“For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”
2 Timothy 1:7
Years ago our family used to drive by a house in Wayne that we called “Nouveau Riche on Chelsea.” It was a huge house, with its rear facing the road we drove on. The house had originally been just a really big house. But at some point a new owner took over, and decorated the back yard. There was a pool, a colonnade, and more statues than I could count. It looked like someone had said, “I want to show how much money I have so buy one of everything!” It was incredibly ostentatious, and our family made it a fame to see who could call out “Nouveau Riche on Chelsea!” first as we drove by.
Money and power – two things that as a child I thought, if you got it, you flaunt it! Got money? Then let the world know! Got power? Then show it off! It seemed to me as a child that someone who had money or power could do whatever they wanted, and if they didn’t do what they wanted, then they obviously didn’t really have enough money or power. After all, wasn’t the point to be able to do whatever you wanted to do?
Then I grew up. As a parent, there were things I wanted to do, things I had the power and the money to do, but I didn’t do them because I voluntarily limited myself for some reason. Maybe I didn’t do something because it would hurt someone I cared about; perhaps I restrained myself because I wanted something else even more. And sometimes, I held back because I had no need to show off money or power. Of course, I didn’t have the kind of exorbitant money or power that the owner of that house must have had, but I certainly had enough to do what I wanted. But I restrained myself.
Paul reminds us that a spirit of power does not mean doing whatever we please. God’s gift of power comes most clearly when it also comes with a spirit of self-discipline. Like the person who could sit at home clipping coupons and never work (not me!), like the corporate CEO who could tell people to jump and their only response would be “How high?”, some people have power and money but don’t feel a need to show it off to the world, but are content to balance power and money with a spirit of self-discipline.
It occurred to me that many people who feel the need to blatantly exercise power or spend money are people who are trying to convince themselves of their own worth. They base their sense of self on how others see them. If others cower in the face of their power, they know they are powerful. If others are impressed by their spending, they feel rich. I had a babysitter for my kids years ago who always felt it was important to tell me how much her mother had paid for every outfit she wore. I got tired of her monologue pretty quick – she didn’t last long as our babysitter.
As Christians, our worth doesn’t depend on how others see us; our worth comes from God. God loves us, therefore we are worthwhile. Not the other way around – we are worthwhile therefore God loves us. No, we derive our sense of worth from the love that God gives us, from our awareness that we are frail, sinful humans who are loved anyway by the author of creation. And that gives us the ability to exercise power with self-discipline. We don’t have to show off our money; we don’t have to make people jump in order to know we are worthwhile. We know it because we know the Lord. And that knowledge gives us both power and self-discipline.
Prayer: Your love, O God, transforms me from sinful a human being to a beloved child of the king. Fill me with the power of your presence; let me exercise that power with self-discipline and love, as your son, Jesus, did. Amen.