And [Jesus] said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:25-27).
Working in higher education, I constantly encounter students with grandiose aspirations. They are young, their careers are still in front of them, and they often envision—as they see it—the most idealistic career circumstances possible. Many want to hold leadership positions that are highly visible and possess substantial power. They desire to become CEOs, political leaders, leading-edge researchers, Nobel prize winning scientists, hall-of-fame athletes, etc. In other words, their aspirations often align with a secular (i.e. worldly) perspective of success and influence.
Now, while the positions described above may align with a worldly perspective of success and influence, it’s not my intention to imply that Christians holding such positions are living lifestyles inconsistent with their professed faiths. Scripture states that all authority comes from God (Romans 13:1). Therefore, who am I to accurately discern God’s reasons for placing anyone in a particular authority position? Rather, my intention is to help distinguish how a Christian interpretation of influence generally differs from the secular. These differences revolve around how we perceive authority, and how these perceptions drive our understanding of how, and what it means, to influence.
While there is an association between possessing authority and influencing others, I’d argue that to effectively and positively influence others requires more than being in a position of high-standing authority. As a Christian, I fervently believe that any long-term successes that are achieved from our efforts to effectively (i.e. long-term and positively) influence the world shouldn’t be associated with our formal (i.e. “title”) authority. From personal observations, time proves that many such assertions are often false correlations.
An important question to consider for those who continue reading—one which drives what is written herein—is:
In my attitudes and actions, am I the king or am I the servant?
A SECULAR PERSPECTIVE OF AUTHORITY AND (COERCIVE) INFLUENCE
When perceiving authority from a secular worldview, there is no acknowledgement of an ultimate authority (i.e. God). Therefore, I’d suggest that a common rationale for securing positions of authority involves obtaining power. The rationale for obtaining power from a secular perspective is to possess the ability to influence by force when persuasion fails (e.g. military, financial, political, legal, etc.). This type of coercive influence is strongly correlated with control. Consequently, when individuals are consistently and aggressively advancing themselves into authority positions with increasing levels of power—and thus, positions with inherently greater coercive influence—they are, whether or not they acknowledge it (since they do not profess belief in God), attempting to fill God’s role as the ultimate authority.
History supports this logic. Egyptian pharaohs considered themselves gods. Roman, Chinese, and Japanese emperors all claimed to be gods. Alexander the Great upon his death—yep. Hitler had a god complex as he committed mass genocide (i.e. Holocaust). Even now, North Koreans are encouraged to worship members of the Kim family as gods.
There is an observable trend that is established from these aforementioned examples. Yes, these individuals possess significant power (often, if not always, coercively) during their reign. Furthermore, many of the individuals and empires above are considered to have been ruthless. Narcissistic and enabled in their positions of authority and power—again, many believing that they are gods—several of these individuals commemorate their achievements with statues of themselves, and/or (if they feel that a statue or two isn’t sufficient recognition) name cities after themselves. Eventually, each of these powerful rulers die, and their empires fall. Cultural elements from some of these empires influence civilizations that follow, but more in an evolutionary way; building off what previously exists, with nothing permanent that is specific to the ruler. And when acknowledging the number of rulers that have come and gone throughout the ages, consider how few of them are still known by the public majority. At best (for any of those polytheists out there), most are forgotten, lower-case gods…
The powerful rulers mentioned above are self-idolaters or believers of false, pluralistic gods rather than believers of the one, true God. They possess and act from a worldly wisdom, which conflicts directly with Godly wisdom (Romans 12:2).
THE WISDOM OF THE WORLD VERSUS THE WISDOM OF GOD
Secular, pluralistic, and polytheistic societies (henceforth, all will fall under the term “secular society”) reject the notion of a universal morality, since they refute the existence of a singular, supreme authority (i.e. God, the Most High—a.k.a “God”). Therefore, from a secular perspective—which, by its inherent nature, adopts a subjective and pluralistically relativistic view of morality—how can people be good or evil? Neither term possesses any definitive meaning—other than for the individual—providing no guidance or structure for making moral decisions that involve and affect others. C.S. Lewis, in The Poison of Subjectivism, elaborates on the hypocrisy of claiming morality to be subjective and pluralistic, yet making definitive, moral judgments and assertions:
Until modern times no thinker of the first rank ever doubted that our judgments of value were rational judgments or that what they discovered was objective. It was taken for granted that in temptation passion was opposed, not to some sentiment, but to reason. Thus Plato thought, thus Aristotle, thus Hooker, Butler and Doctor Johnson. The modern view is very different. It does not believe that value judgments are really judgments at all. They are sentiments, or complexes, or attitudes, produced in a community by the pressure of its environment and its traditions, and differing from one community to another. To say that a thing is good is merely to express our feeling about it; and our feeling about it is the feeling we have been socially conditioned to have.
