October 26, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 7:1-2 (NRSV)
After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death.
If we’re the boss, if we have people who report to us at work, how should we think of them? An answer to this question comes from a surprising source, from the example of a Roman military officer who shows up in Luke 7. Luke tells us that this centurion “valued highly” a man who worked for him in a humble role. If we’re the boss, we must see the people who work for us, not merely as producers of work, but also as human beings created in God’s image, as people who worthy of respect and care. The centurion models for us what it’s like to be the boss in the mode of Jesus.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
At the beginning of Luke 7, we find a compelling story about Jesus’s interaction with a centurion, an officer in the Roman army who commanded a hundred soldiers or thereabouts. But before we get to the part that involves Jesus, I’d like to focus on a phrase, really a word, in Luke’s description of the centurion. It says, “A centurion [in Capernaum] had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death” (7:2). It would have been common, even expected for an officer in the Roman army to have slaves who worked for him. The phrase that has captured my attention is “whom he valued highly.”
The Greek word translated here as “valued highly” is entimos. If you look up this word in a Greek-English lexicon, you find translations such as “being highly regarded, honored, respected, valuable, precious.” Entimos appears in 1 Peter 2:4, in an Old Testament-based description of Jesus as “chosen and precious in God’s sight.” In Luke 14:8 Jesus uses this word in the sense of “honored” or “distinguished.” Thus, entimos in Luke’s description of the centurion’s regard for his slave suggests that the centurion wasn’t only thinking of his slave as useful. Rather, the centurion valued him as a human being in addition to a productive worker. That’s a main reason why the centurion reached out to Jesus to see if his servant might be healed. (This fits, by the way, with what we learn later about the centurion, who loved generously; see Luke 7:4-5).
The centurion’s care for his slave reminds me of a story told by Max De Pree, after whom the center where I work is named. In his bestselling book, Leadership is an Art, Max relates a story about his father, D.J. De Pree, in the early days of his leadership of the furniture company Herman Miller. One day, one of D.J.’s key employees died. When he went to the man’s home to offer his support for the family, the employee’s widow invited D.J. to stay for a while. She asked if she might read some poetry; of course D.J. said that would be fine. After hearing several wonderful poems, D.J. asked who wrote them. “My husband was the poet,” the woman said.
D.J. was struck by the fact that his employee, a millwright in the company factory, was far more than just a millwright. Thus began at Herman Miller a century-long commitment to those who work for the company. To use Luke’s language, each person at Herman Miller is entimos: valued highly, honored, respected. Reflecting on his father’s experience with the millwright-poet, Max writes, “In our effort to understand corporate life, what is it we should learn from this story? In addition to all of the ratios and goals and parameters and bottom lines, it is fundamental that leaders endorse a concept of persons. This begins with an understanding of the diversity of people’s gifts and talents and skills” (Leadership is an Art, p. 9).
My colleague at the De Pree Center, Professor Scott Cormode, says that as leaders, we really don’t have followers. Rather, it is better to think that we have “people entrusted to our care.” As we exercise leadership, we must care for the human beings who are so much more than mere followers. If we are in authority in our workplace, we need to value each one of our employees as entimos, as people whose worth is so much more than what they produce on the job. The centurion in Luke 7 provides a salient example, a reminder of the calling of leaders to honor the people entrusted to our care.
Have you ever had a boss who valued you highly as a person and helped you to experience this? If so, what did your boss do to communicate his or her regard for your value as a person?
If you are a boss, do you see your employees as “people entrusted to your care”? If so, why? If not, why not?
How might you communicate to those who work for you that they are highly valued for who they are, as well as for their work?
If you’re a boss, do something to let at least one of your employees know how much you value them.
Gracious God, thank you for the little slice of life we get in the beginning of Luke 7. Thank you for the centurion who valued highly one of the people who worked for him. His example encourages me to be this kind of boss. Help me, Lord, to communicate my esteem for each person who works for me. May I understand that they are not just employees, but also people entrusted to my care. Help me to be faithful in my care for them. Amen.
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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 High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Amazing Faith
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.