June 11, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 3:12-14 (NRSV)
Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
The ministry of John the Baptist in the New Testament teaches us to exercise justice in every part of life. In particular, we should use justly the power given to us, whether we are business owners or managers, teachers or pastors, police officers or mayors, parents or grandparents, soldiers or senators. We who seek to follow Jesus today will use our power in the way of Jesus, seeking God’s justice in all we do.
In the third chapter of Luke’s gospel, John the Baptist launched his distinctive ministry of preaching and baptism. Crowds of people came to hear John and to be baptized by him, including those you might not have expected. Tax collectors and soldiers, not exactly people associated with godliness, responded to John’s message and sought baptism. Sensing that they needed to live differently, they asked John, “Teacher, what should we do?” (Luke 3:12).
Before we get to John’s answer, let’s think about the historical reality behind this scene. Both tax collectors and soldiers in first-century Galilee had considerable power and quite a bit of freedom in the way they exercised this power. Tax collectors could charge people much more than was required, pocketing the difference for themselves, and there was nothing the taxpayers could do about it. Soldiers could use their might to extort money from people who had no option but to pay up. Though the details differed, what both of these cases had in common was the unjust exercise of power. Tax collectors and soldiers had power to exceed their authority so as to steal from people. Tax collectors and soldiers could use their power unjustly and get away with it.
John understood this context and responded accordingly to the tax collectors: “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you” (Luke 3:13). To the soldiers he said, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages” (Luke 3:14). If we were to summarize John’s instructions, he said in effect, “Do not use your power unjustly.” Or, we could put it positively, “Use your power justly.”
Among those who read Life for Leaders, we may very well have actual tax collectors and soldiers, people who would John’s words as if spoken directly to them. But I’m quite sure that most of us in the Life for Leaders community, no matter our jobs, have some kind of power. We may own companies or provide management in companies owned by others. We may be teachers, mayors, or police officers. We might be pastors, contractors, or attorneys. We may be mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, or grandparents. For those of us who have some kind of power, we need to hear the essence of John’s exhortation: “Use your power justly.”
Notice, by the way, that John was not addressing situations we might think of as personal. He wasn’t telling folks how to behave at home or at the synagogue. Rather, he was speaking about their work—their ordinary, everyday, public work as tax collectors and soldiers. John assumed that those he baptized should live in a new way in every part of life, including their daily work. Thus, as we consider the call to use our own power justly, we mustn’t think this is relevant only at home or church. Rather, what John proclaimed, and what Jesus reinforced through his own ministry, touches every part of our lives.
If we are going to follow Jesus today, therefore, we will seek to use justly whatever power we have. We will live for God’s purposes and justice in all we do.
How do you respond to the call of John the Baptist?
In what parts of life do you have power?
Can you think of times you have used your power unjustly?
What might you do differently in response to the call of John?
Talk with your small group or a good friend about how you might use your power justly. Then, do something tangible in response to what you have discussed.
Gracious God, thank you for the ministry of John the Baptist. In particular, thank you for his exhortation to the tax collectors and soldiers. Though we are in quite a different situation from these first-century people, we have been given power, and can use it for good or evil. Help us, Lord, not to abuse our power. Rather, help us to use our power justly.
In particular, we ask that you will help us to do this in our daily work. By your Spirit, give us eyes to see how we might live out your call to justice in all we do each day. 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 Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: John the Baptist Teaches Workplace Ethics (Luke 3:8-14)
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.