A power struggle is a situation in which two or more people or groups compete for control in a particular sphere. The power struggle can be at home (between a husband and wife or between a parent and child or between siblings) or at work (between a boss and colleagues or between colleagues vying for favour) or between neighbours (‘keeping up with the Joneses’ is a form of power struggle!) and these can be extremely wearing, a ‘battle of the wills’, so to speak. Power struggles can result in all kinds of tactics, from sulking to tantrums, from manipulation to deceit, from cold shouldering to malice and slander, and can make life extremely difficult for those involved.
One of the difficulties with these situations is that the parties involved may not always be on an equal footing. When one person is in a position of authority over another (an employer with an employee, for example), the power struggle can result in bullying and intimidation. Ephesus was a very prestigious place in the Mediterranean world in the 1st century, ‘a great city at the hub of the trade routes of the world, full of culture and money and temples and politics and soldiers and merchants and slaves. And power.’ (Tom Wright, ‘Acts For Everyone’, Pt 2, P 113) Into this situation, Paul arrived, preaching a gospel which demonstrated God’s power over all the world. (Acts 19:1-22)
Luke tells us that ‘God performed unusual works of power through Paul’s hands’ (Acts 19:11) and this chapter shows us people being baptised in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues and prophesying as well as healings, exorcisms and deliverances. It shows us not a power struggle between equal forces, but a demonstration that God’s power is far greater than any human or satanic power. It’s perhaps not surprising that in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he talks of praying that their eyes will be opened to see ‘his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.’ (Eph 1:19-21) Paul was well aware that in any power struggle between people and God, between spiritual powers and God, there is only one winner: God!
Our problem is that we tend to see evil as all-powerful. Eugene Peterson says, ‘We underestimate God and we overestimate evil. We don’t see what God is doing and conclude that he is doing nothing. We see everything that evil is doing and think it is in control of everyone.’ (‘Run With The Horses’) This becomes a vicious circle as we cower before the devil and refuse to believe God has the power to deliver us and establish His kingdom where we are. Eugene Peterson goes on to remind us that “evil is not inexhaustible. It is not infinite. It is not worthy of a lifetime of attention.” What this passage in Acts teaches us is that in any power struggle with God, God will win. He is not called omnipotent for nothing!