Leadership Lifter: The Temptations of Leadership

by Rick Warren 

The Popularity and Praise Test

The Popularity and Praise Test reveals your integrity. What is integrity? Integrity is when your behavior matches your beliefs. When you have integrity, who you are in public is who you are in private. Your public and personal identities are integrated. They are consistent. If you are going to be a leader that people can follow and trust, you have to be consistent. You have to have credibility, which comes from integrity. 

There are very few things that reveal integrity more than success. Success puts you in the spotlight and people can see you warts and all. We know a lot more about our leaders than we know about our neighbors because they are in the spotlight. It’s often easier to handle failure than it is to handle success. 

When people succeed, it sometimes changes them. Not always for the better. In fact, I’ve seen it destroy a lot of people. They can’t handle it. You know about movie stars and sports stars and people who get instant fame. They go off the deep end and all of a sudden they’re addicted to drugs or alcohol. They can’t handle the pressure of popularity and praise. They don’t have the maturity and they don’t have the integrity in order to handle this second test. 

Let’s look at the Popularity and Praise Test in the life of Christ. 

The Bible describes a time when Satan takes Jesus to Jerusalem and sets Him on the highest point of the temple, which was probably the tallest building in the city. He taunts Christ and tells Him to throw Himself from the temple. Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order the angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’” Christ goes back to the Bible and tells Satan, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’” Matt 4:7b (NLT). 

I want you to first see that Satan can quote scripture. Satan refers to the angels protecting you, a reference to Psalm 90:11-12. But he misquotes it. He twists it. He takes it out of context. 

You need to understand the difference between faith and presumption. When God tells you to do something difficult that doesn’t make sense to you, but you do it anyway, that is faith. When you think up some goofy idea on your own, go out and do it, and then expect God to bail you out that’s called presumption. Understand the difference? 

So what’s going on here in this temptation? 

First, it’s the temptation to presume on God’s grace. To hold God hostage and say, “God, if I do this You’ve got to protect me.” No, He doesn’t. God is not your personal genie. 

It’s also a temptation to draw attention to yourself. This is a real big temptation to leaders. We often try to draw attention to ourselves and think it’s about us instead of about God. It’s a temptation to impress, a temptation to show off. 

The devil comes to Jesus and says, We know You’re God. So how about this? I’m going to take You up on the tallest building of the city. You jump off and on Your way down, the angels will catch You. It’ll be spectacular. Then everybody will know that You’re God and they’ll give You glory and honor. It’ll be a real show. This will be spectacular. There will be a lot of applause.  

What’s wrong with that? Was it wrong for Jesus to receive glory? No. Was it wrong for Him to get the applause and the praise of men? No. In fact, the Bible says the whole universe was created for the glory of God. One day we’re all going to spend time bringing glory and praise to God. Every knee will bow and confess that Jesus is the Lord and everybody is going to eventually praise Him. But Satan’s plan wasn’t God’s plan. It was the wrong way and the wrong time. 

God’s plan was that Jesus Christ would come to earth and get glory by dying on a cross, not jumping off a building. One of them is to show off. The other is to sacrifice. One of them is spectacular. The other is sacrificial. Jesus did not come to earth to show off, to do little miracles – walk on Herod’s pool or something like that. No. He came to sacrifice. 

This is the difference between leaders or heroes and celebrities. We live in a celebrity culture. Celebrities are famous for doing something spectacular. They make a movie, do a popular television show, or break a sports record. They do something spectacular. Heroes are people who are praised because they did something sacrificial for somebody else’s benefit. 

I hate to tell you this but there’s not a single sports star who’s a hero. Or a single movie star who is a hero. They are celebrities. They do it for their own benefit. They do it because they love the game. They do it because they get paid to do it. They do it due to personal motivation. Perhaps that is fame, wealth, or just enjoyment. They’re certainly not doing it to help anybody. It’s just for personal, selfish gain. Celebrities are not heroes. Heroes are people we honor because they gave their lives to do something for somebody else. They did something unselfish and sacrificial. 

Here’s the heart of this temptation. Will you use your abilities to serve God and others or to gain prominence and approval for yourself? 

Temptation is always a short cut. It’s often a short cut to a legitimate goal. To have a need met. But the ends do not justify the means. It may be the right goal but it’s not the right way or it’s not the right time. 

You have certain abilities. You have certain opportunities and you live in a free country. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something. True leaders know this. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. There are a lot of things that I can do. But as a leader I don’t do them. Why? Not because they’re necessarily wrong, but because they’re just not necessary. I want my life to count. As a leader people expect you to hold a higher standard.

Whether you realize it or not, you influence the people in your life. That’s what leadership is. Leadership is influence. When you influence people you either influence them for good or for bad. It is your choice. 

Praise is the test of character. Proverbs 21:21 tells us, Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but a person is tested by being praised (NLT). 

So what is the antidote to the popularity and praise test? How do you keep it from going to your head? There are only two antidotes. 

The first one is found in Galatians 5:25-26 (TLB). Let us follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Then we won’t need to look for honors and popularity. Listen to God! That’s the first antidote. Listen to God’s voice instead of listening to popular opinion. Popular opinion is often wrong. Follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every part of your life, and you won’t need to look for praise and popularity. You won’t need it. 

The second antidote is to practice humility. 1 Peter 5:6 tells us, So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor(NLT). God says I will bring you to a position of prominence if you humble yourself before Me in the right way. Notice it says, humble yourself. That’s something you choose to do. You humble yourself. 

What is humility? Humility is not denying your strengths. It’s being honest about your weaknesses. You are a bundle of strengths and weaknesses. Humility is being honest about both. Another word for humility is dependence. You say, “God, I am dependent upon You. I can’t lead this family without You. I can’t lead this Small Group Ministry without You. I can’t lead my friends without You. I am dependent on You.” 

By the way, let me give you a little tip. I don’t know if you’ve ever prayed to God on your knees but I highly recommend it. I’m not talking about praying on your knees in church. I’m not even talking about praying on your knees with your family or your small group where other people see you. Pray by yourself on your knees. Find a time, get alone with God, and get on your knees and pray. Tell God what’s on your heart. Getting on your knees is a position of reverence. It’s a sign of humility. It’s a demonstration of dependence. Leaders always find their strength on their knees. 

Abraham Lincoln wrote this: “I have been driven many times to my knees in prayer by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” 

Let me give you a little tip, a little secret. When you’re on your knees it is impossible to fall. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall Proverbs 16:18 (NIV). But when you are on your knees it is impossible to fall. So try it. This week. Get on your knees and pray. 

Join me next month for the final installation of this three part series on the temptations of leadership: the Prosperity and Possessions Test. 

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church and the author of The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church.

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