Jesus’ challenge to the leaders in his day, found in his sermon in Matthew 23, is so biting and sharp that some interpreters have wondered if these words are authentically Jesus’. They are. I’m convinced Jesus intends this profound teaching to serve as a warning for us in every generation. He means it to be a means of deep surgery in our hearts.
Here are five ways Jesus challenges leaders:
1. Be careful to practice what you preach. We need to be careful that the gap between our role and our soul diminishes, not widens, with time, and that we slow down enough to actually live what we preach.
2. Be careful of showiness. Jesus railed against leaders who “do everything … for people to see” (Matt. 23:5). The temptations we face to draw attention to ourselves and to do things that show we are great are powerful. Jesus was the opposite of showy and spectacular. In fact, one of the most impressive things about him was how unimpressive he was.
3. Be careful of entitlement. Jesus warns us to never let ourselves be set apart above others. Never. The teaching and leading honor belongs exclusively to him. There really is only one teacher—Jesus. He combats all hierarchical thinking, reminding us that we are simply servants.
4. Be careful of being one thing on the outside and another on the inside. This is very hard to avoid when we represent the living God to so many people. Jesus warns us to not fall into the trap of being beautiful on the outside without cleansing ourselves of hypocrisy on the inside.
5. Be careful to listen to the prophetic now. The leaders in Jesus’ day honored the ancient prophets but failed to listen to the Prophet, the Lord God Almighty in the person of Jesus. And so we must also listen for God’s prophetic voice coming to us now.
May we allow these difficult words to fall on our hearts. At the same time, may we be kind to ourselves in the process, remembering: “A bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matt. 12:20). May we also relax in where we are in our leadership journey now. Learning this kind of wisdom takes time. And finally, may we surrender our wills and listen to Jesus, remembering that this is the essence of all good leadership.
This article originally appeared on Emotionally Healthy Discipleship.