Teachings

We’ve already touched on a number of the Bible’s teachings on topics like grace and man’s nature that seem to upend conventional wisdom and human logic. This section contains teachings on other topics that are similarly interesting. While there are many subjects I could have chosen to highlight, and much could be written about each, I write briefly on only a few to keep things simple.

Purpose

The Bible provides the answer to the question, why are we here (i.e., what is the purpose of life). It gives meaning to our lives. It reveals a higher power (i.e., God) who created and sustains everything seen and unseen for his purposes. The Bible says, “Everything got started in Him and finds its purpose in Him.”1 Elsewhere it says, “The Lord has made everything for His own purposes.”2 In other words, life in not about us – it’s about fulfilling God’s purposes.

So what are those purposes? Simply put, God is building and preparing a family that he can enjoy, love, and trust throughout eternity. Everything we do in this life on earth is meant to prepare us for our role in his family, and each of us has been given both common and unique purposes that we’re expected to know and honor to that end. An example of a common purpose is the commandment to love God and our neighbor.3 Every one of us was literally created to love, and this directive is known as the greatest commandment. A unique purpose is something you were specifically designed and gifted to do that helps fulfill God’s plans. It could be something as lofty as ruling a nation or as humble/noble as offering a smile and encouraging words to people as you work as a doorman.

Much can be said about purpose, as evidenced by excellent books like Rick Warren’s A Purpose Driven Life. I mention it only briefly here to make the point that the Bible offers an explanation for the purpose of our lives that is far clearer, more meaningful, and more hopeful than anything else I have ever seen or heard.

Leadership

A lot has been written about leadership, especially in recent years. It seems everybody has an idea for what an ideal leader looks like, usually captured in some sort of clever acronym summarizing the key traits of a great one. One example of many is the acronym developed by proponents of the Conscious Capitalism movement, which encourages businesses to operate according to higher purposes that serve, align, and integrate the interests of all of their major stakeholders – a very worthy goal, I might add. They define a “conscious leader” as one represented by the SELFLESS acronym (i.e., one who exhibits strength, enthusiasm, listening, flexibility, love, emotional intelligence, systems intelligence, and spiritual intelligence).

I recently read a handful of business and leadership books, and while their advice is fine and good it all tends to blend together into what seems like a mountain of words and clichés that can confuse as much as illuminate. This led me to examine the Bible to see what it says about leadership. In particular, I wondered if there was a single verse or collection of verses that seemed to capture the essence of what the ultimate leader looks like. I eventually landed on Philippians 2:5-8. It reads, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being; [and he] humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” Could there be a more beautiful and powerful example of leadership than that captured in these verses? Here is the most powerful leader there is – God himself, the creator of everything seen and unseen, who is capable of doing infinitely more than we could ever ask or imagine4 – acting in an incredibly humble, servant-minded, obedient, empathetic, and sacrificial way for the benefit of those below him. This is the kind of leader I want. Heck, it’s the kind of God I want! And it’s the leader and God revealed in the Bible.

I then began to think of our current leaders in government and business. I tried to imagine any one of them living out such a radical example of leadership. I thought about Jesus washing his disciple’s feet, including the feet of his betrayer, the night before he was arrested5 – an act considered so degrading at the time that Jewish slaves couldn’t be required to do it. I tried to imagine Steve Jobs or Larry Ellison washing the feet of their competing CEOs, or Saddam Hussein washing George Bush’s feet the night before he was hanged. I then looked on the Web at pictures of some of the palaces that our business leaders and celebrities call homes and the cars they drive. A review of the scriptures reveals that Jesus had no home of his own6 and that he had no “car.” In fact, the only recorded example of him using anything other than his feet to get around on land was when he borrowed a donkey (not a stallion or fancy chariot) to ride into Jerusalem the week he was crucified.7 I thought of Jesus associating with lepers, foreigners, beggars, cripples, tax collectors and prostitutes – people others considered beneath them. I thought of him taking the time to praise and interact with “insignificant” people, like a poor widow placing her last two cents in a Temple collections box.8 I thought of the love, grace, compassion, and vulnerability he demonstrated – at times moved to tears in front of others,9 and healing all of the sick and diseased people that were brought to him, not just those he cherry picked.10 I thought of how he championed the underdog, famously saying “blessed are the meek, mournful and merciful,” and that such people would inherit the Kingdom of God and be comforted and shown mercy.11 And I thought of how much Jesus was like us, how he displayed the same range of emotions as me or any other person, including anguish, distress and grief.12 To use Philip Yancey’s words, “God… ‘found out’ what life is like in the confines of planet earth. Jesus got acquainted with grief in person, in a brief, troubled life…”13

