We began our last message by looking at the contrast between the servant leadership of God and Jesus Christ and the satanically motivated leadership of the heathen rulers of this present evil world. Let us return to Matthew 20:25-28 and review this passage again. Matthew 20:25-28 reads: “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.”
Having discussed some negative qualities of Gentile leadership earlier, I would like to spend today talking about some positive examples of godly servant leadership that we should all work to model in our own lives, whether we are leading ourselves, families, schools, businesses, villages, or nations. As God gives us the opportunities to lead and serve others, we have the opportunity to put His laws and His ways into practice in our lives as we love God with all our mind, all our heart, and all our soul, and as we love and honor others as ourselves. The Bible is full of examples of leadership and among those I would like to look today at seven principles of godly servant leadership that we can all work on practicing as God gives us opportunities to lead others.
It’s Not About Us
As godly leaders, we have to recognize that the focus is not on ourselves but on others, and as leaders we have to make sure that we are serving the best interests of the people we serve. Let us examine a few principles that help us as leaders to be concerned for others. First, let us turn to Exodus 18:14-26 and look at an example from the life of Moses, to show how being a godly leader requires training up other godly leaders. Exodus 18:14-26 reads: “So when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did for the people of, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning to evening?” And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws.” So Moses’ father-in-law said, “The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. If you will do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.” So Moses heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. So they judged the people at all times; the hard cases they brought to Moses, but they judged every small case themselves.”
There are many reasons why God commands leaders to train up other leaders and why the heathen model of one man rule is not acceptable to God. Let us briefly discuss a few of them. For one, the burden of ruling an entire nation or church is too much for one man alone, no matter how godly or how able he is. Too many decisions need to be made for one person to make them all, and we all have such limited time and energy that people in charge need to make the important decisions while other leaders closer to a situation need to make the more urgent and minor decisions that come up so that the people in charge can spend their time on what is most necessary for the health of the whole nation or organization. Additionally, since God has called all of His people to become rulers and leaders in His kingdom, we need to start here and now developing the confidence and competence in learning how to make decisions, how to learn and grow from mistakes, and how to become better people and better leaders. Also, a godly leader must always think about how God’s truth can carry on after they die, as well as be taught in those places where a leader cannot personally oversee on a regular basis, and so there must be other leaders who can take the vision and godly example of the leader and model those ways in other places, so that the godly leader in charge can leave a godly legacy and have a godly succession. All of these reasons require that godly leaders train up other leaders who already possess good character and give them the skills and practice they need to model leadership to the people at large, dealing with problems from the bottom up rather than from the top down.
Second, godly leaders need to be more concerned about the well being of the people they lead rather than their own glory. Let us turn to another example about Moses, from Numbers 11:16-17 and 24-29. Here we see how Moses dealt with the possibility of “competition” from other godly leaders in Israel with the Holy Spirit. Let us begin with Numbers 11:16-17: “So the Lord said to Moses: “Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand over there with you. Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone.” Let us now drop down to verses 24-29: “So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord, and he gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tabernacle. Then the Lord came down in the cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders; and it happened, when the Spirit rested upon them, that they prophesied, although they never did so again. But two men had remained in the camp; the name of one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them. Now they were among those listed, but who had not gone out to the tabernacle; yet they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, and said, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” So Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, one of his choice men, answered and said, “Moses my lord, forbid them!” Then Moses said to him, “Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His spirit upon them!” ”
Here we see again that God felt the need to remind Moses not to take too much authority and responsibility on himself and that Israel’s leaders needed to practice some of that responsibility for themselves. The seventy elders chosen by God are said to be the start of the Jewish Sanhedrin, or Council of Elders. It is not only the existence of a council form of government, but its empowerment to share in the responsibility of government and the fact that such a council is to be filled with godly leaders who have God’s Holy Spirit working with them that makes this passage a model for us as Christians today in how we should lead and govern. We see that whether a godly leader is among the people or in a place of authority that God gives His Spirit to them. And we see that Moses was more concerned about serving the people of Israel than he was in preserving his own dignity by keeping those who prophesied separate from the common folk. It was Moses’ wish that God would give His Holy Spirit to all believers, a promise that was fulfilled in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit was given to all believers, as a way of empowering all Christians to serve God and others.
