Luke speaks of three ways the devil tempts Jesus. The devil first suggests that Jesus might best prove himself to be God’s Messiah, and fulfill the meaning of life for humans, by making us happy. Instead, Jesus puts God’s truth over any comfort and convenience (4:1-4).
The devil then tempts Jesus to do the most good by establishing a world government under his personal control and then simultaneously setting all things right everywhere (4:5-8). Oddly enough, Jesus points out that pursuing power—the ability to control—would involve loyalty to a spirit contrary to God’s.
During his public ministry, Jesus contrasts his difficult path of freedom with the world’s wildly popular highway of power in many ways. He says he has not come to be served but to serve. He acknowledges that the people of this world lord their authority over one another but that this is not his way or ours when we walk with him. He criticizes the apostles for debating among themselves which one is greatest. He teaches them not to smite enemies but to love them. He criticizes the spirit of James and John when they want to call fire down on a village for failing to offer hospitality. Jesus even remains wholly unimpressed with the authority of religious and political leaders as he answers their questions with silence or comments like “so you say.”
Christians often say, “God is in control.” That’s not quite right. We might speak with greater truth if we say that God is sovereign. Sovereign means that God is free in relation to all else. There is no one and nothing that can constrain him to act contrary to his nature.
At the same time, God is love. Unlike us, God never acts contrary to his nature. While God acts freely toward us with all sovereignty, he does allow us to walk away from him if we so choose. We can withstand God’s love. We can do evil because God does not control us, even if there is no evil that God cannot bring goodness out of because he remains sovereign.
If we exercise authority at home, school, work, church, or elsewhere, our privilege as witnesses to Jesus is to commit ourselves to loving—nurturing and protecting—those in relation to whom we exercise it. This stands in sharp contrast to being bossy. It means we seek relationships which are cooperative based on function rather than controlling based on differences in rank. We also seek to avoid concentrations of power, even in our own hands, knowing that power acts as a spiritual intoxicant and it takes so little of it to get us fragile humans drunk.
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