One of the most subtle Poisons of the Pilgrim is power and position. Even in the church we often see people striving for, clutching at and even destroying one another for power and position. As humans we crave it, we admire it, we dream about it.

 

Clearly having power or position is not evil, and we all aspire to it. It gives us an amazing ability to change a situation, even to change the world. It is not wrong to be honoured with a position, or to have some sort of power, which can range from political or financial through to relationships.

With great power comes great responsibility. We are often happy to embrace the trappings of power and avoid any responsibility, but as President Harry Truman said, “the buck stops here.”

 

But it has been well said that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely! The power or position is not poison, it’s the temptation to abuse it and the way it can poison your life that is the real problem.

 

When you are a boss it is tempting to abuse your position, same for a church leader. In the home as a parent, you have a position… And many parents abuse their children.  Power corrupts, unless we handle it carefully!

 

Power left unchecked can easily destroy us, and the greater the power, the greater the tendency to abuse and destruction. Don’t believe me? Just look at history, the power and influence of great men, everybody from Caesar to Hitler, from Napoleon to Stalin… So powerful, so corrupt, all gone in an instant.

 

Loved? Admired? Feared? In the end it doesn’t matter, and all of them are deceived by the devil. Many Christians, even in our service for the Lord in church, find themselves afflicted by this poison.

 

So why do we love power and position so much?

 

THE POISON OF POWER AND POSITION

 

Speaking about politics, 16th century Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli insisted that compassion got in the way of eminence. If a leader has to choose between being feared or being loved, Machiavelli insisted that the leader should always go with fear. Love is overrated.

 

We all want the trappings of power, the respect, the admiration and the riches but not all of us are up for the responsibilities power and position require.

 

So what us the big attraction of power and position? What drives ordinary people to become Prime Ministers or Presidents, CEOs or even Pastors?

 

  1. FAME/RESPECT

 

People know you, they look up to you and they treat you special.  Folks go out of their way to honour you, and they curry favour with you.

 

  1. WEALTH

 

With position and power comes an increased ability to generate wealth. Frequently this is corrupt, as in Sepp Blatter and the entire FIFA hierarchy who are currently under investigation by the FBI.

 

  1. SERVICE

 

People long to serve you to be a part of your team. In church, many times being in charge of an area means people will do all the things you do not want to do.

 

  1. INFLUENCE

 

In power you have the chance to bring influence, to implement policies or changes, for good or for evil, for others or for yourself.

 

To examine the lure, the subtleties and the tragedy of the poison of power and position, I want to examine a specific story from the Bible

 

Judges 9:1-57, Abimelech, the illegitimate son of Gideon.

 

He was deeply infected by this poison. And wanted to be king at any cost (not unlike Hitler, Stalin, even several of our recent Prime Ministers.)

 

Abimelech wanted to control the key city of Shechem. Once Satan trapped Abimelech with the first strands of his lust for of power, He became enmeshed in a web of deceit and violence that brought about his ultimate destruction.

 

POWER PLAYS… POLITICKING WITH POISON

 

Judges 9:1–57

 

The story of Abimelech, the son of Gideon, is the story of a series of power plays carried out by Abimelech in his quest for authority over the city of Shechem.

 

This guy had no idea how tragic the consequences of the poison of power and position would be.  Here are some of the stages of the poison he went through…

 

  1. RATIONALISATION

 

Judges 9:2

“Say in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?’ Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.”

 

He rationalised he situation, conveniently ignoring his own selfish agenda. When people are infected with this poison, don’t expect it to be easy to pick. When they present their ideas, things may sound pretty reasonable, but underneath is a hidden agenda that could cause tragedy.

 

Hitler did not seize power, he was elected by the people. He seemed very rational at the time, a perfect leader to restore Germany’s fortunes.

 

  1. DISCORD

 

Judges 9:3

And his mother’s relatives spoke all these words on his behalf in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.”

 

The next step is planting the seeds of doubt about other people. People infected with this poison will often try to get around everybody, or send others the “spread the word” about how bad someone else is. They try and stir up dissent, usually in a way that says, “I’m not one to speak ill of others but…”

 

This has happened to me already in the church since I stepped up to be pastor. I bet at some stage it has also happened to you in the church, so we need to look at the fruit. If someone is spreading discord or stirring up trouble, chances are they are infected by the poison of power and position and not of God. If the fruit is not holiness and unity, keep away!

