Discipling the Powerful
Many times we interchange the words authority and power. There is a difference between power and authority. Power is the ability to act or produce an effect; and authority is the power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior; I refers to persons in command. POWER implies possession of ability to wield force, permissive authority, or substantial influence; for example: the power to mold public opinion. AUTHORITY implies the granting of power for a specific purpose within specified limits; for example: “gave her attorney the authority to manage her estate.” Typically an action is powerful. A person is powerful when acting. A person in command has authority. They may have power at their disposal to assert or enforce their authority.
What the lesson is talking about is discipling people in command or in positions of authority. These are people who make decisions that affect others and can actually tell others what to do or not do. Often they are not available to the masses. Nevertheless, Christ died for them, too.
Last week we noticed that the title of weekly lesson gave the sad and mistaken impression that the rich and famous were not disciplable. This week’s lesson seems to qualify that impression. Many rich and famous are in position of authority. Of course, we proved last week that rich and famous are disciplable. The lesson gave several examples of many who converted to Christianity. It is the same with those in positions of authority. It is harder to reach them, largely because they have benefited from the system that have given them the authority. The issue is: how can they be disicpled? Let’s review some examples – the ones given in the lesson – to see how it what we can learn.
Daniel and the three Hebrews with Nebuchadnezzar
The context of why Daniel and his three friends were in Babylon is the frame that connects the story in Daniel 1 with the last years of Judah's existence, beginning with the great repentance, revival and reformation of King Josiah, based on the book of the law and the sanctuary service. There are vital lessons here that we must learn as end-time witnesses, to have an "excellent spirit" (Dan. 5:13; 6:3; compare Prov. 17:27) in the midst of Babylon and beyond. The assurance the stories from Daniel's time gives us, is that God can use us to reach the powerful in Babylon with the message of the everlasting kingdom whose trademark is humility, whose King is the creator, and whose way is in the sanctuary (Psa. 77:13).
Jesus and the Jewish leaders
Jesus early learned His higher identity (Luke 2:49), which was affirmed at the beginning of His public ministry (Matt. 3:17). That gave Him a higher commission that no earthly religious or civil leader in power could control or supersede. While His mission was on a collision course with their power, it was mostly because the power of heaven is more effective, through its humility and spirit of giving, in gaining a deep and lasting allegiance, which likewise lifted one above the negative control of earthly powers. At the same time, Jesus showed that the spirit of heaven, in its unselfishness, shows respect to those in power, calling them also to join the higher allegiance. Thus Jesus would affirm the position of religious leaders, indeed, had to affirm that authority, before unmasking their spiritual poverty (Matt. 23:2, 3). This was necessary, otherwise He would have fomented rebellion, which is opposite of the spirit of heaven. Lucifer was expelled because of that spirit.
Jesus and the Romans
Jesus' unselfish authority, manifested through the power of His word in healing and teaching, reached out to a Roman military leader, a man thoroughly acquainted with Roman authority, and kindled a responsive, humble faith in his heart. Jesus' commendation of that faith contrasted it with the unbelief of His own people (even His disciples; Matt. 8:10; compare 8:26).
Jesus affirmed Caesar's rights, but made them separate (and by implication, subservient) to God's (Matt. 12:17). When Pilate tried to impress Jesus with his authority, Jesus replied to him with respect, but clearly witnessing to the higher authority. "Thou couldest have no power [authority] at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin." (John 19:11). Jesus was not ignorant of the Roman system or its principles, but His approach in winning disciples was based not on attacking error but witnessing to the truth. This is vitally important in reaching the powerful.
"The government under which Jesus lived was corrupt and oppressive; on every hand were crying abuses,--extortion, intolerance, and grinding cruelty. Yet the Saviour attempted no civil reforms. He attacked no national abuses, nor condemned the national enemies. He did not interfere with the authority or administration of those in power. He who was our example kept aloof from earthly governments. Not because He was indifferent to the woes of men, but because the remedy did not lie in merely human and external measures. To be efficient, the cure must reach men individually, and must regenerate the heart." (Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, p. 509.3; emphasis supplied)
The Disciples and Jewish leaders
An error in discipling powerful people is seeking their cooperation in God's work when they have no understanding or experience in the principles of His kingdom. The disciples learned this painful lesson through Judas' course.
"The disciples had been much disappointed that Jesus had not tried to secure the co-operation of the leaders in Israel. They felt that it was a mistake not to strengthen His cause by securing the support of these influential men. If He had repulsed Judas, they would, in their own minds, have questioned the wisdom of their Master. The after history of Judas would show them the danger of allowing any worldly consideration to have weight in deciding the fitness of men for the work of God. The co-operation of such men as the disciples were anxious to secure would have betrayed the work into the hands of its worst enemies." (Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, p. 294.2)
Jesus avoided this error, as well as that of exposing Himself to "useless conflict" with those in power (Ibid, p. 450.1). While He would avoid conflict if at all possible, He was ever open to the individual seeker, even "a master of Israel." (John 3:11).
The Disciples and the Romans
Peter had a special vision to prepare him to treat another Roman centurion with the openness and respect that Jesus showed to the earlier centurion. He testified to the corporate nature of the gospel message (Acts 10:28, 34, 35), though he still struggled at times with the prejudice that is a direct attack on the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:11-14).
Saul of Tarsus went from a powerful persecutor to Paul the apostle who shared before many people of power the testimony of his learning the higher power of the gospel in his encounter with Jesus. He wrote to the believers in Rome of the importance of respecting authority, framing the godly attitude with the verb "be subject unto" (Rom. 13:1) which was first used in the New Testament for Jesus' relating to His parents. It means "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden" (Thayer). Can we help carry the burdens of the powerful? In this passage Paul then used the same verb "render" that Jesus did of Caesar (Rom. 13:7). Paul lived his own advice, with his personal testimony in Rome winning some of Caesar's own household (Phil. 4:22), and even making the last appeal Nero would experience (Ellen White, Acts of the Apostles, p. 496.1&2). God's witness reaches the highest levels of earthly power.
The lesson should be clear. "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much." (Luke 16:10). The preparation for witnessing to, and discipling, the powerful, is effectively ministering to the weak and lowly. For the words of Mordecai to Esther applies to you, dear reader. "Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14). The powerful are awaiting your witness.