Matthew 20:25-28 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Few of the wicked things we do have only one motivation. Usually there are many. One of the most intense motivations is, to quote Nietzsche, “the will to power.” It is the ambition, the drive, the need to achieve the highest position possible in life. It is one of the things that drove King David’s son Absalom to murder his brother Amnon, who as the crown prince stood in his way to the throne. The will to power is also what drove the apostles James and John to seek positions at Jesus right and left, which called forth the rebuke quoted above.
But most of us think that we don’t have anything to do with power. That’s for people on K Street or Wall Street or Pennsylvania Avenue. So let’s give it another title that will bring it closer to home: CONTROL.
Dictionary.com defines it thus: to exercise restraint or direction over; dominate; command.
Absalom wanted control; he wanted to be king. James and John wanted control; they wanted power over others.
Control is not a bad thing in the right context. We want to be in control of our cars. We want to be in control of ourselves. We don’t want to be out of control on alcohol or drugs. We want the pilot to be in control of the airplane. We want a civilian government to be in control of the military. We parents want to be in control of our children.
But control (power) is one of those things that can easily get out of bounds, spill over its banks. We want the referee to be in control of the soccer game, everything that goes on between the lines on the field. But he doesn’t have any business in our lives off the field. We want the policeman to be in control of the traffic on our street. But he doesn’t have any business inside our house, (unless of course we are breaking some law).
So why do we seek control? What tempts us to take it out of bounds? At least one reason is the feeling of security it gives us.
We are at root insecure beings. Life is fragile and can be gone in a moment. Jobs and careers can be hard to come by. A life time of planning and working and building can be toppled by one failure. It’s scary, destabilizing. And frankly, some of us just aren’t trusting God. So we overcompensate by trying to control our environments, our spouses, our children, even people who work with us.
Or, like Satan, we are simply engulfed in pride and think we can do it better than God; that we should be in control by right.
That’s when Control – the will to power – overruns its banks. That’s when we become badgers or nags – pestering and worrying or even abusing our spouses or children until we get what we want (or passive aggressive manipulators if you happen to come from the south).
Absalom saw in Amnon’s sin the opportunity to become the dominant figure in Israel, to be the one in command – to take control away from David, God’s anointed. For that he was willing to commit murder, even to kill his own brother. James and John saw in Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem the moment to grasp for position in the coming kingdom.
Ultimately, when we fall to the temptation to control others, to take power out of bounds, we are trying to replace God.
But when we are in relationship with Jesus Christ, when he lives in us and we live in him, the motivations are rearranged. Pride is, or at least should be, gone because everything we have from him we receive as a gift. We have confessed our need as helpless sinners to be redeemed and renewed. We are in a healthy place of humility.
Secondly, our need for security is, or at least should be, completely met. To quote Jesus from John 17:23 “I in them and you in me;” Christ is in us and God is in Christ and between them we are completely secure.
So the next time you feel the temptation to control, to grasp for power, remember who you are: the recipient of a gift that you could not earn; and whose you are: the beloved child of God, completely cared for, completely secure.
 The New International Version. 2011 (Mt 20:25–28). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.