UTTER IGNO­RANCE! That is the kind­est descrip­tion of the dis­ci­ples’ under­stand­ing of the King­dom of God. In the open­ing vers­es of the book of Acts they are once again demand­ing to know when they can get their hands on the King­dom in order to exer­cise some pow­er. Jesus informs them once again that the King­dom belongs to God; the King­dom is His busi­ness not theirs. What they had failed to see is that spir­i­tu­al pow­er is not depen­dent upon posi­tions of sta­tus and author­i­ty. The King­dom is God’s, pow­er can be theirs: and you shall receive pow­er when the Holy Spir­it has come upon you.” (Acts 1:8)

The pow­er does not reside in posi­tions but in the Spir­it. How hard it is for us to believe! How eas­i­ly we sur­ren­der to this world’s sys­tem! We just know that before we can exer­cise pow­er we have to be on the right com­mit­tee, or be the pas­tor, or have the right degree. We must have a king­dom some­how. We can­not imag­ine that God could empow­er us with­out a posi­tion of author­i­ty. We say; Give him a Ph. D., give him a pro­fes­sor­ship, and then he will be able to teach.” Hog­wash! Give me a posi­tion so I may exer­cise pow­er,” we demand. You shall receive pow­er with­out a posi­tion,” Jesus replies. 

The cat­e­gories of sta­tus and posi­tion have no place in the Chris­t­ian econ­o­my. Jesus has oblit­er­at­ed them. But how eas­i­ly we capit­u­late. His hair is too long.” Ugg, what old-fash­ioned clothes!” He just isn’t accus­tomed to Quak­er ways!” And once again we have defined rank and status. 

We seek posi­tion so that we can lord it over oth­ers and glo­ri­fy our­selves. If we could just be the right-hand man in the king­dom! The King­dom is God’s. The glo­ry is God’s. If the king­dom were ours, it is cer­tain who would get the glory.

Mure­tus was a wan­der­ing schol­ar of the Mid­dle Ages. He took ill in an Ital­ian town and was tak­en to a hos­pi­tal for waifs and strays. The doc­tors dis­cussed his case in Latin, nev­er dream­ing that he could under­stand. They decid­ed that since he was a com­mon peas­ant they could use him for med­ical exper­i­ments. Mure­tus respond­ed in crisp Latin: Call no man com­mon’ for whom Christ died.” The cat­e­gories of com­mon­er” and elite” are demol­ished by Christ. This does not mean that we do not have dif­fer­ent func­tions. We have dif­fer­ent gifts. We have dif­fer­ent tal­ents. We have dif­fer­ent lev­els of under­stand­ing. But these are nev­er on the basis of sta­tus or position.

For many of us the prob­lem is that we sim­ply do not believe Jesus when he tells us that in the King­dom great­ness is found in ser­vant­hood. We may feel that the idea of being a ser­vant is all right so long as we can do it on our own terms and pro­vid­ed that it is gen­er­al­ly known that we are not real­ly ser­vants but mere­ly assum­ing the role. But Jesus calls us to a social rev­o­lu­tion. We are to exer­cise the pow­er of the Holy Spir­it with­out claim­ing posi­tions of sta­tus and rank. We exhib­it pow­er as the ser­vant peo­ple of God. We have pow­er with­out a king­dom! In our day and age may God teach us under the pow­er of the Holy Spir­it how we are to wash one another’s feet. 

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished as Pow­er with­out a King­dom” in Quak­er Life, Jan­u­ary 1972.

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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