Leaders must master their words as they respond to others – especially when people say and do things which infuriate us, frustrate us, or grieve us. People are messy, complicated, and can be ungrateful, unthinking, and hurtful.
We’re imperfect and called to lead imperfect people. Leaders are also held to a high standard.
You’re probably familiar with James 1:19-20, and we also read in Proverbs:
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18)
And in Ephesians we read:
Let each one of your speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin… Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but on such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:25-26, 29)
Restraining your words is hard work because we have so many immature thoughts and voices in our head.
Restraining Your Words
I think the people who say they have an inner voice are fortunate, because I have whole committees with subcommittees at work – and half of them are whiners.
For example, here are some things I’ve thought about saying (but fortunately didn’t) just in the past few months:
- “Do you hear yourself when you talk? In a different setting this would be entertaining.”
- “Are you saying this because you want to get fired?”
- “You’re a hypocrite.”
- “I think you prefer telling yourself that lie because the truth is too painful to acknowledge. Am I right?”
- “If you could see things in the bigger picture you’d realize you’re arguing about a small matter and wasting my time.”
- “Back away, little man, before you regret starting this conversation.”
- “Are you asking a question or just filling the air with a rant?”
- “I’m really, really tired.”
- “I’m really not sure how you got promoted to this level.”
- “Why is this my problem now?”
- “Thanks for the insincere praise. Now, what do you want?”
- “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
- “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
- “I don’t care.”
I’m sharing these so that you know you’re not the only one who battles against immature, unhelpful thoughts, and because when we write these out they lose this potency. We’ll defeat them more easily next time.
Look to the Example of Jesus
Leaders should look to the remarkable example of Jesus interacting with difficult people.
Consider this example of Jesus in conversation with some Jewish religious leaders. Ask yourself as you read this, “What is Jesus NOT doing?”
“Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”
Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”
Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:47-59, ESV)
Jesus exhibits extraordinary love here, even as he tells people the truth and tries to get them to see reality. He responds evenly and calmly, while the Jewish leaders are clearly enraged at him.
How hazardous to your health is it to insult the Lord of Lords by telling him he’s a Samaritan and has a demon?
After all, if we believe what Paul says about Jesus, “in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17), then Jesus could have simply stopped holding their molecules together and poof! – the people who insulted him are no more.
But in love Jesus responds with what people need to hear, rather than what they deserve to experience. Your leadership conversation should be the same.
One of the Great Joys of Leadership Under the Authority of Christ
You can also look at times when Jesus did speak forcefully with people. For example:
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”
One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.”
And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs.
Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” (Luke 11:42-52)
The pattern we see with Jesus throughout the Gospel accounts is that he doesn’t get angry with people who insult him, or flog him, or crucify him.
He gets angry when people are interfering with other people’s ability to be in right relationship with God. Plus, he manages that anger without sin.
Jesus told us that we could follow his example (John 14:12) with the power of the Spirit. Pray earnestly for help that your words as a leader will edify, build-up, express love, and not sin.
When you notice that you didn’t respond to people the way they may have deserved, give God the credit and be grateful that he is transforming you more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ. (see 2 Thessalonians 1:3)
This is one of the great joys of leadership under the authority of Christ as our Lord, Savior, Master, and Friend.
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