People have many incorrect ideas about leadership, and how leaders are to behave, and often many of these people seek to support their ideas from scripture. Even though not all of us here have title or offices, we are all being trained to be leaders. At the very least, we should be capable of leading ourselves, or growing up to be able to lead a godly family, and so we need to be able to understand what the Bible says about how leaders are to behave. Additionally, though, all of us now and during our lives also have to deal with other people in charge over us, and so we need to learn how to deal with leaders as well. What does the Bible say about leadership and our personal responsibilities whether we are leaders or are following someone else’s leadership? That subject is what I would like to talk about today.
It Shall Not Be So Among You
The Bible is very clear about what kind of leaders are acceptable and what kind of leaders are unacceptable to God. To start, let us turn in our Bibles today to Matthew 20:25-28. Here we see some clear and unmistakable words about godly leadership from the mouth of Jesus Christ Himself. We do not need to guess or assume what Jesus Christ thought about leadership—He told us directly. Matthew 20:25-28 reads as follows: “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Wherever we are from in this world, we see the rulers of the heathen all around us. We see people call themselves ministers of God not because they serve the flock with love but because they love to receive honor and respect from others, even if they are not qualified morally or intellectually to teach God’s word to others. We see leaders in business cheat their customers, rob their employees of wages, and then donate millions or even billions of dollars to charitable causes so they may call themselves benefactors with stolen money that was not truly theirs to give. We see politicians pretend to support what is best for the ordinary people when they have their own selfish personal interests in mind. This was true in Jesus’ time, and it is true in our own time, in whatever country we happen to find ourselves in. This is the way of the world, and it should not be so among us as Christians.
If we are called to be leaders or teachers in any role or position, we are to act as Christ acted. We are not to lord it over other people, but we are to guide people gently, as a shepherd, not serving for our own selfish benefit like a mere hireling. We are not to bully others, or insult others, or taunt others, but rather to teach them and to guide them with the word of truth. We are, if necessary, to sacrifice our own pleasure so that we may help those we have been called to serve. The heathen leaders of the world see leadership as an opportunity to get wealth and prestige and power and an ego trip from lording it over others, but a godly leader sees leadership as the opportunity to serve others and help them to become better people themselves. Whether we are teachers or students here, we ought to be the same, for those who are older naturally lead those who are younger. Those who lead therefore need to set others a proper example of service, rather than following the bad examples that we see all around us.
Whatever You Have Done To The Least Of These
Whether we are leading or following, let us heed the advice of Jesus Christ in Matthew 25:31-46. Here Jesus Christ tells us exactly by what standard we will be judged for how we treat other people, and it makes for sobering reading. Matthew 25:31-46 reads as follows: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Then He will say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and You gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
These are sobering words indeed. As a left-handed person myself, I always find it somewhat disconcerting when the Bible always puts the good people at the right hand and the lesser or worse people on the left hand, but that is not the most important part of this passage. When the older translations of the Bible said, “If I have not charity, I am become as nothing,” they were not exaggerating the biblical command at all. It is not merely love in our hearts, or a concept in our minds, that will count with God, but love as shown through our words and actions. This is far harder for you, or I, or anyone else to show. Who is the least of our brethren? Whoever we think it is. If we think that young people are the least, or bachelors, or the poor, or widows, or foreigners, or people of different tribes or ethnic background, or women, or men, then those are the least of these. It is whoever we think the least important, or whom we treat the worst. Let us think about that—God will judge us by the worst standard we treat other people. Do we treat other people, any other people, badly? Do we insult them, do we slander them, do we revile them? If so, we will be cursed by the same standard we curse others. If we judge them by God’s law, we too will be judged by that same standard ourselves. If we judge them harshly, we too will be judged harshly. If we wink at sin, we will be counted guilty of that sin ourselves, even if we did not commit it. How do we stand before God on those grounds? Speaking for myself personally, I could not stand at all under that standard without my own sins, which are many, being wiped away through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. How about you?
