“True Leaders Apply Theology” Give Diligence to Apply It
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Matthew 16.1-3
Matthew 16. Today, in light of Joshua’s graduation, we’re talking about how… “True Leaders Apply Theology.” It’s more of a college graduate kind of message…
Imagine with me … Tuesday night, you will get into a bit of an argument with your teenage daughter [or friend or coworker, someone you’re leading] about her driving abilities. The next morning, you take her out for a spin. As your daughter is pulling into a left-hand turn lane, you notice very clearly that the stop light has turned yellow and that you’re not going to make it through the light before it turns red. You notice that your daughter is continuing toward the end of the turning lane, and you don’t say a word because you don’t want to make her feel uncomfortable about her skills and you want to prove your own point.
She makes the turn well … after the light turns red and your proud heart congratulates you that you now have an awesome comeback to follow up your argument. Just as you were gleefully smirking, an oncoming vehicle smashes into your vehicle. You suffer a complete compound fracture of both bones in your lower leg. And the teenager driving in the other vehicle failed to wear his seat belt, and was unconscious at the scene. And your friend/daughter came away with injuries to her head and back and the doctor told her later that she would have to relearn how to walk.
How would that make you feel, say in 5 years? 10 years? What happened? You, an experienced driver, a leader…interpreted the “sign” that told you that your friend or daughter needed to stop but you failed to apply that interpretation correctly. She, as a follower, she was depending on you. From a leadership standpoint, you were fully informed of the “sign,” but you failed to lead those following you to interpret and apply it correctly.
In the same way, you as a leader ….whether in your family or in your workplace, or at church, are likely failing to act after having correctly diagnosed a problem. You make a correct interpretation that your children or one of your friends or family member or coworker is headed in the wrong direction, but you fail to act on it, i.e., the theology you know, but you so often fail to apply the theology you know.
Everyone is a leader
Now, before going further let me point out that if you can understand my speech, you are in leadership. The word “leadership” sounds like someone in high position, but of course it’s not. I was trying to think of someone who is not -in a leadership position. Four out of my five kids are leaders in that they are at least leading the person younger than them and in some situations they are leading each other regardless of age.
ILL: Everyone here is a leader of some kind. It’s like a family comedy sketch that I saw… a lady is putting on a leadership seminar. And she starts out by saying, “Most of you have already been a leader,” and she has everybody stand up. She says, “I want you to sit down if you’ve ever been in one of these roles: President, CEO, mentor, older sibling, parent. See? I’m only halfway through the list and most of you are already sitting down.” And then finally it’s one guy standing there. She says, “I’m sure we’ll get to you too… manager, team lead, NO? … Ok, first in a race … And the man is still standing… Have you ever given directions to someone? “No” he says… “Given any advice, been first to cross the crosswalk?” Thinks … looking uncomfortable…”Nah, uh. Made a suggestion, done service for someone, complemented someone… No!
And so she finally admits okay fine, that’s fine. You haven’t been a leader… Surely you see an example of a leader? Have you ever had parents? Cries… Oh boy, sorry, have you had a teacher? Confused. “You are a grown man how have you not had a teacher?”
Finally she moves on and her next PowerPoint slide which says …
Philosopher Lao Tze once said, “Leadership is what separates us from the animals. To be human is to be a leader. If you’ve never been a leader, you’ve never really been human and there is no point to your life.” Sad.
That’s all a joke to say we’re all leaders in one way shape or form!
So everyone is a leader.
In Matthew 16:1-3, we are given an example of leadership that fails to interpret clear spiritual events. We will compare ourselves to the legalistic Pharisees….Now, we are not like the Pharisees in every way, of course. As we will see, the Pharisees failed to properly apply the miracles that they saw Jesus do. Of course, that’s not our problem; we don’t have the chance to interpret his miracles in person. But as we look into this passage, I think you’ll see this application I am attempting to draw out: You must apply theology in leadership.
The story that we have before us in Matthew 16:1-3 is divinely intended to show us what it looks like to reject Jesus Christ. Now, we will apply this rejection of Jesus, not eternally speaking, but we will apply it to how we so often interpret correctly, but reject acting on the interpretation. Let’s read Matthew 16:1-4, though our text is vv.1-3. (low-ring=threatening, getting dark about to storm)
Matthew 16:1–4 1 The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. 3 And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? 4 A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.
