Guard Against Misusing Power
“The fear of Jehovah means the hating of bad. Self-exaltation and pride and the bad way and the perverse mouth I have hated.”—PROVERBS 8:13.
1. What is one way in which the imperfect human heart shows itself to be treacherous?
THE selfish misuse of power is doubtless among the bad ways that Jehovah God hates. His Word counsels us against this tendency of imperfect humans, for he understands the human heart. We read: “The heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate. Who can know it? I, Jehovah, am searching the heart, examining the kidneys, even to give to each one according to his ways, according to the fruitage of his dealings.”—Jeremiah 17:9, 10.
2. Power tends to do what to those possessing it?
2 With good reason God’s Word warns us against the misuse of power. There is such a tendency to misuse or abuse power that an English scholar observed: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He also observed: “Among all the causes which degrade and demoralize men, power is the most constant and the most active.” Of course, power does not necessarily have a corrupting influence, as we have seen in the previous article, but there is a danger of that.
3. In what human relationships can power be abused, and why may this happen?
3 Who needs to be on guard against misusing power? Just about everyone! In nearly every human relationship, there are situations where one person has the advantage over others by reason of wealth, learning, physical strength, position, physical charm, and so forth. The greater the advantage, the greater the temptation to use it selfishly. Why? Because “the inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up.” (Genesis 8:21) Yes, the imperfect human heart is “treacherous,” deceitful, or devious, and of evil bent.—Jeremiah 17:9.
4. Jethro gave Moses what fine counsel, showing awareness of the temptations that go with receiving power and authority?
4 Consider, to begin with, the elders, the overseers in the Christian congregation. When we think about their qualifications, we can recall Jethro’s words to Moses in regard to choosing men to be over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens: “You yourself should select out of all the people capable men, fearing God, trustworthy men, hating unjust profit.” (Exodus 18:21) Such men could be trusted with oversight. They would not abuse the advantages that come with position of oversight, for the fear of God means the hating of bad. Such men would truly be “hating unjust profit” instead of seeking or loving it.
5. Why is the counsel at 1 Peter 5:2, 3 so fitting, and how can it be applied?
5 The apostle Peter was aware of the danger of misuse of power by elders, so we find him counseling overseers in the Christian congregation: “Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly; neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly; neither as lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2, 3) To be shepherding the flock of God for dishonest gain would be to misuse power. Likewise, to lord it over the flock would be to take selfish advantage of one’s power. For example, an elder may have definite opinions about how his family should dress. But he needs to be careful that he does not try to impose such personal views on the flock; to do so would be lording it over them.
6. What is nepotism, and how might elders be guilty of it?
6 Unless elders are careful, they could be guilty of nepotism, which would also be a misuse of power. Nepotism? Yes, this is a word that comes from Latin, meaning “nephews.” It was coined because of the notorious custom of popes and other church officials to bestow religious and material favors on their relatives and in particular on their brothers’ or sisters’ children. Pope Nicholas III was even known as “the patriarch of papal nepotism.” Unless Christian elders are very careful, they may be unduly influenced by family ties instead of by spiritual principles. One elder felt very strongly that his son should be recommended as an overseer although the rest of the elders did not agree. The father thereupon moved to another congregation. Some years later the son was still not an elder. Clearly, the father had let blood relationship influence him.
7, 8. What examples show that nepotism can be a real danger to elders?
7 Another abuse of power in the form of nepotism appears when elders fail to act on the wrongdoing of their relatives. (Compare 1 Samuel 2:22-25, 30-35.) A few years ago, there was a shocking situation of wrongdoing in certain congregations in the central United States. More recently this developed in certain European congregations. Many young folks were involved in fornication, drug abuse, and the like. Not a few of these were children of elders, some of whom apparently winked at the misconduct of their offspring. When the facts came to light, a number of these elders were removed because of their misuse of their prerogatives as elders, or more specifically, because of their failure to use their power aright.
