What Does “Power” Mean?

acts9.22.

Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah. – Acts 9:22

While training for ministry, I sat with a group of seasoned pastors and green seminary students. In talking about their growing understanding of ministry, one young trainee said he was surprised by the “power” of the pastoral role. Bad choice of words! One of old veterans exploded. For thirty minutes, he lectured us on why “power” should never be used to describe a pastor’s influence.

I was impacted. I still remember it vividly today. He made some very good points! And at the same time, it was hugely ironic … this crusty pastor was forcefully using his “power position” to intimidate us into never using the word “power” again.

Power!

I couldn’t help but flinch when today’s verse said, “Saul became increasingly more powerful.” Saul had been a violent and virulent persecutor of the fledgling Christian Church. He helped lead the execution of Stephen. But along the road to Damascus, Jesus knock Saul down with a bright vision, a personal encounter, and a transformative call to ministry. And Saul – soon to be the Apostle Paul – was changed. He began to study the ways and teachings of Christ, and as it says in today’s verse, “Saul became increasingly more powerful.”

Should “power” be used to describe a proclaimer of the Word? My translation thinks so. But what does “power” mean in this context?

First, what was Saul doing? He was learning … and then proclaiming. He was “confound[ing] the Jews” by “proving that Jesus was the Messiah.” In other words, he was showing how fifteen-hundred years of Jewish prophecy pointed to Jesus as the long-expected Savior. So, was it Saul who had power … or was it the Word of God that has power, and “Saul [was] bec[oming] increasingly more [adept]” at proclaiming God’s truth?

Is “power” skill?

Is it influence? Paul was surely growing in influence – enough that leaders of the Jews would soon want him silenced … dead.

The NET translation says that Paul was becoming “more and more capable.” I hope all churches are praying for their pastors to become “more and more capable” in proclaiming the Word of God. (And I hope they’re also praying that their pastors understand that it’s God’s Word that has “power,” not their fallible, human pastor who is prideful enough to think that he or she has “power.”)

The OJB translation says that “even more [Saul] was being strengthened.” I like that. The Holy Spirit – who filled him in verse 17 – was building Saul in knowledge, understanding, and capability. The Spirit was fitting him for ministry. And let’s be clear: If Saul was effective (powerful) at all, it wasn’t because of his own aptitude; it was because the Holy Spirit was working in and through him.

Ultimately, the crusty old pastor was right. Humans aren’t powerful. If power is manifested in the church, it’s one of two things: First, “power” by humans could be manipulation. Wrong power is people using human capabilities for human gain. Indeed, wrong power is people using personal influence for personal gain. That’s what the old pastor rightly railed against! But there’s a second kind of power that we all ought to pray that we experience. And that’s the power of the Holy Spirit!

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who prays:

God, get us out of the way.

Come, Holy Spirit, come.

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