 

  1. DEBASEMENT

 

He elevated himself by devaluing others…

 

Judges 9:2

“Say in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?’ Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.”

 

Comparisons are never good. If the other guy is better than you, you feel depressed. If you are better than him, you are prideful. Many try to elevate your opinion of them by running someone else down… The tall poppy syndrome is alive and well!

 

  1. FACTIONALISM

 

Judges 9:4

And they gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the house of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him.

 

Factionalism occurs when you seek out others who will reinforce your plan, even if they are not people of repute. You keep working your way around until you find people sympathetic to your point of view, or maybe just anti your opponent, and then you organise these into a destabilising faction. In the church we call it a power base, and it is more common than you might think!

 

  1. POWER MONGERING

 

This is the poison at it absolute nastiest… You eliminate the opposition. That’s what Abimelech did…

 

Judges 9:5

And he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself.

 

Hitler did it in the night of the long knives. Stalin sent millions to the gulags, including almost all of the 1938 Party convention. I’m church you tend not to kill them, but you neutralise them out of the picture. You eliminate your rivals.

 

  1. RUTHLESS CRUELTY

 

Judges 9:45

And Abimelech fought against the city all that day. He captured the city and killed the people who were in it, and he razed the city and sowed it with salt.

 

Judges 9:49

So every one of the people cut down his bundle and following Abimelech put it against the stronghold, and they set the stronghold on fire over them, so that all the people of the Tower of Shechem also died, about 1,000 men and women.

 

This guy went on the warpath, in much the same way Stalin or Hitler did, and evil cruelty became the hallmark of his reign.

 

And that’s the seductive part of the poison of power and position…

 

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely!

 

Abimelech probably never realized his self-destructive tendencies. He never understood the truth that leadership means service. That true leaders defer their personal gain for the good of others. That they build up their power base as they serve in humility. They strive for unity and deal with others justly, mercifully and honorably.

 

Abimelech was willing to do whatever it would take to accomplish his goals and put himself in a place of power. Instead of rising to prominence, his life was marked by contention and bloodshed. His self-centered lust resulted in the destruction of his family and his own death in a manner he couldn’t possibly have envisioned, via a millstone being dropped on his head (see Jdg 9:51–54).

 

Perhaps Abimelech’s most important lesson to us is that the web of self-destruction can be cast with only a single strand: the lust for power and position. It was true then, and it is certainly true now!

 

THE PARABLE OF THE PLANTS

 

The only survivor of the Abimelech massacre then stood up and delivered a speech, the first parable in the Bible…

 

Judges 9:7-8

When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim and cried aloud and said to them, “Listen to me, you leaders of Shechem, that God may listen to you. The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’

 

The olive Tree, the fig tree and the vine all say they are busy producing fruit, but the bramble is available to lead. This highlights a valuable lesson for us too.

 

These plants take pride in their posts, in their service and the good that they provide.  Why abandon fruitfulness? In the end, only the thornbush takes the offer, because it is not producing fruit.

 

Be careful, the story instructs. In a desire to be great, one might cease being any good. That’s the poison right there, and the devil is happy to use it to destroy the good you might be able to do.

 

So here’s the thing… Not everyone is destined, nor should they be, for leadership.  Not every teacher is equipped to be a principal. Not every carpenter has the skill to head a crew. Not every musician should conduct an orchestra. Promotions might promote a person right out of his or her sweet spot. For the love of more, we might lose our purpose. (From Cure for the Common Life by Max Lucado)

 

 

SERVE WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED

 

Where has a God planted you, either at work, at home or in the church? Do you crave being higher up the food chain, better paid, better respected?  Nothing wrong with that, unless it starts to poison you, and your service where you are.

 

And here’s the thing… The fastest way to grow your ministry is by serving another ministry. I was a little known Christian musician traveling from country town to country town to play for 9 people and a dog. I longed to see my ministry flourish and the touch people around the world, but I had no money, and little opportunity.

