Handling temptation: Between the lawful and the expedient

“And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards, He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he (the tempter) said, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” – Matthew 4:2-3


Temptations are an everyday challenge that every human being has to contend with. It is more so when you are in leadership position. No level of leadership inoculates a leader from temptation.

The story of Jesus’ temptation exemplifies the experience of every leader. There are three dimensions to the biblical account. All three dimensions summarize the crux of the greatest challenges every leader will face in the daily discharge of his leadership responsibilities. First is the temptation around the issue of immediate gratification and the leader’s security in his identity. The second has to do with the leader’s ego and self-esteem. The third has to with the leader’s value system and the constant pressure to compromise or violate those values. I will however focus largely on the first one in this column today.

In the chapter immediately before the one cited above, Jesus had been baptized with unmistakable signs that showed that He was divinely validated. The man who baptized Him had given adequate witness to His divine approval. As if that was not enough, there had been a supernatural manifestation through a voice that spoke from heaven.

“This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” trumpeted the voice to the hearing of all present. It was a moment of triumph and approval for the role He was born to play. His identity was secure in that proclamation.

Nonetheless, the first temptation thrown in the way of Jesus was a frontal assault on that identity. A leader who is not secure in his identity is a danger to any organization and the people he leads. Insecure leaders only breed timid followers.

On a regular basis, certain situations will arise that actually question the legitimacy of a leader. Very often, such challenges come from those who feel that they are more qualified for that position than the incumbent or who want to prey on his vulnerabilities. If a leader is not secure in himself and who he is, he would gravitate from one faux-pas to another doing things just to prove that he can and by so doing become a puppet remotely controlled by scheming puppeteers who are more interested in his downfall than his success. When that happens, he becomes slave to his ego. The other dimension to this temptation is the challenge of taking advantage of the system to feather personal nests. More often than not, this temptation appeals directly to the leader’s threshold for what appears to be legitimate gratification.

Many temptations facing a leader are predicated on what appears to be a legitimate need for the moment. However, successful people become so by learning to delay gratification even when they are legitimately entitled to it. When what appears to be legitimate becomes a threat to a desired destination and would result in a values somersault, a leader chooses the destination above the offer.

In responding to Satan’s suggestion to turn stones to bread simply because He could, Jesus could have fueled His ego and filled His belly. But He would have fouled His ethos! In reaching for the needed, He would have forfeited the needful.

The needed is driven by naked desire but the needful is driven by sacred demands. One is based on what is convenient. The other is based on what is expedient. One is preference-driven. The other is purpose-driven.

The mediocre leader does things only because he can or because he seeks to prove a point that panders to certain people’s expectations. He always seeks comfort at the expense of expediency. Goaded by an over-pampered ego, he leads with sporadic, knee-jerk interventions that extol pleasure above purpose. All that is required to get such a leader to do anything is either to dare him or to caress his ego!

Conversely, the sterling leader is guided by a desired outcome that frees him from the myopia of momentary mental massages. Secure in his identity, he does what he SHOULD, not just because he can, and definitely not to pander to the dictates of an inflated ego or the expectations of men. For him, the pleasure of a desired future trumps the indulgences of present comfort. Great leaders subordinate their ego to their vision.

It is a tragedy for the collective when a leader is insecure. Insecure leaders have a low self-esteem that masquerades as braggadocio. What they lack in internal stability, they convert to external aggression that is abusive of their followers. In time, they are surrounded by sycophants who prey on their insecurity to make them move from one error of judgment to another. Constantly wanting to show everyone who cares to know who is in charge, they hardly delegate. They believe that every small talk is about them and so they play the game of divide and rule over the very establishment or people they are supposed to lead. Rather than reinforce his strength however, such manifestations only betray his weakness of character. There is nothing as demeaning to followership as seeing your Emperor dancing naked even when he is under the illusion that he is regally clothed!

As a Pastor, I have counseled a lot of men who have created serious problems in their marriage simply because they want to ‘prove’ to their wives that they are the husband in the marriage. My question always shocks them. “Make up your mind. Are you the husband or the wife?” They usually answer that they are the husband. I simply look them in the eye and ask, “So why do you need further proof? Are you afraid that you might be in competition with anyone else over that role? Demonstrate your leadership in your home by being a true husband and you would never have to prove anything to your wife.”

Know who you are and be confident in that consciousness. Respond to situations from the platform of that confidence and the strength of your internalized vision that serves as your North.

Megalomania is the disease of tyrants and the goad of visionless leadership. When a leader’s ego eclipses his vision, he has signed up for an aborted destiny!  True power is only meaningful when it comes under control!

Because of the legacy they want to leave behind, great leaders endure and overcome shame, adversity, persecution, lack, insecurity, misrepresentation, misunderstanding, envy and any other obstacle that may come their way.

When the vision of your God-given assignment possesses you enough to become your compass, obstacles become stepping stones, disciplines translate to decisions, adversities translate to opportunities and sustainable achievement becomes a given!

Just like Jesus!!

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!!!