What will enable us to consistently behave in ways that align with the vision and values of the Kingdom, to be worthy of the trust of others, and to do the right thing even when no one is watching?
We characteristically answer that question by looking inward, in the hope of cultivating qualities such as honesty, authenticity, and transparency. But instead of encouraging us to focus on ourselves, Jesus suggests a completely different approach. Let’s listen to his words to the gathered crowd in the temple at the Feast of Booths in Jerusalem.
Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”
Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth [literally, “is true”]; there is nothing false about him . . .
. . . “He who sent me is trustworthy [literally, “is true”], and what I have heard from him I tell the world.”
. . . “I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me . . .”
“For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.”
“You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth [literally, “does not stand in the truth], for there is no truth in him.”
John 7:14–18, 8:26b, 8:42b, 12:49, 8:44a
The authority with which Jesus taught was alternately a source of wonder, puzzlement, and scorn to those who heard him. Where did he get such understanding and authority? His listeners were looking for a human source. Jesus pointed them to a divine one: his teaching originated from the Father who sent him, rather than from himself. Was there anyone more reliable than the Father? And because he was seeking the glory of the Father and not his own glory, his words could be trusted.
But Jesus was not content to simply reveal the source of his authority. He wanted his listeners to recognize the critical difference between a person who speaks out of their own importance and authority, literally “from himself,” to gain personal honor, and one who seeks the honor of another, and not his own.
Those who speak “from themselves,” Jesus warned, are not to be trusted. Why? Because their purpose, however cleverly it may be disguised, is to shine a light on themselves rather than on the Father. Jesus ultimately compares such people with the devil himself. These are hard words, especially when we recognize ourselves in Jesus’ description.
As willingly as God shares his authority with men and women, though often with tragic results [see Chapter 13 in Learning to Lead at the Feet of Jesus, “Jesus Shares the Keys], he resolutely refuses to share his glory with us: “I am the Lord! That is my name! I will not share my glory with anyone else” (Isaiah 42:8, NetBible).
Let’s return to our opening question: What does it take to be women and men of truth?
What Jesus is telling us is that a consistent God-ward orientation will do far more to cleanse us from false motives, destructive attitudes, and deceptive behaviors than our many well-meaning attempts to clean up our inner world.
Maybe John had that in view when he wrote:
We know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure (1 John 3.2b–3).
When Jesus described people who spoke “from themselves,” out of their own ideas, importance, and authority, it’s not hard to guess whom he had in mind.
What rebuttals can you imagine the religious leaders of the day would have made to Jesus’ appraisal of their motivation and authority?
What about us today as leaders who are regularly in the public eye?
What situations have you been in where you were tempted to project a God-honoring image of yourself while inwardly seeking praise and honor from others?
How did you handle it?
Jesus encourages us to put our attention and energy into knowing and pleasing the Father, and seeking his honor, rather than pursuing our own.
What would be different in your life as a leader if you focused intently on seeking the honor of the One who has sent you into the world rather than your own honor?