The essence of sin is pride; or said another way, the will to power; or more blatantly, the desire to be our own gods. This is the case from the beginning (“…they will be like God” Gen. 3:5) and is what is being symbolized in the Tower of Babel. We speak of this in terms of people having “control” issues, being OCD, exhibiting “passive aggression” and so on. Re-read Scripture and you will see this everywhere: people seeking to take the matter into their own hands vs. those who believe that all authority has been given to the Christ (not a call to inaction, but action in the context of trust rather than fear).
So it’s no surprise that what Satan offers to Jesus — whose body is weak, weary, and vulnerable in the wilderness — is power. He offers him power over creation (“…command these stones” Mt 4:3), power over himself, and power over others. When we are weak or afraid, we want control. It is intolerable to us that important matters should slip from our grasp, matters related to ourselves, our families, our work. It’s often noted that Jesus quotes Scripture back to Satan, which is true, but more importantly all of the Scriptures quoted refer to the lordship of God — over Satan, over everything.
After the wilderness, the next time Jesus is teaching in Matthew is at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. There he famously says the “blessed” (by God) are the meek, the merciful, the mourning, the ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the pure in heart, and so on. It’s not a list of power people. Nor is it a list that describes that great American folk hero: the “take charge” person (who features in probably a third of all American films). Rather, it describes a person who is faithful “even when others revile you and persecute you” (Mt 5:11). This is what strength looks like.
In this life, godly character is everything, including power — real power. When our lives lose this, and we resort to our own will to power, to control, to take charge, we become “no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Mt 5:13). This is the irony too subtle for most people, believers included, to observe: at just that point when we think we are finally doing something, finally taking control, we have become feeble and worthless. We may feel powerful and forceful, there may even be a cheering throng, but in God’s economy we are ineffective and “no longer good for anything.”
Francis Schaeffer used to say we needed to do “the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way.” It’s worth taking inventory of your life and asking if this is how you approach your responsibilities. Are your best efforts in effect a will to power (Nietzsche’s idea, btw), or do you embody Christ’s character, trusting in his Lordship? “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16).