Jesus’ Power Under Vs. Power Over by Clement of Rome

But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22.25-27)

This week I had the privilege of spending some time, once again, with the first-century writings of Clement of Rome. Clement represents the era of the church during the time the Apostles were beginning to die off; Peter and Paul had already been martyred, and many believed John still to have been alive. (I promise this is going to be relevant to you as a Jesus follower in the 21st century. Just stay with me!) What I find fascinating about Clement’s first letter to the church in Corinth is that we already are beginning to see it creeping in among Jesus followers, and how this relates to our featured text this week by Jesus in Luke 22. Once one sees it, one will be shocked to see communities that bear Jesus’ name today riddled with the same problem Clement addresses too. But what is this it? Well, we are not only going to look at what it is, but how Jesus can remedy it. So first, we must come to know what it really is.

In Luke 22, Jesus draws the attention of his disciples to the office that “benefactors” held in the culture of his day. The relationship between a “benefactor” and their “clients,” within Roman practice, was hierarchical, but obligations were mutual. The “benefactor” was the sponsor or “benefactor” of the “client,” in return for some form of patronage from the “client” toward the “benefactor.” Although typically the client was of inferior social class, a benefactor and client might even hold the same social rank. However, the benefactor would possess greater wealth, power, or prestige that enabled him to help or do favors for the client. Jesus is strictly forbidding this type of hierarchical relationship within the new humanity that he is creating (see Ephesians 2.15; 2 Corinthians 5.16,17, TNIV; Galatians 3.28; and Colossians 3.11). In our passage here in Luke 22, Jesus teaches us to reject “power over” others, and embrace instead the practice of the humble servant “power under” others. Let me make this a little clearer.

As followers of Jesus, we are not to try and come over the top of others and coerce change. We are called, like the Master, to approach others as their humble servant, and seek to influence them through love. The Kingdom of God is without coercion. It is through conversation, community, service, enemy-embracing, love, and (if need be) our own martyrdom that we seek to influence the world around us. We do not seek to defeat others, but to win them. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would often call this the “the double victory” of winning even our enemies to our cause (see A Christmas Sermon for Peace; Dec 24, 1967). Jesus’ instruction to lay down the sword and embrace an enemy-loving cross as the means to win our enemies gives us a radical way—both within the church as well as outside in the broader scope of society—to put on display a living demonstration of what a world changed by the reign of Christ looks like. Even within each of the three examples Jesus gives us in Matthew 5, in his instruction on nonviolent noncooperation, we find this humble servant love (despite being directed toward one’s enemies) at its core.

By each real-life example of the social inferior turning the left check when struck on the right (we have covered this elsewhere in greater detail), or offering the greedily wealthy even your last article of clothing, or (of your own volition) offering to the representative of the terrorist regime of Roman occupation to carry their burden beyond the required one mile to a doubled, voluntary distance, Jesus gives us ways to influence our world around us with the “power” of coming “under” those we seek to influence, changing the world from the inside out, rather than trying to come “over” others and exert coercive power “over” them.

It is true that we have example after example of this in the early Church where they were endeavoring to follow Jesus’ example, influencing this world through their own martyr’s death; that is, the way of the cross—Clement called it “submitting the neck.” (1 Clement 63.1) But what I want to focus on more intently this week is how this “power under” principle functioned within (inside of) the early church itself.

What we find in the New Testament is not, by definition, a hierarchical “power over” organization (Jesus strictly forbid this) filled with “benefactors” and “clients.” Rather, what we find is an organism, a body, where each member was fully and mutually submitted to each other. We do not see those in positions of authority lording “power over” the much larger mass of other Jesus followers. What we find is 1) “power over” forbidden even to the “elders” (see 1 Peter 5.1-3), and 2) a mutual submission of every member to each other, each person belonging to the other (see Romans 12.4-5). This is coming “under,” even within the body, and seeking to influence one another by the humble servant love Jesus taught. And it is the bedrock on which is founded the fifty-plus “one-anothers” of the New Testament church. Here is just a sampling, you can Google the rest:

Romans 12.10—Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Galatians 5.13—You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

Ephesians 5.21—Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Philippians 2.3—Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.

1 Peter 4.8—Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

What I believe we see through the first letter of Clement to Corinth, within the latter half of the first century, is the beginnings of a few who were seeking a departure away from the mutual submission of the “one-anothers” to a position of hierarchical authority over others instead. Before we can see it, though, there is a little background that we must first put on the table.