Now, I didn’t hear any laughter, but we’ll see later that there is some humor here.
As you can see, these spiritual leaders were able to correctly interpret and apply physical “signs,” that is, the “face/appearance of the sky” but when it came to interpreting and applying spiritual signs, they willfully rejected the clear theological “signs of the times” that were before them, the miracles of Jesus, which were pointing to something greater than the miracle itself. These leaders willfully failed to apply theology.
That’s the point today: true leaders apply the theology.
In the same way, we often do not have a problem knowing the “theological interpretation” of the situation. Often times, you could get it right on an exam what the problem is and what the solution is. And, a lot of times, with a little insight from the Lord, you could bring Bible verses to bear on the situation. That’s not often the problem. Most often, it is the willingness and desire to properly apply the theology that you know. This would be the same with knowing the good news of Jesus Christ that’s He died for your sin and was raised from the dead, but you’ve failed up to this point to allow the reality of His work to profoundly affect you in a saving way. But let’s see how this works in this passage.
So keep this point in mind today: Give diligence to apply theology, or give diligence to apply the Bible’s teaching.
Who are these leaders, these blind guides of the blind in our passage?
The willfully blind test the Lord
The willfully blind
EXP: They are the Pharisees and the Sadducees and they approach Jesus together. If you do any research about these two leaders in the Jewish religion, you’ll discover that they have little in common except for their opposition to Jesus. And this was sufficient for them to join forces against the Lord in our story.
Willfully blind test the Lord
The meaning of “Test”
EXP: These willfully blind leaders came to tempt or “trap” the Lord.
How was the trap sprung? The Pharisees and Sadducees attempted to trap the Lord by asking him a question. What are they asking? In verse 1, they asked him to give them a, notice the wording… sign from heaven.
So, what is a biblical sign; what were the Pharisees requesting? A “sign from heaven” refers to a miracle that would prove beyond doubt that God had put his stamp of approval on Jesus and His ministry. They demanded that Jesus prove his credentials by performing a miracle that clearly demonstrated its divine source.
So, how exactly then is asking for a sign a “trap”? Let me explain the trap the Pharisees and Sadducees have set. “Show us a sign from heaven.” Jesus has 2 choices, choose to perform the sign or not perform the sign. If He chooses not to perform it, the people would think, “Huh…he’s a failure, he can’t do it.’ The Pharisees could then argue “See, he is unable to perform a miracle. His ministry is not from God.” Or, if Jesus chooses to perform the miracle, it would prove that Jesus was at the ‘beck and call’ of the Pharisees… that He was under the authority of their religious leadership and then they could say to the people, “See, Jesus performs miracles when we want him to. Follow us, not him.”
So, the trap is set. How will Jesus get out of it? He makes a mockery of these hypocrites.
TRANS: Jesus mocks them by making a word play. And it is the word play that makes this passage funny. Notice verses 2-3. Here, Jesus rebukes the willfully blind, who only interpret and apply theology when it is convenient.
Jesus rebukes the willfully blind who only interpret and apply theology when it is convenient
The willfully blind interpret and apply signs when it is convenient (16:2-3a)
EXP: The play on words is on the word “heaven” in v.1 and “sky” in verses 2 and 3. Here’s the key to the humor: ‘sky’ and ‘heaven’ here are the same word in the Greek. They ask for a sign from heaven, v.1. But Jesus talks about the sky in vv.2-3. “Show us a sign from o-ra-nos.” Jesus replies, “When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the o-ra-nos is red.” He uses the other meaning of the word.
Jesus uses a pun, a play on words for comic effect. Here is an example of a pun on the word “flies”: “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”
The first ‘flies’ refers to the action of flying. The second ‘flies’ refers to the insect. “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”
That’s what Jesus does here. The first “o-ra-nos”or heaven in the mouths of the Pharisees refers to God’s dwelling place. The second “o-ra-nos” refers to the place where the blue stuff is, the sky.
“Show us a sign from o-ra-nos/heaven.” Jesus replies, “When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the o-ra-nos is red.”
So Jesus uses their words and twists them so that it sounds like Jesus is responding to the question, “Show us a sign about how the sky works” all the while keeping in mind their intended meaning.
