In Matthew 4, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Throughout the account, the nature of Satan’s temptation in this experience
is toward the abuse of power.
Satan first entices Jesus to turn a stone into bread. Jesus had fasted for forty days up to this point. His hunger was an obvious, legitimate human need. Since he was hungry, he could have rationalized that turning the stone into bread was his right, particularly as the one Son of God and as one with the power to make it happen. This scenario is the perfect storm: one in authority having a legitimate need, feeling a right to have that need met, and having the power to make it happen—incentive, rationalization, and ability. This is exactly the kind of situation where leaders make moral blunders. In an interview with Dan Rather, Bill Clinton said he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky “just because I could.” But in his temptation, Jesus understood that not even a legitimate need should be met in illegitimate ways. It was not God’s timing, nor was it the way that God wanted to meet this need. In this instance, turning the stone into bread would have been an abuse of his power.
The hardworking pastor who has legitimate financial needs may justify an abuse of power by taking money from the church offerings. He might say, “I work so hard for this church, and they don’t pay me as they should,” or “My family has needs, and look at all I have given to the church.” His needs may be real, and his rationalizations may be accurate. He does have financial needs, his family should be provided for, and he might work very hard for the church. Yet, no matter how legitimate, those needs must not be met illegitimately.
When these three components come together, power abuse is possible: incentive, rationalization, and opportunity. Incentive means the internal motivation. Rationalization means that one can logically justify the action. Opportunity means that one has a favorable occasion, the ability and/or the power to take an action. Yet, these components in themselves do not make an action moral.
Jesus had all three, yet withstood the temptation to spend power of himself.