It is easy for Christians to shy away from power. Jesus Christ, the author of our faith, was essentially homeless and devoid of any earthly authority while in this world. He commanded us to turn the other cheek when attacked. When all expected him to deal a giant blow to Rome, he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and was murdered on a cross. Yet, Christ also is all-powerful. He was resurrected and ascended into heaven. Just read Colossians 1. The fact that I am writing about him today should at least prove the enduring power of his gospel. He plans to return to earth from heaven bearing a flaming sword. This paradox of Jesus as the humble shepherd and the mighty king should at least caution Christians to avoid the extremes of inactive weakness and oppressive power.
When I first started working in the office of a U.S. Senator, it was easy for me to shy away from the power all around me. Just walking down the high-vaulted halls of the Russell office building makes me fear the authority that many possess in the building. One of my concerns about working in politics in general is that the power corrupts. I believed that I should avoid fields like politics because it would be impossible to emerge unscathed. Could a good Christian remain so in politics?
The story of Joseph, son of Jacob, forces me to rethink some of these concerns. Joseph, by God’s grace, was elevated to a position of very high authority in the Egyptian government, second only to Pharaoh. Joseph used his position to rule justly and save the Egyptian people from a devastating famine. It was really only through this position that he was given that he could do good to the extent that he did it. Joseph used his power wisely and did not lord it over others.
Joseph encourages the Christian in politics because he affirms our position and challenges us to be just and rule well. God uses powerful people to bring his purposes to fruition. Though it is often difficult to sort through the different policies and work through the gridlock, I can know that God has used government officials in the past to work out his plan to advance his Kingdom for our benefit, to bless the whole world (pagan and Jew) through the work of his servant Joseph – in politics. Not only do I have evidence of this, but this is what God wants from government officials. In fact, just as the greatest of evils can be done through public service, so can the greatest of goods. Much is expected of those to whom much is given.
The story of Joseph is also a sobering reminder that our careers only come from God. Joseph was dragged captive to Egypt by the sins of his brothers and rose to power through interpreting dreams, but he tells his brothers in Genesis 45 that “it was not you who sent me here, but God.” God sent him there and gave him the inspiration to interpret dreams. It is only through God’s sovereign will and grace that I have the skills I do that allowed me to work on Capitol Hill. The résumé and the education that placed me where I am today are not really mine, they are God’s doing. This should humble me daily as I give thanks to God.
Not only is working for the government a great opportunity for just leadership, it is also the chance to have constructive influence in places where God may not be recognized as much. Like Joseph was ruling in a foreign land, Christian Americans in government are also exiles in their jobs. We are awaiting God’s Kingdom and surrounded by many who do not acknowledge Him, and we voluntarily work in a system that is consciously and explicitly religiously neutral. Through our actions, words, and attitudes we can show Christ to others. While some may be tempted to be corrupt, our Lord’s example of servant leadership and honesty can point people to God.
In short, God gives us our roles in our workplaces to work for blessings for the world. While the temptations to abuse power are great, the opportunities for just and Christ-like leadership are also immense. The key to ruling as Christ would is to surrender my ambitions and pride – to serve, not to rule. It is to recognize the hand of God in bringing me success and influence like Joseph did.
Where does my position give me power – whether in a very large or very small way – over others? What is my responsibility with that power?
Eric Peterman interns on Capitol Hill as a member of the 2015-2016 Falls Church Fellows Program.
Images: FreeImages.com/Dave di Biasi, ejdzej