Peter, Paul, and Power (or: The Spider and The Servant)

A wise, old man once made the famous statement, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Uncle Ben spoke these words to a young Peter Parker. After Uncle Ben was tragically murdered, Peter took his words to heart. Young Peter, having been bitten by a radioactive spider, gained some spectacular abilities that set him apart from his peers: he could climb on walls, he could sense when danger was near, he gained immense strength and agility. Using his ingenuity to create some synthetic webs and shooters, he became the Amazing Spider-Man, fighting for good against the forces of evil in New York City. Uncle Ben’s words became a mantra for Peter, constantly calling him to be wise in his use of power.

Though I doubt that any of us will experience a transformation quite like Peter Parker’s, I think everyone can relate to Uncle Ben’s words. Consider Paul for example. We often consider Paul to be second to Jesus in rank. He is arguably the most faithful Christ follower to ever walk the earth, and his passion and influence continue to be used of God to advance the kingdom. He makes the statement in 2 Corinthians 10:8 and again in 13:10 that his authority is given him by the Lord for the building up of the church, not for its tearing down. This is a simple enough statement, but it struck me as profound.

For years, I looked at leadership and authority as places of honor, as higher ranks to strive for. I saw the privileged place of leaders, the perks of leadership, and the power leaders could hold, and I was captivated. I thought that being a leader would be the coolest thing ever. But then I gained some leadership responsibilities, and my perspective changed a bit. I started preparing to teach lessons, and I discovered how little I actually knew. I considered how much people were expecting of me, and I realized how unprepared I was to meet those expectations. I looked at those who were seeking my help in spiritual matters, and I understood the weight of spiritual leadership (and, consequently, the fear of misleading people). Furthermore, I realized how easily I could either be an encouragement to someone or a discouragement, how I could either build up or tear down. Authority carries a sort of power that is not easy to wield. James describes things accurately when he writes, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judge with greater strictness” (James 3:1). Similarly, I’ve heard many experienced ministers counsel people against pursuing a life in the pastorate if God hasn’t called them. The responsibility of leadership is not something to be taken lightly.

As I’m working through my third year in seminary, I’m continually growing in my recognition of the weightiness of the work of ministry. I often see my faults and weaknesses clearly, while my strengths seem either hidden or nonexistent. In short, I don’t often feel qualified for the work I feel God calling me to. But I think this is exactly where God would have me.

Paul famously boasts of the things that make him weak, though he had reason to boast in his strength (see 2 Corinthians 11-12). He had the power to tear down and to condemn (the church and Corinth had not always acted lovingly toward Paul), but he devoted himself rather to building up and edifying. He followed the example of Jesus who “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7). He managed the weight of ministry well because he lived a life of humble service. He recognized the great power he had, but he also understood the tremendous responsibility.

I pray that I would follow in these footsteps. I pray that I would embrace the tasks God sets before me in humility, faithfully working for his glory and for the church’s good. I pray that I would never abuse or misuse any authority he may give me, but that I would always submit to the ultimate Authority and would point everyone to him. As in all things, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

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