February 26, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Matthew 4:1-4 (NIV)
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
God is the source of our call to leadership, of our character in its conduct, and of our confidence in its results. God is more essential to the work of leadership than even bread for our survival. Learning to trust God unreservedly is the first task (and test) of leadership.
How do we get ready to lead others? Sometimes, we experience a “field promotion.” We find ourselves in a situation that needs someone to step in and provide leadership. Without much fanfare or preparation, we step into a role that needs to be filled and do it as best we can. At other times, we find ourselves part of a more intentional process. Someone notices that we are “leadership material” and puts us on track for “leadership development.” Perhaps we get assignments intended to develop our capacity; perhaps we get more formal training through one of the many leadership programs offered by schools across the country. But not many leaders today get prepared the way Jesus did.
“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Following his identification as God’s beloved Son and Servant through baptism, Jesus is sent into the wilderness to be tested. Why might that be? I have written elsewhere that leadership is about calling, character, and competence. Jesus’ wilderness temptations test all three of those aspects of his leadership.
Today’s text and Jesus’ first test is a good example.
The tempter begins by questioning Jesus’ identity and calling: “If you are the Son of God…” At that point, the glorious day of Jesus’ baptism lay forty days in the past. Since then, Jesus had been alone, without food or drink, in a deserted wasteland. In such a physically vulnerable state, it doesn’t take much to doubt what happened a few weeks prior. Had God really said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17)? Is Jesus really the one greater than Moses and the one who uniquely embodies God to the world? It likely didn’t feel that way, at least not then. This temptation reminds us that, like us and with us, Jesus was tempted to doubt his identity and to question his calling. Leaders are susceptible to “impostor syndrome.” The wilderness is intended to test our convictions about our identity and calling.
And if Jesus does trust God for his identity and calling, there’s still the matter of how he will live them out. What kind of character will Jesus demonstrate? “Tell these stones to become bread” seems on the surface to be sensible advice. If Jesus is to fulfill his calling, he can’t starve to death in the wilderness, can he? Didn’t God provide manna for Israel on just such an occasion? If Jesus is God’s Son, couldn’t he do that by commanding stones to turn into bread? What harm was there in that? But evidently there was, for Jesus intended to recapture for humanity a voluntary life of dependence and trust in God. Rather than yielding to the temptation of an illusory autonomy, Jesus demonstrates a singular commitment to faith in God’s faithfulness and provision. And that reminds us as leaders that foundational to our character must be our singular love for God expressed in faith and hope in God’s faithfulness.
Finally, Jesus demonstrates his competency, along with his character and calling, by responding wisely to the tempter’s temptation: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Jesus isn’t naïve or uninformed. He’s well trained in the biblical texts. As we shall see in the rest of the temptations, it is clear that Jesus has thought deeply and carefully about what Moses taught Israel about their forty years in the wilderness. As some have observed, Jesus was able to competently navigate the wilderness tests in forty days—what took Israel forty years. Competency in leadership matters.
What are we to learn from the first of Jesus’ temptations?
For one, leadership is about whom you trust. God is the source of our call to leadership, of our character in its conduct, and of our confidence in its results. God is more essential to the work of leadership than even bread for our survival. Learning to trust God unreservedly is the first task (and test) of leadership. Without such trust, we will at some point become untrustworthy ourselves, which has profound implications for those who follow us.
For another, Jesus’ willingness to risk his own well-being and life models for us what leadership is about. Refusing to turn stones into bread for himself in the wilderness allowed Jesus to feed thousands of others in another wilderness (Matthew 14:13-21) and to become the bread of life for the world (John 6:35). Self-sacrifice is the necessary seed that bears extraordinary fruit in our leadership.
In what ways have you been tested and/or tempted in your leadership journey? What have you learned from those experiences?
Read Deuteronomy 6-11 and notice what Moses said to Israel about what they were to learn from their wilderness journey.
Lord Jesus Christ,
We are grateful for the example of your faithfulness in the wilderness. When we are tested, help us to turn to you in trust. Teach us by your Spirit to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength.
We ask in your name.
P.S. from Mark
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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: Jesus is Tempted to Abandon Serving God (Luke 4:1-13)
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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