Power and Paul’s cruciform leadership

I have been thinking about leadership and power. Over at ETHOS there is an article entitled “Reflection on Power and Powerlessness” (Feb 2012). Here are excerpts from the article that speak of Paul’s cruciform leadership (Emphasis added).

But how does this cruciform power work? I find Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians really helpful. Most scholars recognise that some members of the Corinthian house churches were unhappy with Paul’s leadership, and he has to defend his apostleship in his letter. Paul does not deny his apostolic calling. But his view of the right use of power is thoroughly based on the life pattern of the crucified Christ and risen Lord. He repeatedly speaks of his sufferings in the letter (2 Corinthians 6:3-10; 11:23-33; 12:10).  In his hardships he finds that there is an all-surpassing power to sustain him, and it is this life of affliction that displays the life of Christ (4:7-12). For Paul, the Christian life is about being conformed to the image of Christ and in the process our lives reflect God’s glory (3:18; 4:5-6). Importantly, Paul says that power is made perfect in weakness, and therefore he will boast all the more his weakness, so that Christ’s power may become visible to the world (12:9). He utters this astonishing statement,

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

On one level this teaching is about how we should rely on Christ in our own hardships. But given the context of Paul’s defence of his apostolic credentials this reveals Paul’s understanding of his authority and power as a leader. Power, then, is about embodying the paradox of the cross. There is no resurrection without death. Strength is found in weakness. Glory is found in a life of suffering, sacrifice and love.

Jesus is indeed the Messiah of Israel, that is, the anointed King who was to come, as anticipated by the prophets. Based on this, Jesus announced his mission to proclaim good news to the poor. Of course, salvation and forgiveness of sin is available to all – both the rich and the poor. But undeniably Christ’s ministry was characterised by his solidarity with the social outcasts and economically disadvantaged. It is true that Jesus used his power to heal the sick and deliver those under the bondage of evil spirits. But he did not exercise any political, social or economic power that one would expect from the royal son of David. Quite the contrary, he died on a Roman cross, which was a symbol of Rome’s dominion over its subjects. But at his obedient death God raised him up, and exalted him to the highest place. Paul bases his ministry on this Christ-story, and models his own life on the paradox of power in powerlessness. He determines not to use worldly power to respond to his opponents. Instead, he ensures that the power of Christ is manifest in his weakness. Both Christ and Paul know what it means to be powerless. Christ is the rightful King, because he was crucified and raised to life. Paul is determined to follow him, and we are called to go and do likewise.

The full article can be found here.

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