June 22, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 2:6-7 (NRSV)
. . . nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children.
If you have authority, it might be tempting sometimes to throw your weight around. You may want to make sure others know how important and powerful you are. This temptation is common, but it’s something we need to avoid if we want to follow Jesus faithfully. We must exercise the authority we’ve been given to serve others, not to Lord it over them. Our desire should be that others are edified and that the organizations entrusted to us flourish.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.
Have you ever had a boss who liked to throw their weight around? Sometimes a person in authority becomes overly impressed with their power over people. They don’t exercise authority appropriately or humbly. On the contrary, they get puffed up with pride and make sure that others know just how important and mighty they are. I’m grateful to say that I’ve never had a boss like that. But, over the years, I have known people who have had such a boss. Their stories of their boss’s antics are anything but encouraging.
When the Apostle Paul and his colleagues came to Thessalonica, they could have chosen to throw their weight around. They didn’t have political authority, of course. But they did have extraordinary spiritual authority as people who had been called by God into the ministry of the gospel. You may recall that in 1 Thessalonians 2:4 the writers said that they “have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel.” Someone with divine approval might try to show off, displaying their superlative spiritual authority. (These days, it’s way too common to read news stories of pastors who fall into this very trap, to the detriment of their churches and the people entrusted to their care.)
But Paul and his co-workers did not try to impress with their spiritual prowess. In the first part of verse 7, they write, “though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ” (1:7). That English translation gets the sense of the Greek but misses a linguistic irony. If you were to translate that part of verse seven literally from the Greek, you’d get: “being able to be in heaviness as apostles of Christ.” A more literal translation of the Greek is found in the Common English Bible: “We didn’t ask for special treatment from people—not from you or from others— although we could have thrown our weight around as Christ’s apostles” (2:6-7, CEB).
Why didn’t Paul and his associates use their authority in an overbearing and self-serving way? In part, this may have been a strategic move. They may have realized that as Jewish outsiders in Thessalonica, their particular brand of spiritual authority would not have been impressive to a largely pagan audience. A more respectful and humble approach would have born greater fruit for the gospel. But, beyond strategy, Paul and Co. knew they were representatives of Jesus Christ. Though Jesus had no problem exercising his authority when necessary, as when he was confronting a demon, for example, Jesus said he came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45). Jesus, in his life and death, modeled servant leadership that bore no resemblance to throwing one’s weight around (see Phil 2:5-11).
Those of us who have been entrusted with authority, whether at work or at home, whether in church or in government, whether in the classroom or on the soccer field, should not hold back from using our authority for good. There are times when we ought to give clear direction so the people and organizations over whom we have charge might flourish. But we must refrain from using our authority so as to bring glory to ourselves. Rather, we must seek to serve those who have been entrusted to our care and the organizations over which we are stewards.
What we read in 1 Thessalonians reminds me of Jim Collins’s description of the Level 5 leader. In his book Good to Great, Collins writes: “Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious—but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.” Level 5 Leaders don’t need to show off their authority. Their egos are not sustained by being more powerful and glorious than others. Rather, they use their authority to build up others. They find joy in the growth of both the individuals and the organization that they lead.
The example of Paul and his colleagues in 1 Thessalonians encourages us to look at our own exercise of leadership. When we have been entrusted with authority, are we trying to impress those around us with our power? Are we exercising authority mainly because it makes us feel good about ourselves? Or are we choosing instead the path of Jesus, the way of servant leadership?
Have you ever known someone, perhaps a boss, who liked to throw their weight around? What was that like for others? Why do you think this person needed to exercise authority in that way?
Have you known someone, perhaps a boss, who exercised authority in the humble, servant leadership kind of way? What did this person do? What was motivating this person to lead in that way?
What about you? Are you ever tempted to throw your weight around? If so, why? If not, why not?
Is there anyone in your life who could honestly confront you if your exercise of leadership was not following the model of Jesus? Do you have relationships of accountability that help you to grow in the areas in your areas of weakness?
Think about a context in which you have authority. Consider how you might exercise servant leadership in that context. Then, do something intentionally as a leader who seeks to imitate Jesus.
Gracious God, thank you for the example of Paul and his colleagues. Thank you for their choice not to throw their weight around. Thank you for their desire to exercise their authority in a way that builds up others, not themselves.
Thank you also, gracious God, for the example of Jesus. Thank you that the one who had superlative authority chose to come among us as a servant. May his example inspire and instruct us. May we exercise the authority we have been given in a way that builds others up. May we find our identity in you so that we don’t have to show off to earn the praise of others.
To you be all the glory. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Your Faithful Work Matters to God
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.