by Rick Warren
This is the third and final installment of The Temptations of Leadership. The first temptation we looked at, Pain and Pleasure, measures your maturity. The second temptation, Popularity and Praise, measures your integrity. This temptation, Prosperity and Possessions, measures your priorities.
Matthew 6:24 tells us, You cannot serve both God and money. He didn’t say you should not. He said, you cannot. You cannot worship God and worship money at the same time. You cannot have God as the number one goal of your life and making money as the number one goal of your life at the same time.
Let’s look at the third test in the Bible. Again, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you bow down and worship me” Matthew 4:8-9. The devil is talking about possessions – things. Jesus responded by saying, “Away from me Satan: For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” Matthew 4:10.
If you will remember, in all three temptations, Jesus answers Satan by quoting scripture. Why is He doing that? He’s modeling for us how to resist temptation. You don’t resist temptation with your own opinions. You resist it by knowing what the Bible says and reminding yourself of that.
Notice, Jesus had these verses memorized. He didn’t pull out His pocket Old Testament and say, “I know somewhere over here in the Bible it says do this instead of this.” No. He knew exactly where it was. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, but when you are tempted there is rarely a Bible in your hand. You don’t usually carry a Bible to the movie theater or to work or to the game. No. When you are tempted, your Bible is often at home, looking very nice on a shelf. That won’t help you. This is the sword of God. It’s what you fight with. You need to have it memorized.
Let me say this as clear as I can say it. If you’re serious, serious about God’s purpose for your life, the most important thing you can do to defeat temptation is memorize some verses out of the Bible. If you get tempted regularly by anger you need to memorize some verses on anger. If you get tempted regularly by being impatient or shooting off your mouth, then you need to memorize some verses on watching what you say. If you get regularly tempted by lust or jealousy or greed or pride or whatever, you need to memorize some verses on that temptation. The devil is not afraid of your opinion. But he does fear the word of God because it is the truth. Memorizing scripture gives you strength.
People often say they are not good at memorizing Bible verses. But the truth is, you memorize whatever is important to you. I know people who say, “I can’t memorize anything!” But they know every sport statistic for the last three years in the NFL. They can tell you exactly how far it is to the next putting green on that fairway. They can tell you the stock quotes. They can tell you recipes from memory. They can tell you phone numbers. Or they can tell you all kinds of gossip that they’ve memorized. You memorize what’s important to you. If the Bible is important to you, you need to memorize it.
This temptation that Jesus faced is the same kind of temptation that you will face. Satan wants you to compromise your purpose and mission in life. That is exactly what the prosperity and possessions test is. It’s a temptation to compromise your purpose and mission.
Jesus was sent to earth not to be wealthy but to save the world. You were put on this planet not to just acquire a bunch of things but to make the difference with your life. Satan tried to tempt Jesus with all the possessions of the world. That is exactly what this temptation is. It is a temptation to sellout to materialism. It is about the lure of money and wealth.
Do you know anybody who has done that? I do. Do you know anybody who has sold out their family in order to make more money? I do. Do you know anybody who has sold out their own health in order to make more money? I do. Do you know anybody who has sold out their eternity in heaven in order to make more money? I do.
This is the heart of the temptation. Do you value wealth on earth more than eternal reward in heaven? You’ve got to decide.
Jesus was crystal clear about this and in Matthew 16:26a He said this, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world yet forfeits his soul.” You are not put on earth just to get bunch of things that you’re going to leave behind the moment you die. You are going to spend far more time in eternity than on earth. You need to be storing up treasure in heaven. How do you do that?
What is the antidote to the Possessions and Prosperity test? There’s only one answer to it. Generosity. Generosity is the antidote to the third temptation. Every time you are generous you break the grip of money in your life. Whenever you help the homeless, give your tithe at church, or support some charity, you are practicing generosity and you are breaking the grip of materialism in your life. Materialism is all about getting all you can. It is about being scared of not having enough. It is about wanting to have more than the guy next door. It is about using all of your gifts and resources for yourself. The Bible tells us in 1 Timothy 6:18-19, Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others (NLT). Money is meant to be used not loved. You use money. You love people. You love God. If you use money you are going to love people. But if you love money you are going to use people to make even more money.
Let me give you some bad news and some good news. The bad news is you are never going to outgrow temptation. I hate to tell you that. But you are going to face it the rest of your life. Luke 4:13 tells us, When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left Him until the next opportunity came. Don’t you wish Luke had omitted that last part? Don’t you wish you could go through the temptation test one time and then be a leader the rest of your life and it’d be easy? You will be tempted the rest of your life. As a leader, you are even more susceptible to temptation. In fact, the stronger you grow in the Lord the more Satan hates you. He wants to fight you. He is going to try to get you down.
But don’t be intimidated. Don’t ever be intimidated by temptation. It’s not a sin to be tempted. Jesus was tempted. He didn’t sin. It’s not a sin to be tempted. It’s sin to give in to temptation.
Realize that temptation is always an opportunity to grow spiritually. We always think temptation is an opportunity to do bad. But it’s also an opportunity to do good. If I am tempted to be unfaithful, when I choose faithfulness, guess what? I’ve just grown! So temptation can always be used as a stepping stone for growth rather than a stumbling block into sin.
Here’s the good news. Every time you pass the test you get more power. Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit (Luke 14a). Notice when the temptation began He was led by the Spirit into the temptation. When He comes out He’s not led. He’s in the power of the Spirit.
What’s that power for? Just so you can feel good? No, the power is for you to be a leader. The power is for you to influence others. The power is for you to help others. Strength is for service, not for personal status.
After Jesus overcomes the temptation He starts His public leadership. He is announcing to the whole world, this is My purpose on earth. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’ (Luke 4:16-19). Standing strong, Jesus is telling the world nothing will stand in His way of fulfilling His purpose on earth.
Here are the three questions I have to ask you.
1. Will you make God the primary concern of your life and trust Him to meet all of your needs?
2. Will you dedicate your God-given abilities to serve God and others rather than using them to serve yourself?
3. Will you value eternal rewards in heaven more than money here on earth?
The choice is yours.
All verses are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.