8 At times, there seems to be a tendency along this line when an elder or a ministerial servant presides over audience-participation parts on the meetings. He needs to be careful to avoid partiality. The members of his family could cooperate in this regard by being alert to offer comments when others fail to respond and not to be too anxious to comment when many others are volunteering to comment.
9. What is the abuse of power known as simony, and why is it so named?
9 Christians in responsible positions, particularly traveling representatives of the Watch Tower Society, must be careful that they do not become guilty, either knowingly or unwittingly, of what is known as simony. The term comes from the Simon mentioned at Acts 8:9-24, who offered the apostles money for the gift of being able to impart the holy spirit by the laying on of his hands. Luke records: “Peter said to him: ‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought through money to get possession of the free gift of God. You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not straight in the sight of God. Repent, therefore, of this badness of yours, and supplicate Jehovah that, if possible, the device of your heart may be forgiven you.’” This was also a notorious practice among Roman Catholic Church officials in years gone by. One encyclopedia reports that “this crime became quite common in the Church during the 11th and 12th centuries.”
10, 11. How might elders fall victim to the snare of simony?
10 How might servants of Jehovah transgress along this line? Unless they are very careful, they might be inclined to recommend an elder for a part on the circuit assembly or the district convention program because of the fine hospitality or generous gifts received from him. In fact, there have been rare cases where an elder made generous gifts and at the same time brought up the possibility of receiving some special privilege. Apparently such ones were not content to conduct themselves as ‘lesser ones,’ leaving it up to the holy spirit to motivate those in positions of responsibility as to theocratic appointments. (Luke 9:48) Under those circumstances such gifts have been refused, thus setting a fine example of not abusing the gift of power. All such instances show how careful prominent elders must be so as to avoid the taint of simony!
11 Moreover, occasionally it may be necessary for a traveling minister to give an elder firm counsel. But if the traveling minister had repeatedly been receiving gifts from that elder or had enjoyed his hospitality, he might find it difficult to give him straightforward counsel. Will selfish considerations keep him from discharging his duties to offer needed counsel? Will he put the spiritual interests of his brothers ahead of his own material benefits? Yes, will he seek to please God or men?—Galatians 1:10.
The Family Circle
12. For what reason must husbands be alert to use power aright?
12 Within the family circle, there is also need for each member to be on guard lest he or she misuses advantages or power. A husband, by reason of his having the headship, or by reason of his greater physical strength, or because he is the breadwinner, might act in an arbitrary, selfish, unfeeling manner, betraying a lack of empathy. Paul stresses strongly that wives should be in subjection to their husbands. At the same time, he tells husbands to love their wives as their own bodies and be willing to die for them, even as Christ died for the Christian congregation. (Ephesians 5:25-33) Such counsel should act as a check on a husband’s misusing his power or advantages. The apostle Peter, after counseling wives to be in subjection to their husbands, admonishes husbands: “You husbands, continue dwelling in like manner with them according to knowledge, assigning them honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one, since you are also heirs with them of the undeserved favor of life, in order for your prayers not to be hindered.” Yes, husbands must be careful to use their power aright if they want to have a good relationship with Jehovah God.—1 Peter 3:7.
13. (a) What womanly trait have husbands at times taken advantage of? (b) How have selfish wives betrayed a misuse of power, violating what Scriptural injunction?
13 It has been observed that the mate who loves more deeply is at the mercy of the one who loves less. There seems to be a measure of truth in that. Wives, in general, love more deeply than their husbands do—love is more important to them—and many husbands take selfish advantage of that. On the other hand, wives have been known to show reluctance to pay the marriage due when their wishes are crossed. In fact, some wives have even refused the marriage due altogether. Sad to say, at times this has contributed to a husband’s committing adultery. All such failure to heed Paul’s counsel at 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 is likewise a selfish misuse of power.