This standard of judgment counts for all of us, whether we lead or follow. Before God in judgment we can offer no self-serving excuses, and we will be able to give no justifications. We will be judged for our works, whether they are good or evil, and God’s judgment will be just. Let us all therefore remember to ask God for His help so that we can show the proper love and respect and charity for others around us, so that we may be counted as sheep in the flock of Jesus Christ granted eternal life and not goats appointed for judgment. For just as we do to those we think the least or the lowest, Jesus Christ will do to us.
Give Us A King To Judge Us
Why is it that bullies and tyrants exist in the first place? I tend to take bullying very personally myself. In my life I have endured a great deal of teasing, taunting, bullying, and abuse, and whenever I see someone else treated the same way I take it very personally, as if it it was being done to me, and I respond accordingly. And so, recognizing this sensitivity, I have long wondered why such people as bullies or tyrants who abuse people or tormented them exist on the earth in the first place. And I wondered why is it that the heathen leaders of the world lord it over others in the first place.
Judges 21:25 tells us that, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Because God seemed so far away and there was no visible leader in control, people had no self-discipline because they did not fear or respect God’s authority. Because they lacked self-discipline and self-control, and because they were slaves to their lusts and desires, they desired strong rulers so they could be free of that responsibility, and so that there could be a strong arm in power to protect them from the results of their folly. The wanted one-man rule so that they did not have to think for themselves or grow in their own capacity to govern their desires according to the demands of God’s law. Because they were slaves to their appetites, they desired to be slaves to an authoritarian government. Many people today long to be slaves because they too cannot accept the burden of freedom. Neither could the generation that left Egypt in the Exodus and their bones were scattered in the wilderness, and they did not enter God’s rest because of their unbelief.
In 1 Samuel 8:1-22, we read of the context in which Israel asked God for a king, a context that reminds us of the desires of the weak and foolish today for strong leadership because the are unwilling to learn how to become godly leaders and responsible citizens themselves. 1 Samuel 8:1-22 reads as follows: “Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of the first was Joel, and the name of the his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “Look, you are old, and our sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which the have done since the day I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day—with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so the are doing to you also. Now therefore heed their voice. However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.” So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who asked him for a king. And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.” Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and the said, “No, but we will have a king over us, that we may also be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he repeated them in the hearing of the Lord. So the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed their voice, and make them a king.” And Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Every man go to his city.”
So why are there bullie? In part, because people want them. What was wrong about the desire of Israel for a king? Is it not right to want godly leaders? Indeed it is, but that is not the kind of leader Israel was looking for. Israel wanted a king like all the nations around them, a heathen bully to pretend to be like a god among men, to lord it over others, and to tell them what to do because they were unwilling to look up God’s word and follow it for themselves. That’s not the kind of leader we ought to be, nor is it the kind of leader we ought to want. The fact that Israel wanted to be told what to do—for their king to fight their battles instead of learning how to fight them themselves—meant that God told them their kings would take the best of their land and property and servants for his own selfish benefit and that of his palace clique. For that is how the leaders of the heathen have always behaved. But that is the kind of ruler that Israel thought that they wanted. Because they were slaves in their hearts and minds, they desired a harsh ruler to rule them with a strong arm so that they could be slaves politically as well. And so God gave them what they asked for, because they preferred to be ruled by bullies and tyrants than to be ruled by the good shepherd whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. Is that true of us today? I hope to God it is not true.
Let us therefore conclude on that sobering note. Jesus Christ, when He was in the flesh, told us that godly leaders would serve the people and not lord it over them like bullies and petty dictators. That is the kind of leader we ought to want, and that we ought to aspire to be. This requires that we love and respect all, for God will judge us by the way we treated those we considered the least worthy of our respect or the least important, whomever that may be. Also, we must remember to avoid the trap of the unfaithful ancient Israelites, who wanted a strong man in charge to lord it over them because they were unwilling to take the personal responsibility of building a personal relationship with God. They wanted a strong arm to fight their battles for them, and so God gave them rulers to lord it over them just like the heathen nations around them. We should not be like them, and so we must learn to recognize, respect, and become godly servant leaders ourselves. Let us therefore do so, seeking to find and become servants rather than bullies, showing the godly example of Jesus Christ in whatever offices we find ourselves in. That is all.