II Samuel 11: In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. The author tells us what it means to be a king, the responsibility David had to lead Israel out on the battlefield, doing what kings were supposed to do. “But David remained at Jerusalem,” He abdicates his responsibility, he fails to do what leaders are supposed to do. David abuses his authority by objectifying Bathsheba. He abuses his authority by trying to cover it up, sending Uriah to the front lines, having Uriah murdered. This is similar to the sin David commits at the end of II Samuel where he takes a census. He’s obsessed with power, with military strength, and with being king. Those who are obsessed with power will do everything to keep it. “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” The shepherd boy who rejected Saul’s armor, who faced Goliath “in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (I Samuel 17), is overtaken by the intoxication of power that demands self-preservation.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes this:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

In Jesus Christ we see the power of God at work in this world. In the broken man dying on a cross, we discover the true meaning of strength—not in seeking our own gain but seeking the well-being of others. True power is not found in self-preservation, but in self-sacrifice.

In his essay “After Ten Years”, Dietrich Bonhoeffer asks: “Who stands firm? Only the one for whom the final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, his virtue, but one who is ready to sacrifice all these, when in faith and sole allegiance to God he is called to obedient and responsible action: the responsible person, whose life will be nothing but an answer to God’s question and call.” Now is the time for the Christian community to reaffirm our allegiance, not to institutions or leaders, not to high minded principles, morals, or movements, but to Christ our King, who calls us to love God and love our neighbor.

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

4 Comments

  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    I gladly applaud your exhortation. I only add regarding “Now is the time…” that it is *always* that time.

  • Ed Starkenburg says:

    Thanks for this powerful truth!

  • David E Timmer says:

    Thanks, Jason. I appreciate that you phrase this as a call to self-reflection rather than accusation – a reminder that I have sorely needed over the past weeks. Like you, I have found Bonhoeffer’s essay “After Ten Years” (written in 1943, in circumstances much more dire than ours) helpful in prompting such self-reflection. When I see the pictures of insurrectionists inside the Capitol, I am sorely tempted to use the word “deplorable,” with all the feelings of contempt that accompany it. At such points I need Bonhoeffer’s reminder from that same essay: “The danger of allowing ourselves to be driven to contempt for humanity is very real. We know very well that we have no right to let this happen and that it would lead to the most unfruitful relations to our fellow human beings . . . . We must learn to regard people less in terms of what they do and neglect to do, and more in terms of what they suffer. The only fruitful relationship to persons – particularly to the weak among them – is love, that is, the will to enter into and to keep community with them. God did not hold human beings in contempt but became human for their sake.” I confess I do not know yet how to put this into practice fully, but I am making it my challenge to find out.

    • Harvey says:

      Thank you, David, for giving us the important context of Bonhoeffer’s comments. It’s good (and painful) to take a discerning look at ourselves as we make our harsh judgments about the “deplorables.”

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