But if this is so, then we might have been conditioned to feel otherwise. ‘Perhaps,’ thinks the reformer or the educational expert, ‘it would be better if we were. Let us improve our morality.’ Out of this apparently innocent idea comes the disease that will certainly end our species (and, in my view, damn our souls) if it is not crushed; the fatal superstition that men can create values, that a community can choose its ‘ideology’ as men choose their clothes. Everyone is indignant when he hears the Germans define justice as that which is to the interest of the Third Reich. But it is not always remembered that this indignation is perfectly groundless if we ourselves regard morality as a subjective sentiment to be altered at will. Unless there is some objective standard of good overarching Germans, Japanese, and ourselves alike whether any of us obey it or no, then of course the Germans are as competent to create their ideology as we are to create ours. If ‘good’ and ‘better’ are terms for deriving their sole meaning from the ideology of each people, then of course ideologies themselves cannot be better or worse than one another. Unless the measuring rod is independent of the things measured, we can do no measuring. For the same reason it is useless to compare the moral ideas of one age with those of another: progress and decadence are alike meaningless words.
All this is so obvious that it amounts to an identical proposition. But how little it is now understood can be gauged from the procedure of the moral reformer who, after saying that ‘good’ means ‘what we are conditioned to like’ goes on cheerfully to consider whether it might be ‘better’ that we should be conditional to like something else. What in Heaven’s name does he mean by ‘better’?
A Christian Perspective of Authority and Influence: Godly Wisdom
In its understanding of authority and morality, the wisdom of God differs drastically from the wisdom of the [e.g. secular, pluralistic] world (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). The wisdom of the world rejects God; therefore, enmity exists between the world and God (James 4:4). For, the wisdom of God is predicated upon an understanding of, acceptance of, and adherence to God’s sovereignty and power; requiring the help of the Holy Spirit (John 7:38-39; Acts 5:32).
Our understanding of how to influence others changes significantly when we acknowledge that all authority is from God (Romans 13:1), and that He ultimately uses all things for good (i.e. for His glory and the benefit of His people). First, such an understanding provides us with a definitive meaning and purpose: To glorify God (Psalm 86; Isaiah 60:21; 1 Corinthians 6:20, 10:31; Romans 11:36; Revelation 4:11) and enjoy Him forever” (Psalm 16:5-11; 144:15; Isaiah 12:2; Luke 2:10; Philippians 4:4; Revelation 21:3-4). Second, accepting that God is completely sovereign, and that He created us for His good work (Isaiah 43:7; Ephesians 2:10), our understanding of what is good corresponds with His Law (Matthew 5:17-20), His Word, His Son: Jesus (John 1:14-18).
Ultimately, through the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 7:38-41; 14:15-25; Acts 5:32), we do good by following the example of our Lord, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1); serving as Christ’s ambassadors to the world (2 Corinthians 5:19-21). By dying onto ourselves and taking up our crosses daily in His service (Luke 9:23-24; Matthew 10:38; Galatians 6:14; Ephesians 4:22-23), we exhibit our love for God and for others; sharing the good news of reconciliation (between God and man) and eternal salvation through Christ (Ephesians 2:5, 8-9; 2 Corinthians 5:20; Romans 5:9-11).
Scripture also cautions Christ’s followers about becoming encumbered by the problems of this world; allowing ourselves to be distracted from our true purpose of furthering God’s heavenly kingdom while on earth (Luke 21:34-35; Romans 12:1-2). When we’re exhibiting Godly wisdom, our lives should be focused on the world to come (Colossians 3:2; Philippians 3:13-14). For this world isn’t eternal (1 John 2:15-17), but those whom we encounter daily are immortal souls, and we should deeply yearn to joyfully bring the good news to all:
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)
One of my concerns—related to this topic—is that it seems as if many of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are too often preoccupying themselves with current events, contemporary pop-culture, and the day’s politics, rather than investing deeply into the people whom God has placed into their lives. At times, I fall into this group.
