March 26, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Matthew 4:8-11 (NIV)
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
As leaders, we are rightly focused on our mission. In our passion to do good in the world, it’s easy for the tempter to distract us by focusing on the ends of our work in order to justify unjustifiable means. The greater the stakes, the greater the temptation. And the stakes would never be greater than when the fate of the world God loves hangs in the balance.
In the movie The Lord of the Rings the hobbit Frodo, who carries the Ring of Power as a burden, offers to give it to Galadriel, the most beautiful and wisest of the elves. Galadriel responds,
You offer it to me freely? I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired this… In place of a dark lord, you would have a queen. Not dark but beautiful and terrible as the dawn. Treacherous as the Sea. Stronger than the foundations of the Earth. All shall love me and despair.
But despite the temptation, she declines and says,
I have passed the test. I will diminish and go into the West and remain Galadriel.
Galadriel’s temptation is much the same as Jesus’ last wilderness temptation: How will you fulfill your vocation as a leader?
In Jesus’ case, it might be easy to minimize the attraction of the temptation. Of course Jesus wouldn’t “bend the knee” to anyone other than God. It’s textbook obvious, as any Jew would know, and as Jesus cites in his response. Besides, the tempter is probably lying. As Jesus observes elsewhere, he is “the father of lies” (John 8:44).
But it likely wasn’t that simple. The temptation struck at the heart of Jesus’ mission. Jesus was committed to redeeming the world that God loved. And here the tempter offered him a shortcut to the result. “You don’t have to pay a great price for the kingdoms under my control. All you have to do is ‘bow the knee’ to me. In an instant, all you came to gain would be yours.” As Galadriel might have said, “I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired this…”
Still, as both Jesus and Galadriel knew, worship changes you. You become like what you worship. Worship God who brought light out of darkness and you become light in the darkness. Worship the “dark lord” and you become darkness itself. Despite the tempter’s appealing offer, which likely was genuine, Jesus saw the deceit behind it. You cannot redeem the world if you become like the one who holds it hostage.
That’s a lesson many of us have forgotten.
As leaders, we are rightly focused on our mission. We do this by building for-profit businesses that provide goods and services that contribute to the flourishing of the world, non-profit enterprises that nurture and develop the people in our care and the planet we inhabit, and faith-based institutions that help us to grow in awareness of and to participate in God’s work in the world. In our passion to do good in the world, it’s easy for the tempter to distract us by focusing on the ends of our work in order to justify unjustifiable means. The greater the stakes, the greater the temptation. And the stakes would never be greater than when the fate of the world God loves hangs in the balance.
Jesus never got distracted. He didn’t fall for “The Big Lie” – that we can attain humane ends by inhuman means. There is no question that getting to the right end by the right means is a much harder, longer journey. Perhaps that’s part of what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14)
Whether on the factory floor or in the boardroom, whether in a small entrepreneurial start-up or an established multi-national corporation, whether in health care or in educational institutions, and whether in federal, state, or local governments, the pursuit of the common good must be done by good means. We must remain fully human even as we do our important work of leadership. To pass her critical test, Tolkien’s character must “remain Galadriel.” Jesus might have said the same. Jesus remained a human being made in the image of God, rather than becoming a divine despot remade in the image of the dark lord who tempted him.
That’s why character matters. That’s why we need to be like the God we claim to worship – compassionate and gracious, overflowing with steadfast love, truth, and faithfulness. Even when it costs us. Jesus experienced that in the wilderness. Jesus will experience it again in the Garden of Gethsemane. And that will be the final reflection in this series which is the subject for tomorrow.
Are there ways you have become less human by being a leader?
Review this last week and think about times when you have taken an inappropriate shortcut in your leadership. What could you have done differently? What can you do about it in the coming week?
Lord Jesus Christ,
We are grateful that you understand how tempting it is to sacrifice our humanity in order to achieve our goals. Sometimes it seems that is the price of leadership in the world in which we live. Yet we know that you have modeled another way. Teach us how to be wise and not naïve in how we navigate our leadership responsibilities. Strengthen us when we are weak and encourage us when we are tempted to detour or despair.
Thank you that you are always with us and at work in us by your Spirit. Amen.
P.S. from Mark
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During his adult life, Uli Chi has lived and worked in the intersection between business, the academy and the church. He has had the privilege of serving as past Board Chair of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as current Vice Chair of the Board of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Seminary, and as current Chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. He has also been involved in all aspects of local church leadership, including as a member of the adult ministries team’s teaching faculty at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
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