The old saying is, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I’ve been thinking on that, especially after showing our youth group a video on the history of the English Bible. The truth of the matter is that the history of the Church is filled with examples of folks acting completely contrary to the teachings of Christ. Those in power within the Church used methods like enforcing ignorance and hiding the truth to hold on to that power. And that was some of the “mild” stuff they did. You can find many, many examples of these same folks conspiring with feudal lords to declare those who were challenges to their power as heretics and having the feudal lords “act on behalf of the Church” to prosecute and punish them (in other words, execution). They weren’t heretics at all. In more than a few cases the reason they were challenging the power base is they were revealing the corruption within it and exposing the ungodly actions of supposedly godly men.
I’m sure in more than a few cases some of those men started out looking to dedicate their lives to God’s service. I’m not so naive as to believe this is true in every case. There are repeated examples of folks using the cover of religion and faith for their own personal gain and this was their intent from the start. But for those who started out with the noblest of purposes, what happened? What led them astray? Was it power? It most certainly could have been. Once you get a taste of power, you want to hold on to it. That’s a fleshly desire. So it’s no wonder that we’ve got the following command from our Savior:
They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
– Mark 9:33-35, NIV
Jesus knew what they were arguing about. They were arguing about position. They were arguing about power. And they knew they had been called on it, so they were quiet. No one wanted to confess to what the argument was about. And that’s why Jesus told them point blank, “You want to be the greatest? Then you must be the least. You want to be first? Then you must be last.”
This message wasn’t just to His disciples of old. It’s a truth that holds today. He’s calling us to be servants of all. That’s a hard teaching. That’s a hard thing to follow. He didn’t say “… in general.” He didn’t even say, “… most of the time.” He said, “… to all.” And He didn’t say, “… towards the back…” He said, “… the very last…” That’s what our attitude is supposed to be as Christians. Did you feel as small as I do right now?
But if that is our attitude, if we are looking to be a servant of all, then power has no ability to corrupt us. The reason is because we’ve rejected power as a goal or as a prize or as an idol/god. We may be in leadership positions, but we should be there to serve. Our deepest desires should be to glorify God and help others as He calls us to serve. As soon as we forget that or let that slip from our focus, we’re in the power game. And we’re not supposed to be. Jesus knew how damaging power was and is. He knew how it could affect even the strongest of His disciples. And He told us to let it go. He had come to serve. He had come to love. He had come to be a sacrifice for all. He set aside power, true power, mind you. And He was calling upon His Twelve to do the same. He calls upon us to follow in His footsteps today. He calls us to look and desire and pursue being a servant of all. Yes, it’s hard. It means total surrender, but that’s what He wants anyway. And as hard as it may be, think about how each of us individually might affect the world if we seek to be a servant of all. And think about what that total impact would be if Christians everywhere embraced it. Let’s serve as our Savior did.