I have four sons.
When they were young I used to ask them, “How strong can you be if Jesus helps you?”
They soon worked out the answer.
“As strong as Jesus.”
In a house with four sons, being strong is important. I don’t know how many times I have overheard conversations about who is the fastest or the smartest, who can jump the highest or who can make the best tackle, who can think the fastest or who has the most brute strength. In one way or another, being strong is the order of the day in the Sondergeld house.
When it comes to embracing the virtues of strength, our culture appears to be a little more hesitant than the Sondergeld boys. This hesitation is, in large part, due to the hurt dealt out by those who have used strength for their own benefit. When strength is used for selfish reasons people often get hurt. You don’t need to look far to find people using strength in ways which hurt others. There are glaringly obvious examples, such as domestic violence, but the closer you look the more you will see that everyone has used their strength for selfish reasons; everyone has hurt others. From a parent overpowering their kids to get some peace; to a wife cutting down her husband to win an argument; from a brother teasing his sister to avoid facing up to his bad behaviour; to a boss being stingy with encouragement to keep their workers heads down. We are all guilty of using strength for selfish reasons.
The abuse of strength (using strength for our own ends) can make us wary of anyone who seems strong.
It can leave us wondering, ‘Is it good to be strong?’ Most of us would answer yes and no to this question. It’s good to have the strength to do what is right and good, but there’s also the risk that strong people use their power for evil, not good. We might find ourselves thinking it’s too risky and we‘d best avoid strength altogether, especially if you have been badly hurt or if you’ve hurt others by mistake. But you can’t deal with the abuse of strength by avoiding strength altogether because avoiding it only enables it to continue.
So how do you deal with the abuse of strength?
Well, you won’t deal with it by letting people walk over you to do as they please, and you won’t deal with it by abusing strength yourself (I will get you back!). Shrinking back only turns you into a door mat and allows more abuse while seeking to even the score and abusing strength yourself only adds to the pile of trouble already there. The only way to counter the abuse of strength is with the correct use of it. Take the #metoo movement for example. It took amazing strength for the women to come out from behind the veil of shame and speak publicly about those who took advantage of them. Another example is the police force. One of the key responsibilities of the police is to stop people using their power in ways which hurt others, to protect us. They counter destructive strength with controlled strength (albeit imperfectly). The only way to counter the abuse of strength is with strength that is under control. This is the kind of strength scripture points us towards (Eph 4:2).
God wants people to be strong.
While God is well aware of the many ways humanity abuses strength, He doesn’t throw out the concept of strength altogether. Consider how God addresses the abuse of strength that is pride in the Bible (Isa 2:12). Pride is independent strength for its own ends. It is not about anyone else; it is only about self. Scripture confronts pride with humility, what we might call good strength. Humility is strength that pride knows nothing about. It is dependent strength. It is other-centred strength and it counters and neutralises pride and its abuse.
There is no better example of someone who used immense strength in powerfully good ways than Jesus. Yet to those observing, it was a little deceptive. He looked weak (1 Cor 1:18). He looked like a door mat. It looked like all he was achieving was dashing the hopes of His followers. He could have called a legion of angels (Matt 26:53) and made short work of the Jews and the Romans. But he absorbed all the hits and accomplished something magnificent. He was strong to the end. He set his face like flint towards Jerusalem (Luke 9:51) and did not waver. No one could stop him, even by killing him. Loving sinners, loving children, standing up to the religious leaders who used their power for their own ends, he gave up everything (Phil 2:7), even life itself. A humble, powerful servant.
Jesus’ humble power countered all the abuses of strength the world has ever seen.
It was a victory for the ages. He landed the mortal blow on evil and then commissioned us to do the mopping up operation. In this fallen world we will need to be strong. But not without his presence and help. Jesus has given us the power of the Holy Spirit (Eph 3:16) – His personal presence. With the victory of the cross and the presence of God dwelling in you, you can be strong and stand your ground (Eph 6:13). Nothing will be able to stop you.
Be strong by stopping and praying in the middle of a situation spinning out of control.
Be strong by speaking kind words to angry people.
Be strong by keeping your cool when everyone around you is losing their mind.
Be strong by persevering when all you feel like doing is giving in.
Where do you need to be strong?
Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. (Eph 6:10)