May 28, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Matthew 5:31-32 (NIV)
It has been said, “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.” But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
What does Jesus’ teaching about divorce have to do with our work as marketplace leaders?
Jesus never ceases to surprise. As we saw yesterday, sometimes Jesus shocks us awake with inconvenient truths about ourselves. That’s especially true when Jesus addresses us as leaders. Speaking truth to power is not a new idea. Jesus did it regularly.
What is surprising about Jesus’ teaching about divorce? To the modern eye, a casual reading of today’s text can make Jesus a hard-hearted person who is either naïve about or (worse) indifferent to the abusive possibilities in marriage relationships. But a closer reading suggests the opposite.
Notice that Jesus addresses the person with the power in the relationship. In the first-century cultural context, that was the husband. Even under the Mosaic Law, the husband had the right to divorce his wife, presumably for almost any reason. But Jesus takes exception on behalf of the other spouse. He levels the playing field somewhat by requiring the husband to honor his marriage vows rather than capriciously break them.
There is a more detailed exchange between Jesus and the religious leaders about this subject in Matthew 19:1-9 that’s worth a careful reading. What’s interesting about that text is how the disciples responded to that conversation: “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10 NIV). Evidently, Jesus upset the social norms of his day, even for his disciples!
Clearly, Jesus advocates for those disadvantaged in their social relationships. And Jesus raises the stakes by reminding the husband of the potential collateral damage resulting from the use of his social power. Jesus pointedly refers not to the husband being an adulterer (that’s clearly implied) but to the husband making his wife and anyone who marries her a victim of his adultery. The ripple effects of our abuse of power are often more significant than we realize.
So what does any of this have to do with our work as marketplace leaders?
Marriage is intended to be a unique picture of how relationships at their best could be. And that’s why marriage is the predominant biblical metaphor for God’s intended relationship with human beings. Marriage reminds us of God’s extraordinary commitment to and love for us, and of his desire for our well-being.
As such, marriage suggests that our relationships shouldn’t be merely transactional or contractual but covenantal. That’s challenging for those of us in business where our work is primarily transactional and contractual. In business, we can become preoccupied with what “we” get out of the relationship. In contrast, the word covenant argues that we should be as concerned (if not more so) about what we bring into the relationship. Ultimately, covenantal relationships are about mutual flourishing.
Of course, the characteristics of a marriage, including its length, intimacy, and level of commitment, are singular in human experience. Nevertheless, the implications of Jesus’ teaching suggest that the commitment to building mutually flourishing (covenantal) relationships should also be central to our vocation as business leaders. Those who have power in business relationships need to use it wisely for the sake of others.
Unlike marriage relationships, business relationships are not meant to be “till death do us part.” There are good reasons for moving on in business. But how we do that matters. Do we treat those who do business with us fairly and even generously when we have the upper hand? How do we make needed but difficult and disruptive changes in our businesses that involve dislocating our people and the communities in which they work? How does love shape what we do and how we respond in such circumstances?
These are tough questions to ask and even tougher questions to answer. Learning to be a loving and dependable business leader is a lifelong journey.
And it bears a surprising resemblance to the art of becoming a loving and faithful marriage partner.
Look at your business relationships. In what ways are they transactional and contractual? What might it mean for them to be more covenantal? How might love shape your response?
Identify and work on one business relationship this week that you’d like to embody a more covenantal mindset.
Lord Jesus Christ,
Your love and faithfulness astonish me. Even while we were your enemies, you loved us and gave your life for us.
Help me to live like that, not only in my private life but in public. Help me to love as you love, to be dependably generous and faithful as you are in my public relationships.
I ask in your name.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Guilt, Grief, and Grace in Divorce.
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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.
Click here to view Uli’s profile.