, and Micah hints positively, at what Jesus makes clear—that the only thing that transforms power is love.

Only when we consider ourselves steward leaders will we be able to be bold and humble at the same time.

Power and love

Look at the way parents relate to their infant. They have an incredible amount of power to do good or bad to their child. The infant is utterly dependent upon the parent and at the mercy of how they use their power. Yet most parents learn to use their power in a way that helps their child. That’s the only way that power will be transformed. Only love transforms power.

We are meant to look away from and beyond Micah, to the greatest prophet—to Jesus, who, though he was the victim of flagrant abuse of power by both the religious and political leaders of his day, nevertheless properly used his power for the good of others and absorbed the judgment of God in their stead. Compare Jesus with what Micah says of the leaders in 3:9-10: “Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who detest justice and make crooked all that is straight, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity.” Jesus built Zion and Jerusalem too, but not with the blood of others; he built with his own blood. He used his power in love.

So the right use of power becomes possible because of him, as we follow him, the only One who had all the power and yet used his power only for his people. When Jesus lived on earth, and supremely when he died on the cross, he didn’t lose his power, but he did give up his privilege. He could have left the cross, yet he chose to stay on it.

Neither timid nor abrasive

What does it look like for us to use our power—however great or small it may be—like this? We are called, whenever we are called to any leadership, to be steward leaders. That’s what God’s people are called to do. Only when we consider ourselves steward leaders will we be able to be bold and humble at the same time. If we only emphasize the stewardship, we just try to be humble and aren’t able to lead. If we only emphasize the leadership part, then we get too bold and become abrasive. Only when we understand the gospel of what Jesus has done—how he gave up the privilege of his power, how he used power properly in order to benefit us—are we able to live as steward leaders.

Think about it this week in your work context, in your living situation, in your neighborhood, and in your relationships with family and friends. We have all sorts of power and privilege. Don’t misuse it, but equally don’t fail to use it at all. What will it look like to let the gospel inform and shape the way you understand it?


This extract is taken from Micah For You by Stephen Um, which is available to buy now

Stephen Um

Stephen Um (PhD, University of St. Andrews) is the Senior Minister of Citylife Church in Boston, Massachusetts. He also teaches New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and serves as Associate Training Director with Redeemer City to City. For the past 18 years, Stephen and his wife, Kathleen, have been involved in several Presbyterian churches throughout the Northeastern part of the country. He is the author of Why Cities Matter (Crossway). Stephen also serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition.

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