Abuse of power permeates history within and outside the church, through rulers, pastors, bosses, parents, servants, and schoolyard bullies. Some blame hierarchical structures, men, or power itself for this abuse while exempting themselves as those with little or no power. However, we all abuse power by wrongly exercising power, failing to exercise power, or grasping for power that is not given by God.
God has entrusted all humans with power. To be in God’s image partly entails ruling, as God’s representatives, over the created realm (Gen. 1:26–28; 2:15). Humans were to exercise power, not arbitrarily, but in submission to God, resulting in blessing. However, fallen humans make power an instrument of oppression rather than good.
Just as abuse of power came through Adam’s prideful attempt to usurp God (Gen. 3:5), proper stewardship of power must be through humble leadership in submission to the Master. For example, Joseph was entrusted with everything in Potiphar’s house—except Potiphar’s wife—and he faithfully exercised this power even when tempted because he was mindful of his role as a steward of Potiphar but ultimately of God (39:1–10). Joseph faithfully stewarded power, benefiting both his earthly masters and his subordinates. Both Adam and Joseph were stewards over specific realms, had limitations to their power, and were tempted, but Adam’s abuse of position brought misery into his realm, while Joseph’s faithful exercise of dominion brought blessing for his realms. Thus, sinful stewards, not power itself, are the problem.
What we see in Joseph in seed form is fully manifested in Christ, our representative Head, through whom God restores us as His representative rulers. Christ liberates His people from bondage to sin and empowers them to steward power rightly. He models servant leadership in submission to the Father, neither grasping for power nor lording it over those under Him (Matt. 20:20–28; John 5:19, 30). God has put all things under Christ, the ultimate steward, who will reign until He subdues all things under Him and hands them over to the Father (1 Cor. 15:22–28).
God entrusts us with different spheres of influence and degrees of power. We who are in Christ, our Master, ought to rule in humility and be a blessing to those under us (Eph. 5:22–6:9). Because of residual sin within, we must, if we are to avoid abusing power, lean unceasingly on Christ’s grace as we wait for our perfection, when we will be perfect stewards of Christ’s rule that ends creation’s groaning due to its stewards’ failures (Rom. 8:18–25).
Until then, God works through broken and imperfect image bearers, including those in the church and governments, who sometimes abuse power (Matt. 16:18–19; 18:16–18; Rom. 13:1–7). A godly exercise of power in response to such abuse can vary. It may range from extending grace for healing to chastising the abuser.