I believe that this preoccupation on the temporal occurs when we’re focused on ourselves and our worldly circumstances; neglecting—or worse, blatantly ignoring—our eternal responsibilities. For being a Christian is about being constantly engaged in loving service to God and to others (Luke 10:25-37), loving others as Jesus loves us (John 13:34; 15:12-13). Wherever God has placed us within society, and whatever authority and power has been delegated to us by Him, we—regardless of whether we profess faith in Christ—are all responsible for being “good” (i.e. as God defines “good”) stewards of His blessings.
The Three Kings: When Failing to Understand the Responsibility of Stewardship
In the Old Testament book of Daniel, there are several biblical accounts that involve one of the following kings: Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius the Mede. These events occur over a 70 year period. Each account shares a message about authority, and its subsequent relationship with stewardship and judgment.
The book of Daniel obtains its name from a Jewish man who spent the majority of his life residing in Babylon. Daniel’s life corresponds to a period of Jewish captivity under Babylonian rule, a period that is commonly referred to as the Babylonian Captivity (or, Babylonian Exile). During this time, royals, nobles, and the Jews’ best and brightest are exiled to Babylon to be indoctrinated with Chaldean culture (Daniel 1:3-4). Daniel is one of these captives (Daniel 1:6). The Babylonians even give Daniel and his peers—Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—Chaldean names; assigning Daniel the name Belteshazzar; Hananiah, the name Shadrach; Mishael, the name Meshach; and Azariah, the name Abed-nego (Daniel 1:7).
Within these biblical accounts, Daniel—a man of great faith—serves, at times, as council for each of these kings during their respective reigns. While a loyal servant to each king, Daniel respects the customs and decrees of the land inasmuch as they don’t conflict with the worship and faithful service to his God, the God Most High. Throughout these accounts, God provides Daniel with an understanding of dreams, visions, and supernatural events; allowing him to provide interpretation of such things for the ruling king of that time. In one of these accounts, the faith of Daniel’s three fellow Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego—are tested; pitting Nebuchadnezzar’s authority against God’s. In the following sections, a selection of accounts from the book of Daniel are shared in the order of their occurrence.
NEBUCHADNEZZAR. Nebuchadnezzar (634-562BC) is recognized as the greatest king of ancient Babylon and the most powerful man of his era. During his 43 year reign, he conquers the Assyrian empire; establishes peace with the Medes by marrying their king’s daughter (or granddaughter), Amytis; fortifies and increases the splendor of his empire’s capital (i.e. Babylon); and serves as God’s appointed instrument for punishing His disobedient and rebellious people (Jeremiah 27:8). The chief god of Babylon—as it is a polytheistic society and has many gods—is Marduk, also known by the people as Bel (meaning “lord”). In scripture, Daniel finds favor with Nebuchadnezzar by both telling and interpreting a dream that troubles the king (Daniel 2). Being astounded that Daniel, through God (Daniel 2:23, 28), is able to know (as the king didn’t reveal his dream to anyone) and interpret the dream, Nebuchadnezzar pays him homage. He appoints Daniel to chief prefect of all the wise men in Babylon, and then, per Daniel’s request, appoints Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego as chief administrators for the province (Daniel 2:48-49). At this time, the king also acknowledges the authority and power of Daniel’s God, being recorded as saying, “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery” (Daniel 2:47). Eventually, Nebuchadnezzar forgets this truth…
The fiery furnace. In the years that follow, Nebuchadnezzar makes a massive statue of gold, and being enamored of it, enacts a law that all must worship it upon command:
“To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and men of every language, that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire” (Daniel 3:4-6).
Soon after, charges are brought against the king’s Jewish administrators, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. They refuse to worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar creates. When the king allows his administrators the opportunity to have the charges that are brought against them dropped by worshiping his statue (Daniel 3:15), the three Jews reply:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).
Nebuchadnezzar is enraged upon hearing the response of his Jewish administrators, and being filled with wrath, he commands that the furnace be heated to seven times its norm (Daniel 3:19). The fires of the furnace are made so fierce that those who are commanded to bind and cast Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego into the furnace do not survive the assignment. Yet, when the king peers into the furnace, the three Jews are still alive among the flames, and a fourth person is seen with them in the furnace; being described by Nebuchadnezzar as “a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25).
