“Don’t let anybody push you around!” I had just gotten into my very first fist fight, and I lost! It was humiliating. So, after this guy punched me in the nose I went to the principal’s office to complain about this bully. The principal was very understanding and helped me, but then he gave me the advice I quoted about, and now, after living over 6 decades on earth, I’m convinced he’s wrong!
Ok, maybe not completely wrong, but, at the very least, I’ve learned that “fighting back” doesn’t have to mean violence. Sometimes, the best way to “fight back” is to be “weak” in the eyes of your attacker.
I’m convinced our societal struggle with concepts of power and “justice” flow from our terribly confused ideas about authority. We almost always equate Authority with Power, and we are almost always wrong about that.
Look at our lesson today in 2 Corinthians 10:7-18:
Brethren, if any one is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that as he is Christ’s, so are we. For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I shall not be put to shame. I would not seem to be frightening you with letters. For they say,”His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” Let such people understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present. Not that we venture to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. But we will not boast beyond limit, but will keep to the limits God has apportioned us, to reach even to you. For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you; we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. We do not boast beyond limit, in other men’s labors; but our hope is that you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s field. “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.” For it is not the man who commends himself that is accepted, but the man whom the Lord commends.
A little background: This is likely St. Paul’s second or even third time writing the Church in Corinth about the chaos that seems to have become the norm in this Church community. There were even folks in the Corinth Church that were making fun of St. Paul by saying “He’s all bold and pushy in his letters, but when he’s here in person, he’s meek and mild.” It was their way of hurting Paul’s credibility as the bishop of the community.
So St. Paul sets the record straight to this troubled parish.
He tells them that Authority isn’t the same as Power. And he does this by explaining the WHY behind Authority in the first place – Service! Paul tells them and us that God gave him Authority “for building you up and not for destroying you.” The whole purpose of leadership Authority in the Body of Christ is to serve to strengthen, not destroy. That’s how we should always gauge the exercise of Authority in the Church. Does it build up or does it destroy? In fact, we can discern all exercise of Authority by that measure. Anytime you see the exercise of Authority creating destruction and chaos, start looking for the spot it changed into the mere exercise of power.
He goes on to tell them and us that true Authority motivated by service doesn’t boast about having power over you, but focuses you on being like Jesus Christ, because that’s how He exercised Authority before His crucifixion. Jesus constantly reminded everyone that He wasn’t saying anything on His own, but everything the Father wanted Him to say. True exercise of Authority makes us more aware and attentive to Jesus Christ rather than focus on the one who is in Authority. If all you see is “the boss” then chances are it isn’t healthy Authority.
So, today, are you confusing someone who has Power with someone who has Authority? It’s time to stop this gross misunderstanding of authentic Authority and start living out the radical message of Orthodox Christianity that power isn’t the point. Service makes the Authority Orthodox on Purpose.