I once heard a wise man say to a room full of thousands of youth leaders,
“What do you do when you realize you are the most powerful man in the room?”
Years later, this question has never left my mind. I am periodically reminded of the great responsibility those in any position of leadership over someone else retain. The older I become and the more I work in youth ministry, I see the grave truth in the question. Our words have the power to bring life or death to those around us.
Currently, I am reading through the historical books of the Old Testament; and today, I found myself at the end of 2 Samuel, which records the decline of David’s kingdom. The particular story I read was chronicling the treason of Absalom to overthrow his father David’s reign, becoming king himself. Although a dangerous attempt, it ends with Absalom’s gruesome death.
But it is not Absalom–or David–that caught my interest this morning. In the middle of this account, I came across a short and rather minor blurb about a man named Ahithophel (2 Samuel 16:20-23). He was counselor to David originally and then to Absalom during this conspiracy. This short passage can be summarized as follows: Almost immediately after Absalom enters Jerusalem, he asks Ahithophel what his next move should be. Ahithophel advises that Absalom sleep with his father’s 10 concubines in a tent on the palace roof to display his power to the nation of Israel, and Absalom does just that. The final verse (23) reads,
Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the Word of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absalom.
Wow. What a incredible statement about Ahithophel, a man only briefly mentioned in the Old Testament. What tremendous power he carried to direct the kings of Israel! I wonder whether or not he felt the full weight of that responsibility.
I find it rather tragic that Ahithophel’s counsel was accepted as the words of God. He was most definitely not God; and although the bulk of his advice must have been full of wisdom in his earlier days to gain this level of respect, he was still a human being with fault. His words should never have replaced those of God’s. Did he–early on–gain this position as chief counselor because he sought God’s council before giving his own? Did his counsel take a turn for the worst because he became comfortable and confident in his own words? He must have been a great man once. I wonder if he ever realized in his later life how far he had strayed from true wisdom.
Interestingly enough, he appears in the next chapter of 2 Samuel but with a very different outcome. This time, his advice is rejected; and he returns home to hang himself. Maybe only then did he fully realize his power and corresponding responsibility. At least, I’d like to think so.
We can never underestimate the power of our words. Our words can either bring life to those around us or they can bring death. We must seek the counsel of the Lord alone and pass that along to those who ask, rather than speaking solely out of our own opinions. Proverbs reminds us that true wisdom can be found only in a reverence for the Lord (Proverbs 1:7).
Similarly, we must never esteem man’s words higher than God’s. We can seek counsel from the people in our lives or books on our shelves, but they must never replace the words found on the pages of the Bible. Those words–God’s Words–alone hold the power of true life.
You may never really know how your answer to this question could change the course of one person’s life–or the direction of an entire nation:
What do you do when you realize you are the most powerful man in the room?