The Problem with Power

John D. Barry

Exodus 4–6; John 1:19–34; Song of Solomon 1:5–7

Grasping for power is one of the easiest sins to fall into. At first it looks like ambition, then it looks like success, and then it quickly becomes about your success and your power. This can be costly—not just to you, but to all the people you hurt in the process. If anything is done for the purpose of power, it’s not worth achieving. And don’t let the snazzy word “influence” fool you; it’s just a synonym for the same empty desire.

John the Baptist is an example of ambition; he is fueled by passion but constantly checked by God’s calling. He is firm in his words, confident in what he must do, but humble in his understanding of his relationship to God. He is not in it for himself, but for Jesus. When asked, “Who are you?” (a leading question, since many believed him to be the Messiah the people expected), he replied, “I am not the Christ!” (John 1:19–20). When further questioned, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” (the supreme prophet besides the Messiah), he says, “No!” (John 1:21). When asked again about his identity, he finally responds, “I am the ‘voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” ’ just as Isaiah the prophet said” (John 1:23).

John affirmed his identity as prophet, but he assumed nothing. He didn’t even assume what ended up being the truth: that he was a type of Elijah, as Jesus would later say (Matt 17:12–13). When given the opportunity to reach for power, to be known as the Messiah, John said no. He would not claim authority that had not been given to him.

And this is where affirmation can be a scary thing. Just because other people think you’re something special doesn’t mean you should go along with what they say about you. Doing so is dangerous. John the Baptist’s humility sets the stage for Jesus, and he ends up getting one of the greatest gifts of all: the chance to baptize Jesus.

The road between affirming God’s calling and grasping for power is narrow and rocky. But when you’re on the right path, you will feel it in your bones, and the Spirit of God will affirm it.

How are you grasping for power? How is ambition throwing off the alignment of your calling?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.


John D. Barry is the CEO and founder of Jesus’ Economy, a nonprofit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. To empower the extreme poor, Jesus’ Economy also has an online fair trade shop. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the former editor-in-chief of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about John’s work with Jesus’ Economy at www.jesuseconomy.org.