Power and Abuse: How to Identify the Abuse of Power
UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.
Ephesians 6:9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
Power (and even control) is not evil in itself. God is omnipotent. He possesses all power so that whatever power we see in this world owes its origin to Him. He holds all things together by the word of His power (Heb 1:3). It is by His power that we are raised in Christ and made alive and it is this power that enables the King of kings to destroy all that opposes Him. His Word is accompanied by His power so that it is alive and works within us. So we must be thankful for power and not reject it as some kind of “dirty word” due to its abuse by evil men.
Abusers abuse because they abuse power, and they do so for control. God cannot abuse His power. He need not fight to gain control over anything because in His omnipotence He always has complete control over the smallest molecule in creation. No rebel in all of history has ever succeeded in escaping the control of God. This is why God laughs over all such attempts:
Psalms 2:1-4 Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? (2) The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, (3) “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” (4) He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.
When power is abused, the abuser fails to acknowledge that any power he possesses is delegated by and originates in the Lord. Authority and power never originate in creatures, so that no man can say “I am entitled to power and control” simply by virtue of who they are. No, all power and all authority is from and of the Lord and it is only given so that it might be used for the glory of God and the good of human beings. Abusers deny all of this and see themselves as gods.
As I read the verse quoted above (Ephesians 6:9) I was impressed with that word “threatening.” God requires masters of slaves (slavery having been widespread in New Testament times) to exercise the authority and power they have been given over slaves in a righteous manner. While “threatening” is, once again, not absolutely evil in itself (because God certainly threatens the wicked quite often in Scripture), it is not to characterize the master’s authority over his slaves. He is not to “lord it over” those under his power and he is to remember that one day the ground will be very level when Christ comes to hold all accountable.
But what impressed me in particular about this idea of power and “threatening” is that this verse appears in the context of other relationships: fathers and children, husbands and wives. And surely the instruction given to masters of slaves must also apply to fathers and to husbands — to those with power in other words. They are not to abuse this power. They must not be characterized by threatening. And therefore I would suggest that herein we find a tool for identifying the abuse of power. Is it characterized by threatening?
I think that we must understand that this “threatening” that is to be rejected by all who possess power is of a particular nature. Parents, for example. threaten their children, right? “Jimmy, I have asked you to clean up your room twice now. If you don’t obey, then there are going to be consequences.” Certainly there is nothing wrong with that kind of threatening. Or the master of a slave, in times past, could let a lazy slave know that continued laziness was not going to be tolerated and would have consequences. So what then is this “threatening” that Paul prohibits those in power from using? Let’s look at the context:
Ephesians 6:5-9 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, (6) not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, (7) rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, (8) knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. (9) Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
The thing seems contradictory at first glance, right? Here, Paul tells slaves “obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling.” Doesn’t that encourage the very “threatening” that Paul prohibits? Well, notice that Paul also tells the slaves to obey with fear and trembling, as you would obey Christ…as servants of Christ doing the will of God from the heart…rendering service…as to the Lord and not to man. In other words, the “fear and trembling” is not directed toward the master, but toward the Lord. It is the Lord whom we are to fear and tremble before, and thus, sincerely obey. Therefore, when Paul tells masters to stop their threatening, I suggest that he means stop exercising power over your slaves in such a way that you instill in them fear of yourself and of what you will do to them if they do not do what you tell them.
Think about this. This means that when power is abused, the abuser enforces his will upon his victim by threatening them with what the abuser himself is going to do to them if they do not comply. And it is his will that is enforced, not the Lord’s. “Get out there and fix my dinner right or I will….” and so on. There is no fear of the Lord involved in the thing. And even when parents threaten their children with consequences for disobedience, they must remind the children that ultimately it is the Lord whom they are disobeying and it is the Lord who will one day judge us all. Power is abused when the Lord is left out of the equation and when those with power threaten their victims with what the abuser himself will do if the victim does not concede to the abuser’s own selfish and wicked demands. Thus, the victim does not comply out of fear of the Lord, but out of the fear of man.
The abuse of power then can be identified by its inevitable use of this selfish, godless threatening. All of us would do well to examine our own hearts and words and actions for this evil threatening. Put this test question to yourself: does my leadership instill the fear of the Lord in those under my charge, or are they primarily fearful of me? Because, you see, when human beings speak of “I am going to put the fear of God in that woman/kid/employee,” almost always the fear of God has nothing to do with it at all. What is really meant is “I am going to teach them to fear me.”
I suspect we will find that we turn to making people afraid of us far more often than we might like to admit. And abusers do this habitually. If you want a real humbling challenge, go ask your wife, your children, your employees, this question: “Are you afraid of me?” I think in many cases the answer might shock us.