And not only that, what makes this more funny, is the instruction he gives. He shows them the sign of the sky, which everyone and their dog’s brother knows! Everyone in that region at that time knew how the weather worked, what the sky looked like when good or bad weather was coming. Almost everyone worked outside all the time, farming, fishing…their life depended on the weather. Everyone knew “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning.” Everyone knew that!
By doing this he makes Jesus’ detractors look foolish, when they thought they were soooo smart.
See, they came to trick him. They, being high and mighty, come to Jesus with the thought, “if he responds to our request by not showing us a sign from heaven, then he would clearly be unable to perform a miracle and the people would despise him. If he responds by performing a miracle from heaven, then the people will know that he is at our beck and call.”
Either way, the Pharisees and the Sadducees thought that they could trap him and by doing so, making themselves look good in front of the people. However, Jesus plays off the word “heaven,” …it would have gone something like this…
They ask, “Show us a sign from heaven.” Jesus thinks to himself, “I know what they want, but I’ll just use the other meaning for heaven and answer the question ‘Show us a sign about how the sky works’…then I’ll give them a ridiculously simple answer…so that they will look foolish and I’ll show them that interpreting my miracles is just as easy as interpreting the weather, they are just unwilling to do it.”
And so Jesus’ response in vv.2-3 about interpreting the sky is so easy, kids can do it, so it’s about as embarrassing as instructing a professional mechanic how to change the oil, or teaching a Google employee how to type up an email, or a teacing a dentist how to brush his teeth.
**Mocking funny “Okay,” Jesus says, knowing full-well they wanted a miracle, “you want a sign from heaven, a sign from the heavens? Look up there, when those heavens, the sky is red in the evening, you can know it’ll be fair weather tomorrow. How’s that for a sign from heaven?” Boy, that’s so embarrassing… the hypocrites are put in their place…Jesus continues…“Look, you already know how to interpret the sky [gesture] when it is red and you know how to plan your life around that “theology.” Why is it you are unwilling to interpret and apply the clear theology revealed in my miracles, which is so obvious, as obvious as applying the red sky?”
So, Jesus uses his illustration in order to show how ridiculous these leaders are to request additional proof of Jesus claims.
So what is Jesus’ point? His point is to show that the willfully blind interpret and apply theology only when it is convenient. They were willing to interpret and apply the physical signs of the sky for their physical well-being for their livelihood of farming or fishing, but they were unwilling to interpret and apply the spiritual signs of Jesus’ miracles that were pouring down from God’s heaven for their spiritual well-being, in order to conclude that Jesus is God, He is the Lord!
TRANS: So, the willfully blind pick and choose which teachings to apply. They choose the ones that are convenient: if I can get more money or more food, I’ll use that sign. But if I don’t like it or it is slightly painful, I will not receive it.
The willfully blind refuse to interpret and apply theology (16:3b)
EXP: So the problem with the willfully blind is that they refuse to interpret and apply certain teachings. When Jesus says, “but can ye not discern the signs of the times” he is indicating what… you can do this…but can’t you do this? Answer? Of course! They are in fact able. “O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” Their hypocrisy is getting in the way.
So it’s not that they are not able, it’s that they are unwilling to do so. These leaders are willfully blind.
Principle: Willfully blind leaders refuse to apply clear theology due to inconvenience; therefore, give diligence to apply theology in every situation.
Leaders do that …
Let’s focus on that principle…
What does this principle have to do with leadership and how theology drives leadership? Keep in mind, that the issue is not inability, but unwillingness. Most times it’s not that you don’t know what to do, you fail to give diligence to apply what you do know.
Just like with my opening illustration, from a leadership standpoint, you were fully informed of the “sign” that there was a yellow light, but you failed to lead your friend to interpret it correctly. You refused to apply that theology because it was inconvenient. You were willfully blind.
How often does that happen in leadership situations? You see, your theology drives your practice in the everyday situations of leadership. You must give diligence to apply theology in leadership every day.
But because of how we think of theology, there is a disconnect between theology and your leadership…
But “applying theology” seems to be oxymoronic. By the very definition, theology seems to be something unapplicable. Typically when we think of theology we think of it as in the abstract and not practical. It is very common to view theological discipline as the pursuit of solely professional pastors and Bible college teachers.