1. Terms

Jesus commissioned his Apostles. The Apostles, in their turn, made more disciples of Jesus among whom they “chose” bishops (episkopos) or elders (presbeteros), and deacons (diakonos). Easton’s Bible Dictionary states, “In apostolic times, it is quite manifest that there was no difference as to order between bishops and elders or presbyters (Acts 20:17-28; 1 Pet. 5:1, 2; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3). The term bishop is never once used to denote a different office from that of elder or presbyter.” (emphasis added.) Bishops/Elders were established as shepherds or guardians, humble servants of whatever small house church the Apostles would establish. There were multiple bishops/elders within each group. They came under and served their fellow followers of Jesus in the role of guarding and protecting as older, more experienced followers. This was not an office where they ruled as overlords above the followers of Jesus who were under them. They did not seek to draw others after themselves (see Acts 20.30), but sought always to direct their fellow Jesus followers to collectively consult their Head, the living Christ, and to practice the mutual, open, participatory principle of the priesthood of all believers.

Peter, in quoting Jesus, gave strict counsel to bishops/elders not to succumb to the temptation of using “power over” others. This was not their purpose, nor their role. They were to be examples, using the “power” of coming “under” others as their humble servants.

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care,watching [not ruling] over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5.1-3, emphasis added)

Notice how Peter here is quoting what he had heard from Jesus:

“But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority overthem are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.’” (Luke 22.25-27, emphasis added)

2. Problem of Translation

In 1611, King James VI of Scotland commissioned the King James Version of the Bible. This was when the Church and the Empire were united. King James acted in the capacity of the head of the State Church of England. The Church, having been deeply influenced by the Empire ever since the baptism of Constantine, was therefore patterned after the very hierarchical structure of the Empire itself (which was exactly and strictly forbidden by Christ in Luke 22.25-27). History tells us that James VI ordered fifty-four scholars to issue a translation, which did not depart from empirical “terms” but (as many scholars today agree) grossly departed from the New Testament definition of the original Greek words behind those terms as well as their meanings. Bancroft and Erasmus, the architects of the King James Version translation, are today believed to be largely responsible.
The translators were obligated to match the translation with the agenda and beliefs of the Empire and show no conflict between Christ’s Kingdom and the Empire. James VI rightly perceived that if the hierarchical bishops were put out of power (i.e. power “over”), “I know what would become of my supremacy . . . No bishop, no King.” King James believed correctly (see Willson, p. 198, p. 207). King James therefore ordered a translation that would facilitate his control over the church and the masses at large. For this reason, the KJV naturally reflects the Empire’s hierarchical/institutional presuppositions. Words like episkopos (guide), diakonos(servant), praxis (service), and proistemi (guide) were not accurately translated from the Greek, but rather in a way that would be in keeping with the heirarchy of the Empire. Episkopos was translated into bishop rather than guideDiakonos was translated as minister rather thanservantPraxis was translated into office rather than serviceProistemi was translated into “rule” rather than “guidance.”

History also tells us that the Authorized KJV underwent four revisions up until 1769. Yet each revision left this Empire-friendly bias uncorrected. Today, modern translations are endeavoring to correct this endorsement of what Jesus called the “gentile,” hierarchical structures of Empire by translating these Greek terms to be more in keeping with their original use in their own contemporary cultural setting. Episkopos, which means “guide or protector”, is translated as “guide.” Diakonos is correctly translated as “servant.” Praxis is translated as “service” or “function” rather than “office.” Proistemi has also been translated as “guard” or “guide.”

Thanks to the KJV today, many get the false impression that the New Testament actually sanctions hierarchical authority within the body of Christ and His Kingdom. Now, if we are going to understand how this all ties back into Clement, and what we see him endeavoring to address in the church at Corinth, then we have to understand one central term used by him over and over.

3. Hegeomai

Here is a great example from the Book of Hebrews of today’s translations endeavoring to correct the sanctions of the KJV of the empirical authority structures that we have just discussed. Note carefully the differences.

Hebrews 13.7 (KJV)—Remember them which have the RULE OVER [hegeomai] you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.

Hebrews 13.7 (TNIV)—Remember your LEADERS, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

The word “rule” in the KJV of Hebrews 13.7 is translated from the Greek word hegeomai. In contemporary first-century use it did not, however, mean to “rule over.” For there to be Jesus followers ruling over other Jesus followers, even if they were elders, the author of Hebrews words here would indicate a clear dismissal of both Peter’s and Jesus’ teachings, as we as have already seen; that is, if the author of Hebrews were to endorse or approve. Whathegeomai meant in its day was simply to guide or to go before. This is why the TNIV translates it as “leaders.” It doesn’t connote someone over another as much as someone in relation to another being further down the path, leading the way. It indicates horizontal position not vertical. Nevertheless, in his translation of Hebrews, New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce doesn’t feel the term “leaders” entirely escapes the possible hierarchical entrapments. He translateshegeomai as “guides.” This word carries the thought of “those who guide you” rather than “those who rule over you.” Therefore, a more accurate translation would be, “Remember THOSE WHO GUIDE YOU who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13.7) They lead by example, not “power over.” I believe Bruce’s “guides” are an even better translation than the TNIV’s “leaders.” Remember, in accordance with Jesus’ teachings, “leaders” in the early church were not hierarchical overlords, but simply those who were the lowest “servants.” (See Luke 22.25-26.)

