“(Not) The Politics of Power”
August 16, 2015
By John Partridge
Scripture: 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 Ephesians 5:15-20 John 6:51-58
Why would any reasonable person want to be the president of the United States?
President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Any man who wants to be president is either an egomaniac or crazy.” So what is it that drives so many people to run for president, especially knowing the meat grinder that you and your family will pass through at the hands of the media and the other candidates? Why would anyone subject themselves to that?
Certainly, the reasons every candidate has will be different. But while patriotism and service to country certainly should be among the driving factors, we have to at least suspect that fame, money, and power are almost certainly included as well. The salary for the President of the United States is $400,000 per year, but there are some pretty expensive perks that come with that. Some past presidents have made out quite well financially after being in our nation’s highest office, but others have nearly gone bankrupt from bad financial dealings. The candidates for the next election are all over the map financially. Donald Trump, of course is a billionaire with a net worth of $4.5 billion, Carly Fiorina is a former executive of a Fortune 500 company and is worth around $80 million, Hillary Clinton has $15 million (and Bill has another $38 million), and all the way down at the bottom are Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders who each have less than a half a million.
So is it money that attracts people to run for president or is it power, prestige, or something else?
These, after all, are the politics of power.
Whatever it is, it is interesting to compare those who lead us, whether it is those in government or those at the top of the corporate world, with the kind of leaders that God calls to lead his people. We begin, once again, by rejoining the story of the nation of Israel recorded in 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14, this marks the end of David’s life and the beginning of the rule of his son, Solomon.
10 Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David. 11 He had reigned forty years over Israel—seven years in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his rule was firmly established.
3 Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.
4 The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
6 Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.
7 “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” 15 Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream.
This short passage highlights the character and leadership of King Solomon more than just about any other passage of scripture. As Solomon becomes king, God gives Solomon the opportunity to write his own ticket and asks the “genie in a bottle” question. In no other place in scripture does God allow anyone to “Ask for whatever you want” and perhaps it is because that God knows that Solomon, alone, is the one man who is capable of accepting such a blessing. Because when Solomon is allowed to choose anything in the world, he does not choose wine, women, song, or pleasure. He does not choose money, or power, or prestige, or conquering armies, or fame, or anything else. Instead, Solomon reveals something about himself that we do not often see in people with great power. Solomon, instead of demonstrating greed, or lust, demonstrates humility.
Instead of asking for anything at all for himself, Solomon asks for wisdom so that he can lead well.
And scripture tells us that because Solomon had the humility to ask for something that would benefit his nation and his people instead of something for himself, God gives him all of those other things. Again, perhaps because Solomon alone is the one man who is capable of handling such a blessing.
So as we witness all of the grandstanding and listen to the daily soundbites on the news, it is fair for us to wonder, what is it that makes a good leader?
In Ephesians 5:15-20, Paul echoes the lessons of Solomon but he adds something to our discussion.
15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, for Paul, wisdom is a major component of good leadership but in Paul’s mind, wisdom is inseparable from faithfulness to God. Paul calls all of us to be filled with the Spirit of God, to be hearers of God’s word, worshippers of God, and to give thanks to God for everything.
Finally, let us look at the example of Jesus. What characteristics of leadership does Jesus bring to the table? What does the leadership of Jesus tell us about what we ought to be looking for in our earthly leaders, and finally, what characteristics should we be growing in ourselves?
Jesus said (John 6:51-58),
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
Jesus was the King of the Universe but his approach to leadership is not power, or authority, or wealth, or fame, but instead, as the king of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus steps down from his throne, descends to earth, gives up everything he has, is born into a poor family from the middle of nowhere, and gives his life as a sacrifice so that human beings can be rescued from sin and death.
The life of Jesus tells us that real leaders serve.
And one of the highest marks of leadership, God’s way, is sacrifice.
And so as we listen to the sound bites of another political election season we will hear a great many promises. Some will seek leadership because they feel the need to be in front and be the center of attention. Others will be lured by power and authority, some by acclaim, fame, and name recognition, and still others by money. In the political world, these men and women will attempt to convince us that they are qualified because they have already had great power, great wealth, or great experience. That is, after all, normal in the politics of power.
But in the end, scripture teaches us to look for something deeper than motivations of the flesh, these desires, lusts, and greed of our humanity. Instead we are called to look for an altogether different set of qualifications. Instead of business as usual, or politics as usual, instead of looking for the things that the newspapers and the television and Internet soundbites focus on everyday, let us look instead to those far more unusual qualifications. Let us look for men and women, real leaders, who have the heart of God, who lead with humility, wisdom, discernment, service to others, faithfulness, and sacrifice.
Too many people seek to run for president and other offices, political and otherwise, because of what they can gain but that doesn’t make them leaders.
Real leaders lead, because of what they can gain, but because of what they can give.
And that is not the normal politics of power.
May we, as God’s people, be people who seek to serve others, and care for the needs of others, before we seek to satisfy our own desires.