The result is that we have driven a wedge between theology and everyday life, even though we are all Christian leaders. On the one hand we have what seems to us to be DEEP VOICE “theology” while on the other hand there is getting up in the morning. Paying the bills. Enjoying time with family or trying to find a job. You have to raise your family in this wicked culture, try not to hurt your wife, run your business…worry about politics, the economy, wars, or whatever.
But does theology and daily life have any point of similarity? Like when you look at the relationship between theology and loving your neighbor … Does theology matter? Yes! It’s the only thing, in fact!
Redefining theology to reconnect theology with leadership
I would like to submit that we need a more practical definition of theology. While Augustine defined theology as “reasoning or discussion concerning the deity” and dictionaries may define it as “the study of the nature of God in religious belief,” I would like to argue for more of a practical definition. It’s the “bringing the Bible to bear on all areas of life” it is “the science of living blessedly forever” and that its purpose is to “achieve God’s glory and man’s Christlikeness through every providence in life.”
If these are the more biblical definitions of theology, then theology is by its very definition applied and lived. And that also means that what you really know is what the people following you actually observe in you. You may be able to get it right on a written exam certain doctrines of the Christian faith, but what you really experientially know theologically is written on the face of those who love you and are close to you … your wife, husband, kids, family; it’s written on the face of your coworkers.
How others see you living demonstrates what you actually believe, what theology you’ve actually applied to your life.
So you must know theology …yes, but you must apply theology. Let’s talk about each of these.
How to properly apply theology
Get to know theology
First, you must know theology. The entirety of every one of your leadership roles is an opportunity to exercise the doctrines of the faith. Get to know the doctrines of the faith.
Examples of how theology comes to bear on everyday practice.
Leaders will apply the gospel! They will know that Jesus has died and raised himself from the dead and it changes their life. They don’t just believe in the head; it changes the life. “I’m tryin’ man, just lay off a little…” no no, you don’t understand, the gospel needs to be worked in your life and then your whole life changes toward Christ-likeness! The reason you have no victory, no victory over sin is because you’re not born again. Trust Christ!
Here are some examples…
Trinity: What do we learn practically in the doctrine of the Trinity? Would it not be true that we understand that God is relational and expects us to live relationally?
God is love: You understand that God is love. If God is love, what does that mean about how you treat others?
Image of God: God has created you in his image and that plays a role in how you exercise dominion on this Earth.
The atonement of Christ on the cross, though we understand how crucial that is to our salvation, nevertheless, gives us an example of love and mercy and knowing that motivates us to godliness.
And eschatology, the doctrine of the last things/end times, helps us understand that this world is fleeting and that we ought to be redeeming the time because the days are evil and judgment is coming.
And these you know to practice. You know you should love others, care for your family, be upright in your employment, but we fail because there are varying degrees of experiential knowledge of these truths.
So, head knowledge is not often the problem is it? Often the problem is not with the lack of head knowledge of the doctrines of the faith, as if you were unfamiliar with the benefits of the atonement or the knowledge that God is love. The problem is you have disconnected that teaching from how you live. Why has this happened?
Here’s why: You have not meditated and prayed over those doctrines and sought the Lord that He’d work these truths into your life!
What’s the solution?
Lovingly leading others. If you have trouble loving certain people, give long, strong, detailed time and energy into meditating on that concept of how Christ has loved you.
If you have trouble humbling yourself or with causing disunity in the church, think on Philippians 2 about how Christ humbled himself for us.
Whenever you are failing in a certain area, you need to find the theology in the Bible and look up some verses. This is a thing that growing leaders do, they discipline themselves to greater Christ-likeness.
And so we need to
1)Memorize or mediate long and hard on theology.
2)Analyze the passage in which those verses occur
3) and then personalize and pray over the passage.
Pray that God will illuminate your understanding and help you to interpret and apply the theology that you are learning in the passage.
You need to also personalize the passage. You need to be well aware of when you have failed to obey the truth and when you are likely to meet the temptation to fail again. Then, determine what the godly response should be the next time you are tempted. This is your “game plan.” You need to work this into your heart now in order to be able to lead your family, coworkers, and friends. Don’t be willfully blind and refuse to apply the Bible’s teaching.
Is there something in your leadership role, in your family, at work, in ministry, where you know you are willfully rejecting applying truths you know? Give diligence to apply it. May God help us to lead and live in accordance with the theology we profess.