Clement’s Letter to Corinth

The word Clement uses in his letter to Corinth is this same hegeomai. Again, we will find some translations of Clement (not all) that, in keeping with the KJV, translate it as “those who rule over you.” But remember the word does not mean “rule over.” It means “guide.”

Clement tells us the situation is bleak in the church in Corinth:

“Owing, dear brethren, to the sudden and successive calamitous events which have happened to ourselves, we feel that we have been somewhat tardy in turning our attention to the points respecting which you consulted us; and especially to that shameful and detestable sedition, utterly abhorrent to the chosen of God, which a few rash and self-confident persons have kindled to such a pitch of frenzy, that your venerable and illustrious name, worthy to be universally loved, has suffered grievous injury.” (1 Clement 1.1, emphasis added)

There were those in the church, according to Clement, who were headstrong and self-willed, and which the letter will show were seeking to draw the church away from the counsel of its “guides” and to following themselves as hierarchical (rather than servant) leaders instead. This was causing a schism among the believers in Corinth.

Clement reminisces that it was not always like this there:

“For who ever dwelt even for a short time among you, and did not find your faith to be as fruitful of virtue as it was firmly established? Who did not admire the sobriety and moderation of your godliness in Christ? Who did not proclaim the magnificence of your habitual hospitality? And who did not rejoice over your perfect and well-grounded knowledge? For you did all things without respect of persons, and walked in the commandments of God, submitting yourselves [remember the mutual submission we discussed at the beginning? See Romans 12.4-5] to your guides [hegeomai], and giving all fitting honor to the elders among you.” (1 Clement 1.2-3, emphasis added)

Clement later in his letter describes exactly this looked like.

“Let us take our body for an example. The head is nothing without the feet, and the feet are nothing without the head; yea, the very smallest members of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body. But all work harmoniously together, and unite in mutual subjectionfor the preservation of the whole body.” (1 Clement 37.5, emphasis added)

These older “elders” and guides would have been proponents of the New Testament’s “mutual submission” as well as the open, mutually participatory nature of the church. Remember this was Corinth. Years earlier, Paul wrote to this church describing no hierarchy where the many simply sat passively listening to one, or merely watching a few. Paul describes the mutually participatory nature of the Corinth church, “Each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.” (1 Corinthians 14.26) These elders would be dedicated to “guarding” this and not allowing the mutually submissive nature of the church to be compromised. In order for this church to be hijacked by those whom Clement calls “envious” or “jealous,” those who rejected the Christ’s teachings of “power under,” those who were desiring to be in a position of “power over” their fellow Jesus followers, those very ones would first need to get rid of the “elders/guides,” the protectors of the “one-another” nature of the community. And this is exactly what was being attempted, and hence the crisis that Clement was writing about.

“Moreover, you were all distinguished by humility, and were in no respect puffed up with arrogance, yielding [to one another] rather than demanding submission, and were more willing to give than to receive? Content with the provision which God had made for you, and carefully attending to His words, you were inwardly filled with His doctrine, and His sufferings were before your eyes. Thus a profound and abundant peace was given to you all, and you had an insatiable desire for doing good, while a full outpouring of the Holy Spirit was upon you all . . . You were sincere and uncorrupted, and forgetful of injuries between one anotherEvery kind of faction and schism was abominable in your sight. You mourned over the transgressions of your neighbors: their deficiencies you deemed your own. You never grudged any act of kindness, being ‘ready to every good work.’ Adorned by a thoroughly virtuous and honorable life, you did all things in the fear of God. The commandments and ordinances of the Lord were written upon the tablets of your hearts.” (1 Clement 2.1-4, emphasis added)

Clement explains that the possibility of the present schism was foreseen by the apostles, and that this is why “guides” or “guardians” were chosen by the apostles for when they were no longer alive.

“Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the name of “bishop.” For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect foreknowledge of this, they chose those already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep [die], other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those chosen by them, or afterwards by other men,with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in ahumble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from their service. For our sin will not be small, if we throw out those who have blamelessly and holily offered as a gift of sacrifice the service of bishop. Blessed are those elders [plural] among youwho, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure; for they have no fear lest any one deprive them of the place now chosen for them. But we see that you have thrown out some men of excellent behavior from their service [leitourgia], which they fulfilled blamelessly and with honor.” (1 Clement 44.1-5, emphasis added)

It is interesting to note that the Greek term here leitourgia possesses as one of its root words “laos,” from which we get the word “laity” which is also grossly misunderstood today as well. The New Testament does not recognized a “clergy/laity” divide among its community of Jesus followers. Leitourgia, according to Mounce (Mounce Greek Dictionary) in contemporary Roman culture referred to “public service discharged by a citizen at his own expense.” The service Clement is referring to, being fulfilled by multiple bishops/elders in each Jesus community was not originally anything like the paid offices of “bishop” we see after the unification of Christianity with the Empire.

What we find is the recounting by Clement of the Apostles choosing voluntary guides/guardians for the church after they were gone, and this was to continue over and over again in each successive generation. But these were never to be hierarchical lords, but servant guides to the church. Yet what was happening in Corinth is that a few younger ones desired to “take over,” and were convincing the believers in Corinth to forsake their elders as well as their counsel. History tells us that it didn’t take many generations before these “guides” truly were replaced by “hierarchical bishops” who abandoned their “servant” roles and the “power” of coming “under” others. They succumbed to the temptation to embrace instead an office of “power over” ultimately becoming competing overlords for the highest of hierarchical positions/offices of authority. Hierarchical authority would eventually win the day in the history of the church. Eventually, the bishop in Rome would claim authority over the entire Christian church and this would produce the great schism of 1054 A.D. producing Eastern Orthodox Christians (Greek) [who did not recognize the bishop in Rome as being over all others] and the Western Catholic Christians (Latin) under the authority of the Bishop of Rome. This was the same exact temptation the disciples were originally faced with when Jesus gave his rebuke in Luke 22.25-27.

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that.’” (Luke 22.24-25, emphasis added)

Clement wraps up his letter to the church in Corinth by pleading:

“Who then among you is noble-minded? Who compassionate? Who full of love? Let him declare, ‘If on my account sedition and disagreement and schisms have arisen, I will depart, I will go away whithersoever you desire, and I will do whatever is ordered by the people [notice the mutual nature of “people” rather than a ruling over “bishop.”]; only let the flock of Christ live on terms of peace with its chosen elders [guides].’ He that acts thus shall procure to himself great glory in the Lord; and every place will welcome him.” (1 Clement 54.1-2, emphasis added)

How does this apply to us today?

It’s time that “power over” be laid down and rejected by the church, once again, both as its means of influencing society (seeking to control the state so as to control others through legislating outward conformity) as well as its means of governing fellow followers of Jesus. The New Testament does not offer a community, centered in Jesus, where some rule over others. God forbid! The New Testament offers a community, centered in Jesus, where each of us is practicing mutual submission to each other and to the humble, servant power of the “one-anothers.”

“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12.4-5)

What is the remedy for the rampant use of “power over” we see even today among Jesus’ followers worldwide? Paul gives the remedy to us in his letter to the Philippians. Let’s take a look.

HeartGroup Application

1. This week I want you to compare two passages. One is from Paul in the New Testament about Jesus who reveals to us what God is like as well as what we are to be like in his letter to the Philippians. And the other is from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah about the King of Babylon. Let’s look at Isaiah first.

“How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit.” (Isaiah 14.12-15)

Notice the grasping for higher positions along a hierarchical ascent? Now let’s look at Jesus via Paul:

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2.6-11)

One of these is what God is like, the other is not.

2. Let’s begin small. This applies to how we relate to the greater society around us as well; but for now, what does it mean for us to begin relating just to our fellow Jesus followers after the pattern set by Jesus in Philippians 2? Notice, this is the very context of Paul’s passage in Philippians:

In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had:” (Philippians 2.5, emphasis added)

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being likeminded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2.1-4)

How do you do it? Paul says it clearly: we must spend time contemplating Jesus and His own humble servant love, which reveals to us the character of His Father while reshaping us into that same image.

This week, spend some time praying about this and ask Jesus what He’d like to revolutionize in how you are presently relating to others in your HeartGroup.

3. Share what Jesus shows you this upcoming week with your HeartGroup.

Wherever this finds you this week, keep enlarging Christ’s Kingdom. Keep living in humble, servant love, loving like Christ, till the only world that remains is a world where love reigns.

I love you guys,
I’ll see you next week.