14. What evidence is there that some parents misuse their power over their children?
14 The fact that children are to obey their parents in union with the Lord gives their parents, particularly their fathers, power over them. How will they use this power? Thoughtlessly, unfeelingly, without empathy? Many worldly fathers, and some mothers, do just that, giving rise to the prevalence of the “hurt child syndrome.” According to World Health, January/February 1984, “there are ill-treated children in every society,” and “it seems that nowadays more and more children are ill-treated, exploited, battered or abandoned, and no part of the world escapes its share.” Another report tells that in the United States child abuse has more than doubled in the last ten years. Surely all such is an abuse of power. Even a Christian parent who would not think of severely mistreating a child might be guilty of a kind of child abuse. You can see what it is from Paul’s counsel: “Fathers, do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” “Fathers, do not be exasperating your children, so that they do not become downhearted.”—Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21.
15, 16. How may children be guilty of the misuse of power, requiring what of parents?
15 Strange as it may at first seem, children themselves can also be guilty of misusing power. How so? Children can cause their parents to act against their own better judgment because of the affection their parents have for them. A child, knowing that he deserves to be spanked, may cry so pitifully that his mother just cannot bring herself to administer the deserved spanking. A successful woman financier boasts of her ability to manipulate customers, saying: “Women are born with it. You should see my daughter manipulate her father.”
16 According to one newspaper report, “there is an alarming increase in the number of ‘power drunk children’ in North America who dominate and manipulate their parents’ lives.” However, the remedy lies not in counseling the children but with the parents. The parents must present a unified position to their children. Youngsters are quick to note disunity and to play one parent against the other to get what they want. Parents must also be firm for what is right, at the same time always assuring their children of their love. As does Jehovah, Christian parents discipline because of love.—Hebrews 12:5, 6.
In Other Relationships
17. How may there be a misuse of power in the employer-employee relationship?
17 The employer-employee relationship also presents temptations to misuse power. With this in mind, Paul counseled slave owners, who somewhat correspond to modern employers, overseers, bosses: “You masters, keep . . . letting up on the threatening, for you know that the Master of both them and you is in the heavens, and there is no partiality with him.” (Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1) Christians who have oversight in secular matters should be careful not to misuse their power. Boaz of old might be cited as one who had a fine relationship with those working for him.—Ruth 2:4.
18. Unattached brothers and sisters must exercise what care, so that they are not guilty of a misuse of power?
18 To mention just one other area in which Christians must guard against misuse of power, there is the matter of sex attraction. The very nature of young sisters inclines many of them to want to marry and to bear children. As a consequence, brothers may at times find it easy to trifle with sisters’ affections. This certainly is a misuse of power. Paul counseled Timothy: ‘Treat older women as mothers, younger women as sisters with all chasteness.’ On the other hand, Christian women are counseled to “adorn themselves in well-arranged dress, with modesty and soundness of mind.” Whether married or single, they should also be careful to display “chaste conduct.”—1 Timothy 2:9; 5:2; 1 Peter 3:2.
19. In addition to manifesting wisdom, justice, and love, with the use of what other attribute must we be concerned?
19 Much has been said in our Bible literature about Christians’ being guided by divine wisdom, about exercising justice in all their dealings, and about being motivated by principled love, a·gaʹpe. The foregoing shows that all of Jehovah’s servants must also be concerned with the quality, attribute, or possession of power. They should never abuse it but always use it aright. Truly God’s Word evinces divine wisdom in the counsel it gives along these lines. By carefully heeding such counsel, we will bring honor to Jehovah’s name, will be a blessing to others, and will gain God’s approval.
What Counsel Do You Recall?
□ How can it be said that we have an inherent tendency to misuse power?
□ Why must elders be careful that they do not misuse their power?
□ In what ways should husbands and wives not misuse their power in relationship to each other?
□ Both parents and children ought to avoid what as to misusing power in their relationships?
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Simon tried to use his wealth to influence Peter. What lessons can we learn from this account?
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Does your child misuse power to manipulate you?