In late August 2021, a terrorist attack at the Kabul airport claimed the lives of thirteen American soldiers and more than sixty Afghan civilians. Addressing the nation, President Biden spoke about the sacrifice made by American troops. Addressing the terrorists, he vowed, “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.”
President Biden is a Roman Catholic and has been described as a man of “profound faith.” Like so many professing Christian politicians, however, his faith appears to be easily jettisoned in the quest for political power. Whatever you think of the responsibility of a nation to respond to military aggression, the words quoted above sound quite different to what Jesus taught about forgiving, forgetting, and loving one’s enemies.
I do not want our time this morning to be a commentary on American politics. President Biden’s words, however, highlight a tendency prominent not only in international politics but also in many segments of the contemporary church. That is, too many Christians believe that the only way to exert any influence in society is to hold onto positions of power. And if power is the key to influence, they will do anything they must—even compromise truth—to hold onto power.
We have considered in our study in Habakkuk that Habakkuk was deeply troubled that Israel was sinning against God, seemingly without consequence. God assured the prophet that he was about to act, but in a way that might be difficult to understand: He was going to bring Babylon as an instrument of judgement against Israel. Habakkuk wrestled with this, and God told him that Babylon would not get away with its overreach but would face the consequence of its own sin. In chapter 3, Habakkuk, still wrestling with this, ultimately learned to rest in faith in God’s design. The thought of Babylonian exile terrified him, but he trusted God to do what was right: “I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us” (3:16). He then makes one of the great expressions of faith in vv. 17–19 and does so in a way that is very contrary to modern-day thinking. He did not fight for prominence or power. He trusted that, even in failure, he could rejoice in the Lord and trust the Lord to work mightily through him.
Even though Israel would soon lose every semblance of political power, Habakkuk could still say, “GOD, the Lord, is my strength.” He knew that God’s strength could be manifested even in the face of lost political influence. We need the same reminder today. We need to be persuaded of this because Christian power—that is, God’s power mediated through his people—accomplishes things that human power never can and in which human power is not interested. As we think about the Christian approach to power, here are some things that Christian power accomplishes.
First, Christian power accomplishes the salvation of sinners. The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Christianity’s primary power is disciple-making power and we must not allow ourselves, in our quest for power, to be distracted from the power that is truly ours in Christ.
Second, Christian power accomplishes the sanctification of saved sinners. “Divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Too often, a quest for power is attended by a jettisoning of Christian virtues, but true Christian power produces rather than expels Christian virtue.
Third, Christian power accomplishes maturing and persevering faith even in pain and difficulty. Paul prayed three times for God to remove his thorn in the flesh. The Lord replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The apostle committed: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Christian power does not insist on comfort and ease but learns to persevere faithfully even in loss and trial.
Fourth, Christian power enables fruitful ministry for the Lord. Paul wrote that God’s “power” had made him “a minister according to the gift of God’s grace” and therefore rejoiced in “him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:7, 20). Far more significantly than solidifying prominence, Christian power is interested in doing work for the Lord.
As you reflect this morning on Habakkuk’s expression of faith, learn to rest in the power of God even when every semblance of human power is stripped from you.