There have been many leaders willing to sacrifice anyone and everyone in the pursuit of their own self-interests.
In the Old Testament, Pharaoh was an example of one such leader. In the pursing of gain and glory, he harshly led Israel. He took away their freedom, their ability to profit, and their male prodigy. However, he harmed many more than his Hebrew slaves. In the end, despite warning after warning, he harmed his own household and nation as he recklessly pursued his own glory. In the end, Pharaoh spent his land, wealth, people, son, and army seeking to promote himself and his own interests. Pharaoh was the ultimate narcissistic political leader.
Ezekiel described the ministers of his day. God saw them as shepherds willing to sacrifice their sheep as they pursued their own pleasures. Weak sheep who should have been nurtured, and wandering sheep who should have been pursued and rescued, were left alone; they were not worthy of the shepherds’ attention. Those who did experience the leadership of the shepherds, they wished they had not, for Israel’s shepherds were very forceful and harsh. Ultimately, the elders and priests of Ezekiel’s day sacrificed the sheep for themselves instead of sacrificing themselves for their sheep. Instead of improving and fattening the flock under their care, they fleeced, slaughtered, and ate them up. God witnessed their leadership, and in anger he said to them, “As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep … I am against the shepherds.” (Ezekiel 34) These men were narcissistic ecclesiastical leaders, and they were abhorrent to God.
The ancient scriptures also present many narcissistic family leaders — husbands and fathers willing to sacrifice their wives and children in their own self-interests. There was the time when Abraham allowed his wife to be taken into a pagan king’s harem in order to save his own skin. Lot led his family into the city of Sodom in his pursuit of material gain. Some time later he would sacrifice his daughters in order to save his dignity as a good host. Then there was Judah who was willing to abuse his daughter-in-law in order to safeguard his sons. He would later condemn her to death for the same sin of which he too was guilty. Eli pursued personal peace over familial and ecclesiastical purity; he was apathetic and refused to both protect the temple hostesses, protect the temple worshipers, and disciple his two rebellious sons.
Sadly, there are far too many politicians, priests, and patriarchs like Adolf Hitler. He was willing to sacrifice anyone and everyone in the pursuit of his own self-interest. In the end, no one under his influence was safe. He would spend German, Axis, Allied, and Jewish blood in his pursuit to become a god and rule the world. as he hoped to dominate the world.
There has been one leader willing to sacrifice himself in the pursuit of the interests of others.
God the Father and God the Son were willing to sacrifice in order to love their sinful friends. They organized a plan whereby the Father would willingly spend his precious and beloved Son, and the Son would willingly sacrifice himself. They put the plan into action and Jesus was humbled, betrayed, arrested, tortured, tried, stripped, mocked, toyed with, and nailed to a Roman cross. Then the ultimate sacrifice happened as the Father forced himself to pour out undeserved fury upon his holy Son. They planned this. They performed this. They would not relent from such an extreme and expensive sacrificial outpouring of love. God was the good leader, willing to sacrifice himself in the pursuit of the good interests of his friends.
Will we be leaders willing to sacrifice ourselves in the pursuit of the interests of others?
David Mathis wrote a compelling piece on leadership entitled, “True Leadership is Sacrifice, Not Privilege.” In this article he contrasted the leadership of the Christian servant with that of worldly tyrant:
Mark this, husbands and dads, pastors and presidents, the very essence and heart of leadership is taking initiative we otherwise wouldn’t take and making sacrifices we otherwise wouldn’t make, to guide our people somewhere good they otherwise would not have gone. We embrace short-term personal difficulties for long-term corporate gains. We are among those who are learning that life’s greatest joys come not in private comfort and ease, but in choosing what is uncomfortable and hard for the sake of others’ joy. We are learning to find our joy not in the ease of attending to self, but in the toughness of attending to others.
Friends, there is the leadership of the world that arrogantly manipulates, uses, and abuses for personal gain. All about you are leaders willing to sacrifice anyone and everyone in the passionate pursuit of their own self-interests.There are a host of presidents, governors, senators, representatives, judges, elders, employers, coaches, husbands, fathers, and mothers who will worship themselves, disappoint God, dominate and destroy their followers. Let this not be true of us who have experienced the self-sacrificing leadership of God!
Let us lead politically as did Jonathan. He was willing to sacrifice all for the glory of God and the good of his people. Jonathan looked a lot like Jesus. He was a governmental leader who sacrificed.
Let us lead ecclesiastically as did John the Baptist and the disciples. John was willing to sacrifice reputation, momentum, fame, and followership for the glory of God and the improvement of his flock. The disciples denied themselves, took up their cross, followed Jesus, and served their neighbors. These men were churchmen transformed by Jesus and his Spirit. They were exemplary elders who practiced self-sacrificing leadership.
Women, let us lead in the family as did Rahab and Hannah. Rahab sacrificed her safety in order to further God’s agenda and attach her family to the church. Hannah was willing to honor her vow and sacrifice quantity time with Samuel that God’s purpose might be advanced and her son might become a blessing to God’s people. These women loved, led, and sacrificed after the model of the Father and the Son.
Men, let us husband and father as did Hosea and Joseph. Hosea was the faithful husband willing to sacrifice vengeance, money, and reputation in order to rescue his scandalous bride. In similar manner, Joseph sacrificed his reputation and his homeland in order to lead Mary and the young Christ-child.
Yes my friends, there are leaders who sacrifice, and then there are leaders who sacrifice. Some sacrifice others; some sacrifice themselves. What ought we to do now? Repent and do the next right thing. Run to the Gospel, hear of your Savior, and then hear again of your Leader. He continues to sacrifice and serve you. He continues to spend lavishly for your best interests. He loves you like no leader has ever loved you. Keep your eyes on Jesus, and then pray that his Spirit might enable you to lead in a more Christ-honoring, Christ-like fashion. There are leaders who sacrifice others in pursuit of self-interest, and there are leaders who sacrifice self in pursuit of the interests of others. Today, at least for now, until we have to repent again, let us labor to lead as those wonderfully led by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
* David Mathis is the Executive Editor of DesiringGod.org