Nebuchadnezzar once more finds himself astounded. Once again, he acknowledges the authority and power of their God; saying, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here” (Daniel 3:26)! They are unharmed, even being unsinged from the furnace’s flames. He then praises God, and makes the following proclamation:
“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way” (Daniel 3:28-29).
Given the signs and miracles that Nebuchadnezzar witnesses, he would never again fail to acknowledge the authority and power of God, right?
Into the wild. The fourth chapter of Daniel begins with King Nebuchadnezzar acknowledging the Most High God with praise:
Nebuchadnezzar the king to all the peoples, nations, and men of every language that live in all the earth: “May your peace abound! It has seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders which the Most High God has done for me.
How great are His signs
And how mighty are His wonders!
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom
And His dominion is from generation to generation” (Daniel 4:1-3).
However, afterwards, during a time of ease and flourishing in his kingdom, Nebuchadnezzar is again troubled by visions from his dreams. And again, as before, he first requests the help of the land’s magicians, conjurers, and diviners to interpret his visions, and in which they are once again unsuccessful (Daniel 4:6-8). Only after all others fail, does Nebuchadnezzar call for Daniel; doing so by the Chaldean name assigned to him so many years before, Belteshazzar. He also refers to Daniel as having “a spirit of the holy gods” in him, which suggests that the king, at this time, still maintains a polytheistic belief structure. In other words, he still fails to truly know God.
This time, Nebuchadnezzar shares his dream with Daniel, which involves a great tree. Once large, strong, and visible to the ends of the whole earth, it was chopped down—its stump left alone, with its roots in the ground (Daniel 4:10-18). Again, as he has done before, Daniel interprets the king’s dream:
“This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king: that you be driven away from mankind and your dwelling place be with the beasts of the field, and you be given grass to eat like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven; and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes. And in that it was commanded to leave the stump with the roots of the tree, your kingdom will be assured to you after you recognize that it is Heaven that rules” (Daniel 4:24-26).
As soon as Daniel finishes providing the dream’s interpretation to Nebuchadnezzar, he encourages his king to break away from his sinful ways, so that there may be the possibility that his prosperity continues (Daniel 4:27). But a year later, while on the roof of the royal palace overlooking his kingdom, the king boasts about his glory and majesty, and in that moment the vision is fulfilled (Daniel 4:29-30). Nebuchadnezzar goes mad, is driven from his kingdom, and lives like an animal in the wilderness—for seven periods of time. After which, the prideful king praises God; regaining his reason and his kingdom (Daniel 4:36):
“Now, I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride” (Daniel 4:37).
Unfortunately for the next king, he fails to learn from his predecessor’s experiences…
BELSHAZZAR. While it is likely that Belshazzar does not rule immediately following Nebuchadnezzar, historical evidence (e.g. Nabonidus Cylinder from Ur, the works of Berossus) supports both his existence and likely rule as a regent. During this time, 23 years after Nebuchadezzar’s reign, King Nabonidus is believed to have been away from Babylon, fighting the Medes. The book of Daniel refers to Nebuchadnezzar as Belshazzar’s father (Daniel 5:2), and it is postulated that Belshazzar is either Nabonidus’ adopted son (i.e. he may have married Nebuchadnezzar’s wife) or Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson (i.e. Belshazzar’s wife may have been Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter, as the use of “father” in the book of Daniel can also be interpreted to mean “forefather”) to strengthen his claim to the throne.
Belshazzar is not positioned in a positive light within the book of Daniel. He overestimates his authority and power, and arrogantly and unashamedly dishonors God. The result of Belshazzar’s actions is the end of his reign—and his life.
The writing on the wall. During a great feast among he and his nobles, Belshazzar requests that the gold and silver drinking vessels from the temple of Jerusalem—vessels that are sacred and set apart for temple activities honoring God—be brought to him, so that he, his wives, and his concubines might use them to drink their wine. Then, while drinking from the vessels, they praise “the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone” (Daniel 5:4).
