A seasoned pastor once told me, “If God has made you a shovel, then dig the best hole you can. If God has made you a bulldozer, then move some big rocks.”
His advice gets at a dynamic that makes the conversation about spiritual authority and power a challenging one. We can become so enamored by power in and of itself that we make it the focus. We stare at the bulldozer, invite others to tour the bulldozer, even bask in the superiority of the bulldozer over the shovel. Yet the whole point of the bulldozer is not to be admired but to move some big rocks.
Thus any discussion about authority and power in the Scriptures must be guided by this question: what is it for? Equally important as the goal of power is the source of power. So, in an effort to recapture what power in the church should look like, we will look at the New Testament’s answers to these questions: where does spiritual power come from? What is spiritual power for?
1. Where does spiritual power come from?
Since God is called “the Almighty” nearly 60 times in the Bible, it should not surprise us that might comes from him. Paul prays that the Colossians would “be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might” (Colossians 1:11) and calls the Ephesians to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10). God has given us “a spirit not of fear but of power” (2 Timothy 1:7).
More specifically, God’s greatest display of power was in the resurrection of his Son Jesus from the dead. “The immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” is “according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Ephesians 1:19-21).
Thus the proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection is the source of power for those who receive it as true. “The gospel…is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
So where does power come from? It comes from God, specifically through the news of what he powerfully accomplished through his Son’s death and resurrection.
2. What is spiritual power for?
Why does God empower us with his resurrecting power? The New Testament has many answers to this, yet they all cluster around the ministry of the very gospel which is our source of power.
In his final words to the disciples in person, Jesus promised that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). This indeed took place and “with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:32–33). Paul’s ministry that was driven “by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God” was ultimately “to bring the Gentiles to obedience”–that is, to faith in Christ (Romans 15:17–19). Paul observed that the Thessalonians had been loved and chosen by God “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:4–5).
Paul called a full, Spirit-empowered gospel ministry “the weapons of our warfare” which “have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3–6). Three times in Ephesians 6 he commanded believers to be strengthened to stand against the devil’s schemes, using the armor of the gospel (Ephesians 6:10-20). Spiritual power is necessary “for all endurance and patience with joy” (Colossians 1:11). We “share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:6–8).
Finally, though we are empowered by God, we still reside in weak bodies. This is “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). As Jesus told Paul directly, “my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Thus our experience of spiritual power is often in the context of “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Jesus may empower us to endure trials rather than rescuing us from them.
So when we ask “Where’s the power?” of the church, there is a specific display of power that should concern us: the resurrected Christ transforming lives and empowering endurance. It is a power that stands against Satan and rebukes his lies. What exactly should this look like in the local church today? We will consider that in next week’s final article on power in the church.