We live in a society dominated by desire. Our culture encourages us to act on desire, to let the various lusts of life direct us. We don't always recognize our evil desires for what they are. We tell ourselves we're being just a bit naughty or that we are blowing off a little steam. But Scripture tells us to put to death the desires of the flesh, especially those that lead to anger, malice, slander, and obscene talk and experience (see Colossians 3:5; Galatians 5:24; James 1:13-15; 2 Timothy 2:22). Desire out of the context of God's will is dangerous.
I think of film producer and impresario Jerry Weintraub, who is portrayed in the HBO documentary "His Way" as a lusty dealmaker who never takes no for an answer. The stories of his womanizing and making deals are funny but tragic. He is a man run by desire. John Calvin put it well: "The ruin of a man is to obey himself."
Another paragon of unchecked desire is Donald Trump. His forays into politics and entertainment have prompted him to declare how proud he is for causing President Obama to release his long-form birth certificate. After dropping out of the race because it would have cost him his television program The Apprentice, the Donald began to hold court for Republican presidential hopefuls, dangling his endorsement before them. This is the man who had an ongoing verbal street fight with comedian Rosie O'Donnell. He behaved like a junior high bad boy in exchanging barbs with her, and he has stooped to the same level in doing battle with others. There is no other explanation for such behavior than obedience to self. Weintraub and Trump are easy targets. Money and sex are hot, garish sins made for the media. But we must turn to something much more subtle: desire that gibbers deeply in the Christian leader's soul, the desire to win, to take up arms to make yourself look good, to have the last word.
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We see this subtle desire in King David at the end of his life, when he gave instructions to his son Solomon, who was soon to take the throne. David began by saying all the right things about obedience to God and keeping his law. And then he said,
There is something else. You know what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me when he murdered my two army commanders, Abner son of Ner and Amasa son of Jether. He pretended that it was an act of war, but it was done in a time of peace, staining his belt and sandals with innocent blood. Do with him what you think best, but don't let him grow old and go to his grave in peace.... and remember Shimei son of Gera, the man from Bahurim in Benjamin. He cursed me with a terrible curse.... I swore by the Lord that I would not kill him. But that oath does not make him innocent. You are a wise man, and you will know how to arrange a bloody death for him. (1 Kings 2:5-9)
Solomon was wise, and he took care of both men and a few others in a subtle and crafty way. But David's desire to win and have revenge was evil and led to treachery and revenge. Whether you are a king in the middle of a battle or a leader dealing with people who oppose you in a church or business, how you respond to combative situations will reveal your character. Many years ago I found myself engaged in a battle for my reputation and my job. The situation tested my own desire, whether it be for power or for God's purpose. As you read what happened, put yourself in my place and imagine how you might have conducted yourself.
I was a novice when it came to congregational intrigue; I had always been a straight shooter. The culture of this particular church reflected itself in broken relationships, suspicion, and vengeance. I remember one man in particular. At first he liked me, but as time passed, we disagreed on several issues, and he wanted me out. To this day, I am not sure what motivated him. He called my previous church and put together "facts" to prove I had lied about my experience there. He claimed that my previous congregation had fired me and that I had lied about how much I gave to the church financially. I was cleared of the accusations by a simple fact check.
He finally decided to write a letter to the president of our denomination and various superintendents, accusing me of a long list of violations. He did not copy me on the letter. He proceeded to follow Jane and me around the community. We would leave a restaurant and his car would be parked nearby. He would cruise by our house at odd hours; this was obvious since we lived on a cul-de-sac. Normally I would have confronted him one-on-one and had it out, but he would have distorted such action and used it against me. He held the confidence of many church members who believed he was representing their concerns.
I discussed at length with some of the staff and leaders how we might deal with this man's increasing anger and personal attacks on me. We came up with a way to address the problem. He held an important position in the church, and it was time for annual elections; his position was up for a vote. We asked him to vacate his position and run for another. He agreed, thinking that he would easily win the vote. We informed him that another person, a twenty-six-year-old novice, was running for the same position. This man didn't know how many people disliked his attacks on me. He was sure he would be elected, but we knew that many newer members and younger people would vote for the younger man. When the vote came back, he lost, the novice won, and our mission was accomplished. He was out. Later he was voted out of membership for continued actions.
There is no doubt that this man should have been removed because of his bitterness and his refusal to repent. But what about my friends and me—were we in the clear for orchestrating his ouster? I won't speak about my friends, but I believe that I did the right thing in the wrong way. It was right to address the man's defiance, but I wanted vindication. I lowered myself and played the political game in order to win, to take out an enemy. I didn't love him, and I particularly didn't treat him as Jesus treated Judas. I don't mean to say that he was on the level of Judas; my point is that Jesus treated Judas better than I treated this man. And for that I am sorry, of that I repent. My hope is that this man and I will embrace one day in heaven.
The need to win, to take up arms to make yourself look good or salvage your reputation is a dangerous desire, even in a Christian context. Don't skim over this point. Take some time right now to analyze your actions when you had to fight for your career, your reputation, even your job. What do your actions reveal about your character?
Written by Bill Hull
Taken from The Christian Leader by Bill Hull. Copyright © 2016 by Robert W. Hull. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.