There’s a well-respected author named Simon Sinek who recently published a book entitled Leaders Eat Last. I would assert that the ultimate leader is one who dies first – to his or her selfish interests for the benefit of those under and around him or her, and even literally if circumstances warrant it. Jesus is that ultimate leader, and the type of God I want to follow.

Kingdom Principles

The Kingdom of God refers to the government that God will establish on earth at the return of Jesus Christ – a government that was partially realized at his first coming, and which will be fully consummated when he returns to rule as king. The Old Testament of the Bible contains a host of preview passages that describe this kingdom with an overarching emphasis on justice (via rescue, equity, and restoration) and peace (with God, self, others, and creation).14 In the New Testament, the Kingdom of God is one of the leading topics, if not the leading topic, of Jesus Christ’s teaching. Jesus likened his coming kingdom to many things in the gospels including, but not limited to, hidden treasure buried in a field; something that belongs to the childlike (i.e., innocent) in faith; a place ruled by a righteous yet merciful king; a difficult place for the rich to enter; and a place characterized by a reverse order. It’s interesting to expand on the last point. Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is characterized by principles that are quite different than those of our world. The following bullet points highlight some of these principles followed by a scripture for each.

  • You have to give up your life to find it – If you give up your life for me, you will find it. (Matthew 10:39)
  • You have to humble yourself to be honored – So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. (1 Peter 5:6) For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Luke 14:11)
  • You have to give in order to get – [The rich] should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life. (1 Timothy 6:18-19)
  • You have to serve in order to lead – But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. (Luke 22:26)
  • You have to become last in order to become first – (See Luke 22:26 again in the previous bullet point)
  • You should love your enemies and do good to them whether they love you or not – You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven… [You] are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
  • Our power and success come from God – Wealth and honor come from you alone [God], for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength. (1 Chronicles 29:12; 2 Corinthians 3:5)
  • Do unto others as you would have them do to you – Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

Can you imagine a world governed by these principles? It’s hard to do when you consider all of the chaos, violence, arrogance, selfishness, and self-promotion in our world today. But this is exactly the sort of kingdom God has promised to those who love and follow him.

I find it odd and funny when people talk about Christianity like it’s some terrible conspiracy, and the Bible like it’s been distorted over the ages to somehow lead people astray. This is utterly ridiculous when one considers that the greatest commandment is to love God and neighbor, including the strangers, foreigners, and enemies among us; when one considers that God loves us so much that he gave his one and only son for us, a son who beautifully and radically exemplifies sacrifice, servanthood, love, truth and passion; and when one considers that it promotes the kind of government that wonderfully balances justice, love, truth, mercy, and grace.

If there’s some sort of conspiracy here, it’s the kind I think most people would be happy to sign up for.

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  1. Colossians 1:16 (MSG).
  2. Proverbs 16:4 (NLT).
  3. Matthew 22:37-40.
  4. Ephesians 3:20.
  5. John 13:1-17.
  6. Matthew 8:20
  7. John 12:13-15.
  8. Luke 21:2.
  9. See John 11:35, Luke 19:41 and Matthew 9:36.
  10. See Matthew 4:24, 8:16, 14:36, 15:30; Mark 6:56.
  11. See Matthew 5:3-10.
  12. See Matthew 26:36-38; John 12:27.
  13. Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995, Page 18.
  14. Please see Amy Sherman’s Kingdom Calling, Chapter 1, for an excellent summary of these passages.