Immediately, the fingers of a man’s hand—oh, and it was just a hand—began writing on a lamp-lit plaster wall near the king. Fearful, Belshazzar summons his conjurers, astrologers, diviners, and wise men; offering anyone who can read and interpret the inscription the position of third-highest ruler in the kingdom. None of his advisers are able to read or interpret the inscription (Daniel 5:5-8).
The queen enters the banquet hall—who, apparently is not one of the wives present during the feast; possibly, she is his mother—tells Belshazzar about Daniel, and how he had been able to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. She informs the king about his prior position as the head of the wise men during his predecessor’s reign. Thus, Daniel is summoned by the king to read and interpret the inscription (Daniel 5:10-12).
Belshazzar informs Daniel that none of his advisers were able to read and interpret the inscription on the wall, and having been told of his prior deeds in the service of Nebuchadnezzar, now seeks his help in the matter. He offers Daniel—as he had his advisers—the position of third-highest ruler in the kingdom if he is successful (Daniel 5:13-16).
While uninterested in the position—or any reward—Daniel says that he will read and interpret the inscription for the king:
“Now this is the inscription that was written out: ‘MENĒ, MENĒ, TEKĒL, UPHARSIN.’ This is the interpretation of the message: ‘MENĒ’—God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. ‘TEKĒL’—you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient. ‘PERĒS’—your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians” (Daniel 5:25-28).
Daniel informs Belshazzar that it was God that had sent the hand to write his judgment on the wall, for Belshazzar—aware of how God had previously humbled Nebuchadnezzar—exalted himself against God, defiled the vessels of His house (i.e. temple), and worshiped false idols (Daniel 5:18-23). Though unwanted, Belshazzar appoints Daniel to the position of third ruler in the Kingdom (Daniel 5:29).
That evening, Belshazzar is slain and Darius the Mede becomes ruler (Daniel 5:30).
DARIUS THE MEDE. Darius the Mede isn’t a universal monarch; being subordinate to the Persian King, Cyrus the Great (Daniel 1:21; 6;28; 9:1). Sixty-two years old as he begins his rule, Darius institutes a government that uses a hierarchical structure of 120 satraps, and three commissioners over them, to manage the kingdom’s affairs. Daniel is one of the commissioners (Daniel 5:1-2).
The lions’ den. Daniel quickly distinguishes himself among the commissioners and satraps, and it becomes known that Darius plans to appoint him over the entire kingdom (Daniel 6:3). The other commissioners and some of the satraps, threatened by Daniel’s impending appointment, begin to conspire against him. Daniel, however, is a faithful and loyal servant to King Darius, and they realize that they cannot find any “ground of accusation or evidence of corruption” against him (Daniel 6:4). Recognizing that only Daniel’s service to God, and his God’s law, supersede his service to Darius and the kingdom, they determine that they would need to manipulate King Darius; pitting his authority—and the laws of the Medes and Persians—against those of Daniel’s God (Daniel 5:5).
The commissioners and satraps convince Darius to sign an injunction that prohibits anyone from making a petition to any god or man besides him for thirty days (Daniel 6-9). Those who disobey this injunction are to be punished by being “cast into the lions’ den” (Daniel 6:7). Daniel, aware of the injunction, continued to pray, praise, and give thanks to his God—as the commissioners and satraps had suspected. Knowing when he regularly prays, the commissioners and satraps catch Daniel giving petition and supplication before his God. They bring news of the offense to the king (Daniel 6:12-13).
King Darius, realizing that the commissioners and satraps manipulated him–and knowing Daniel’s character–attempts to save him from the lions’ den. Mede and Persian law, however, states “that no injunction or statute that the king establishes may be changed” (Daniel 6:14). Therefore, Darius orders that Daniel is cast into the lions’ den. However, before Daniel is cast into the lions’ den, Darius says to him, “Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you (Daniel 6:16),” showing humility by acknowledging God’s superseding power and authority. King Darius then fasts throughout the night, unable to sleep while Daniel is in the lions’ den (Daniel 6:18).
When day arrives—and Daniel’s sentence is complete—King Darius hurries to the lions’ den to see if his beloved commissioner is alive. As he nears the den, he calls out to Daniel, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions” (Daniel 6:20)?
Daniel, unharmed by the lions, replies, ““O king, live forever! My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime” (Daniel 6:21-22).