 

I was asked to travel 7 hours each way to sing 5 songs at a Bill Newman rally, but that changed my life. God linked us up, and I started to minister for Bill. About a year later God clearly told me to give up my ministry and just serve Bill. That meant no posters with my name on them. Bill Newman and team, and I’m the team! I had to lay down my position and my ministry.

 

But since then I have ministered all over the world to hundreds of thousands of people. Tonight I fly to Sydney to lead worship for Billy Graham’s grandson Will. I’m not doing this, God is.

 

Psalms 127:1

Unless the Lord builds the house,

those who build it labor in vain.

Unless the Lord watches over the city,

the watchman stays awake in vain.

 

THE POISON OF POWER AND POSITION IN THE CHURCH

 

Like any other institution, the church has its share of power hungry individuals. We tend not to have murderous purges, but many think that because they are in a certain position of the church, they can demand whatever they like and orchestrate things to benefit themselves.

 

Rich men are at the top of the list. They give a lot to the church, and thus believe they have the right to control it. In Coast Church we have some generous and godly business people who give and do not crave power or position, and I believe God will bless them for this.

 

So how can you tell if you are infected with the poison of power and position?  Here’s a quick test…

 

THE TEST

 

  1. DO YOU ASK OTHERS TO DO WHAT YOU WOULD NOT DO YOURSELF?

 

Having a position is not about being able to order people around. If you wouldn’t do it yourself, can you really ask others to do it?

 

 

  1. WOULD YOU KEEP SERVING IF THERE WAS ZERO RECOGNITION?

 

This is an acid test for your attitude and motivation… Are you doing this out of pure motives, are you leading for the Lord, or for what others think of you? If no one saw what you did, would you still do it with all your heart?

 

  1. DO YOU RAISE OTHERS UP?

 

Some leaders, even some pastors, are so paranoid about their position the push down rather than raise up others, for fear that they might become better, more popular or more significant that they are! Raising others up is the hallmark of a great leader.

 

  1. DO YOU MICROMANAGE/CONTROL OTHERS?

 

True leaders trust the people they raise up. They don’t micromanage them, and they don’t control them. They give freedom within established boundaries, and they trust them to do a good job. They my offer tweaks, but they don’t control every aspect of other’’S ministries.

 

SUCCESS VS SIGNIFICANCE…

 

There is a difference between success and significance. You can have a position, you can have power, but are you really making a difference in the lives of others…

 

Ken Blanchard and S. Truett Cathy contrast the ideas of success and significance:

 

”The successful person has learned how to make money, but the significant person has learned how to give it away—how to be generous, to share the blessings of money with those who are in need or those who help meet a variety of social and humanitarian needs.

 

The successful person has achieved great things—sadly sometimes at the expense of others. He or she is proud of what has already been accomplished. The significant person understands that the greatest thing anyone can accomplish is to serve others and to help them achieve their goals.

 

Finally, successful people have attained a measure of status. Others look up to them and maybe even see them as role models. We often discover later that those who have become our role models let us down … In direct contrast, the significant person is one who values relationships. They become trusted friends and invaluable mentors, and they invest their time in others rather than in striving to build status.”

 

The question is, will you use your power and position in the family, the office or the church correctly, or corruptly?

 

THE ANTIDOTE TO THE POISON OF POWER AND POSITION

 

James and John were afflicted by this very poison in Mark 10…

 

Mark 10:35-37

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

 

In other words, we want the power and position of being your special ones. We want the top job.  Jesus promptly rebuked them, and went on to say this…

 

Mark 10:42-45

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

 

Serving with a humble heart is how this sinister poison is neutralised. In Coast Church, anyone in any position including myself needs to first be a servant. We need to think of others first. We need to wash someone else’s feet, not line our own pockets. We must accept full responsibility, and when we are criticised, we need to keep a humble, servant attitude.

 

The abuse of power and position is not an issue here in our church, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore this poison. It sneaks in as soon as we let our guard down, so be vigilant, and keep taking the antidote… Keep on serving!

 

If you have a desire in your heart to serve the Lord in this place, and many of you do, not for power or position but to serve Jesus, and the body of Christ, then come and let’s pray for you.

About Darin

Pastor Darin Browne is the Senior Pastor of Coast Church in Woombye, Queensland. He is an international speaker and worship leader and has toured all over the world, produced 8 albums and authored several books.