A wise and seasoned minister told me early in my ministry that I would need to be watchful concerning three very important subjects: the gold, the glory and the girls (no offense ladies). He was referencing years of experience when he shared about the primary areas that male leaders were most likely to face in remaining faithful to God and true to their testimony. Although I would certainly not be the expert on writing the primary temptations of women leaders, that would be good material for a future article (written by a woman)!
Whether the scriptures are talking about material things or money itself, it’s clear that God has some strong opinions about the way we handle mammon and the way we view material things. I love what Rick Warren said, when he summarized “You can’t take it with you” (1 Timothy 6:7), but you can “send it on ahead” (1 Timothy 6:19). Someone once told me that two-thirds of the New Testament parables reference money. It must be an extremely important subject!
Remember when Jesus had the interchange with the wealthy guy and challenged him to give up his wealth, then return and rejoin the group? It was met with rejection. It’s also interesting that Jesus did not ask anyone else in that crowd to prove their loyalty by doing the same. He concluded his message (too bad the rich guy left) that anyone who did invest in the kingdom would see a hundred fold return. As I review that story, I’ve concluded that Jesus identified the one thing that this man was unwilling to part with. It was a moment of divine discernment, drilling down to reveal a serious flaw in how this man viewed life, while challenging his view of what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus!
1) Material Things: It’s possible that some people will never be satisfied with what they have. It’s also possible that others will end up with a great deal of turmoil because of what they don’t have. Either way, possessions (or lack thereof) can easily become something that occupies way too much effort and time. We find ourselves managing them or moping about them. We find ourselves obsessed with them or offended by others who have them. What we potentially discover is that we didn’t guard our hearts! The scriptures declare that where your treasure is… there is your heart also!
2) Money: Few subjects have the potential to create more controversy, challenge your commitments or divide people so quickly, as money. How we spend it, give it, save it and steward it will send a clear message of our priorities, our willingness to trust God with our future and our seriousness with which to be responsible concerning our resources. Managing your own finances well will send a clear signal that you can be trusted.
If you ever thought that simply more money would bring you happiness or be the solution to your troubles, please remember the sad ending of many people who won the lottery or inherited large sums of money, etc. For some, the money actually ruined their life or maybe more accurately… exposed some serious flaws about them.
In the Gospels, Jesus pointed out at least three people publicly because of their spiritual acts. One was the widow in the temple who gave “a few mites” in the offering, but by his account, gave more than anyone else in the room. How could that be? Jesus explained that she had given “all that she had.” That’s a powerful statement. While others gave a percentage or a token, she trusted God completely for her future.
Another very serious subject is the blurring of the lines between the handling of personal monies and church funds. Nothing shocks me anymore. When a cavalier attitude exists that clouds clear accountability verses a concentrated effort to abstain from even the “appearance” of evil, it opens the door for a serious and sometimes fatal judgment of error. Years of fruitful ministry and sterling reputations can evaporate overnight in the face of accusations and loss of confidence in a leader’s ability to make good decisions or to practice good judgment regarding church finances.
I knew that my mentor was primarily referring to power and pride, those subtle and devastating paths that people sometimes end up on.
1) Power: Leaders and influence generally travel together. Influence usually occurs because: a) Leaders have been fruitful and people naturally want to glean from them, b) God has given them grace and favor that draw others to them or, c) They have made significant relational investments that create certain buy-in from the people they lead.
At other times, people attempt to influence by their position or title. While authority and decision making rights come with places of influence, leveraging your position or title is potentially a very dangerous place to lead from… simply because you’re in charge. It should be the last place to lead from, not the first. Often people who lead from position do so because they have not been able to achieve influence in any of the three ways that we mentioned earlier, so they resort to a power play. I want to acknowledge that there definitely times when a decision maker must take the responsibility and make the close call… but it’s generally after serious efforts have been taken to influence a situation, not by just demanding their own way. In fact, Solomon acknowledges that a multitude of counsel ensures victory, not arbitrary decision making.
The centurion (the second person that Jesus publicly drew others’ attention to) easily surrendered the outcome of his situation to Jesus, while declaring that Christ was a man “under authority,” not simply a man “with authority”! He saw Jesus, not as a person who had arbitrarily wielded power, but as one intentionally surrendered to the authority over him and that made him a leader that could be trusted. This impressed the centurion to the point of unparalleled confidence.
2) Pride: The first 11 verses in Proverbs 26 deal with the characteristics of a fool. Solomon declares things like “honor is not fitting for a fool.” Eleven straight verses warn us about “sending messages by a fool,” or “trusting them with a proverb,” etc. Then out of nowhere, he declares, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” Whoa!
Solomon declares that a man who has become blind to his own faults, only counts himself as wise and defers to no one is headed for great calamity. Over and over again, the scriptures declare that God “gives grace to the humble, but resists the proud!”
I’m not sure when pride settles in, but once it does and it takes over, I’ve seen people making unimaginable choices about their ministry, their marriage and their life. What’s worse is once this entanglement settles in; other classic symptoms show up like denial and manipulation. It becomes a stronghold, a very real spiritual bondage, and deliverance is the only option. You “shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free”!
The final subject that my friend brought up did not need much of an explanation. I got it! I knew exactly what he was talking about. We should all know that by being lax about building certain parameters around your life puts you in a vulnerable spot. It’s not always obvious to us that certain seasons and situations have weakened our defenses. Without warning, feelings can arise and boundary lines can be compromised… all with justifiable answers. When this kind of behavior begins, you can bet that lies and cover-up are abounding everywhere. We reject counsel and even get offended that others would raise concern. Accounting for your time and actions become almost non-existent.
Sitting and listening to the agony, pain and shame that have come about as a result of weakness, poor decisions and sin will give you a stark warning of just how close you personally could be to falling prey to the enemy of your soul. His clever devices are always at work to find an opening! He will not rest until he has violated your life! Few subjects are talked about so little, but need to be talked about so much! Turn on the light, expose the darkness. Be on guard, stay accountable! Be brave… ask others whether you keep a clear boundary line around this area.
Billy Graham is known for going the extra mile to ensure that he doesn’t fall prey to the enemy’s schemes. I’ve been told that he will never enter a hotel room alone. He has always made sure that the room was clear of any potential temptation. Way to go, Billy. Thanks for challenging us to live in a way that allows close scrutiny of our life. You have modeled a level of integrity that would be wise to follow.
Paul again writes to Timothy and exhorts him to “respect” the older women as a “mother” and treat the younger women with “pure motives”!
May the Lord grant you wisdom and courage on this journey of faith. May you exercise wise decisions as you lead others. In places where you have sinned… repent! In places where boundaries have been compromised… draw the line! Above all else, honor the Lord with your thoughts and with your actions!
Mary (the third person that Jesus publicly drew attention to regarding their actions) refused to give in to the pull of life, but instead set a powerful example of devotion to the Master! Jesus commended her. I want him to commend my actions as well, don’t you?