Darius orders that Daniel be removed from the lions’ den; casting his accusers, their wives, and their children into the den in his stead. The lions immediately “overpower them and crushed all their bones” (Daniel 6:23-24), with the king issuing the following proclamation throughout the kingdom:
“May your peace abound! I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; For He is the living God and enduring forever, and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, and His dominion will be forever. He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, who has also delivered Daniel from the power of the lions” (Daniel 6:25-27).
Throughout the book of Daniel, God’s authority is shown to supersede that of any man or worldly authority. This understanding of authority reflects this truth: All is God’s, and he can both grant authority and remove it from anyone whom He desires (Ephesians 1:19-21; 1 Peter 2:13-21; Romans 13:1-2). Whether someone chooses to acknowledge His authority and power (i.e. the “world”), all are subservient to God.
Not surprisingly—particularly when considering the aforementioned Judeo-Christian perspective of authority—another major theme in the book of Daniel, and throughout the entirety of the bible, is influencing others through servant leadership.
THE REWARD OF BEING “GOOD” STEWARDS AND AMBASSADORS
When recognizing that all authority and power originates from God—and accepting that we’ll never possess any worldly authority which operates outside His ultimate sovereignty—our understanding of how, and what, it means to be influential will differ drastically from any secular worldview. Rather than seeing ourselves leading others when placed in formal (or informal) authority positions, we’ll instead perceive ourselves as serving others as stewards (Mark 10:42-45; John 3:30; 13:3-5,12-16; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21). In other words, leadership becomes synonymous with service for those who recognize God’s sovereignty; with true, meaningful (i.e. eternal) influence a product of obedient service to God. For any good work involves—regardless of our participation—the Holy Spirit (Micah 3:8; Philippians 2:13; 4:13; Romans 8:5-6).
Let us revisit the previously mentioned accounts from the book of Daniel and consider the influence that the exiled Jews—Daniel (Belteshazzar), Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abed-nego)—have within each. Daniel is able—through God’s provision—to tell Nebuchadnezzar his dream and provide him with an interpretation (Daniel 2:27-45), saving he and Babylon’s wise men from a sure death sentence. Moreover, as a result of this event, he and his three Jewish companions receive prominent positions of authority within Babylon (Daniel 2:48-49). In refusing to worship a false idol and placing their faith in the authority and power of their God, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego are—through God’s provision—protected from the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:8-27). Daniel—through God’s provision—survives an evening in the lions’ den (Daniel 6:16-23). All of these events bring glory to God (Daniel 2:47; 3:28-29; 6:25-27). Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are able to influence others (i.e. Babylon’s rulers, and those who read the bible) through God’s provision; rewarding them for their faithful obedience and service to Him by allowing them to share, and take joy, in His glory.
While not necessarily as immediate and overt as in the above examples, our loving and just God does the same for us! Scripture teaches us that we receive rewards for faithful obedience and service (Colossians 3:23-24; 1 Corinthians 15:58; Galatians 6:9; Hebrews 11:6); being good stewards of any authority that He entrusts to us (Matthew 25:19-23). Scripture also teaches us, however, that failing to use our “talents”—the specific gifts that God chooses to entrust to each of us—for His glory and our joy has negative repercussions (Romans 6:23; Matthew 25:26-30). For we receive reward, or punishment, according to our deeds (1 Kings 8:32; Matthew 25:29; 16:27; Revelation 22:12). In the New Testament book of Matthew, Jesus teaches us this truth using the Parable of the Talents:
“For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
“Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
“Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
“And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’
“But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’
“For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:13-30).
The slaves are each entrusted with different amounts of their Master’s wealth, and they are responsible for being good stewards of that which they receive. In other words, they are held accountable for that which they are made responsible. Their reward or punishment is commensurate to their performance, relative to what they receive. So too, do I believe it is for us.
Therefore, may we humbly approach positions of authority and power; knowing that:
- We are stewards, not (L)ords of any authority and power we receive
- We are eventually going to be evaluated and judged by God
- We are accountable for our service in such positions, based on what has been given
And, as the accounts within the book of Daniel teach us:
- God is sovereign and omnipotent
- The world’s perceptions of authority and power conflicts with God’s
- Our ability to influence corresponds with our faithful obedience and service to God
- We can serve wherever we are, to whoever God places in our lives
That said, may we all recognize our one, heavenly Lord and sovereign King; striving to influence our environments as faithful servants, good stewards, and willing ambassadors.