Third, godly leaders need to bring justice and instruction to the people. It is not enough to be a godly leader in a palace or in charge of an institution in the midst of a corrupt and ungodly society. A leader has to bring justice to where ordinary people are or it will be assumed that the corruption goes all the way to the top. We see an example of a godly leader bringing justice to the people in 2 Chronicles 19:4-11. 2 Chronicles 19:4-11 reads: “So Jehoshaphat dwelt at Jerusalem; and he went out again among the people from Beersheba to the mountains of Ephraim, and brought them back to the Lord God of their fathers. Then he set judges in the land throughout all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city, and said to the judges, “Take heed to what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment. Now therefore, let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take care and do it, for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, no partiality, nor taking of bribes.” Moreover, for the judgment of the Lord and for controversies, Jehoshaphat appointed some of the Levites and priests, and some of the chief fathers of Israel, when they returned to Jerusalem. And he commanded them, saying, “Thus you shall act in the fear of the Lord, faithfully and with a loyal heart: Whatever case comes to you from your brethren who dwell in their cities, whether of bloodshed or offenses against law or commandment, against statutes or ordinances, you shall warn them, lest they trespass against the Lord and wrath come upon you and your brethren. Do this, and you will not be guilty. And take notice: Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of the Lord; and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the ruler of the house of Judah, for all the king’s matters; also the Levites will be officials before you. Behave courageously, and the Lord will be with the good.”
Here we see that in all of the walled cities of Judah that righteous King Jehoshaphat sent priests and Levites to teach and enforce God’s way in both civil and religious matters. Instead of simply being a righteous king within his own palace, he brought justice and godly ways to the people, specifically warning his officials not to show partiality (which is commonly shown to the wealthy and powerful by some and to the poor by others) and not to take bribes (an obvious sign of a corrupt society). In so doing, Jehoshaphat reminded us that a king or a leader is judged not only by his own personal moral integrity but also by how that justice is enforced in the courts and in the daily lives of his people. A godly man who has ungodly servants will be seen by the common folk as a corrupt and ungodly ruler, and therefore it is immensely important that a leader make sure to have godly leaders under him who also follow and live God’s ways, so that the lives of the people may benefit from the visible example of leaders practicing God’s ways.
Godly Leaders Do Difficult Things
In addition to showing concern and care for the best interests of others, godly leaders are expected to accept difficult challenges as a result of the responsibilities we are given. Let us look at two difficult challenges godly leaders face. First, let us turn to Psalm 141:5, to see a difficult task godly leaders face that was embraced by David, a man after God’s own heart. Psalm 141:5 reads: “Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; it shall be as excellent oil; let my head not refuse it. For still my prayer is against the deeds of the wicked.” Godly leaders are expected to follow David’s example in embracing and welcoming and showing gratitude for the rebuke and correction we receive from godly people. Instead of being angry or vengeful against such rebuke, we need to remember two things: First, that it is for our benefit, and that those godly people who tell us things we need to improve about ourselves are doing us a favor by bringing to our attention what we would probably not notice on our own. I know that most of the time, and it is often, that I have received rebuke from the godly, I was unaware of how I was causing offense. I thought I was doing well, when I was not. Second, by accepting rebuke and correction from others gracefully, we make it possible for others to tell us difficult truth in general in the knowledge that we will not be angry or furious at the messenger who has to give us bad news. This allows us to have a better understanding of how conditions really are rather than how we might wish them to be.
A second difficult challenge is the need to model the self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ as a leader on a regular basis. Let us find this principle in Ephesians 5:25-33. Ephesians 5:25-33 reads: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
Thanks to my own personal and family history, and the fact that I am still impatiently waiting for God to bring the right young woman into my life, I find it awkward and uncomfortable to speak about marriage. Nevertheless, it must sometimes be done. The instructions given here about how a husband should treat his wife apply on a larger scale to leaders in general. In whatever office and position we have, we are responsible for showing the Christ-like behavior of self-sacrifice. We are to value the well-being of the people we serve as more important than our own comfort and pleasure. As leaders, we are called to sacrifice our wishes and our desires so that we may best serve others. We cannot ask others to go without unless we leaders have given them an example of self-sacrifice ourselves. Those who are called to be leaders by God in any office are called to show the same concern and respect and love for others that Jesus Christ showed when he laid down His life to serve as the sacrifice for our sins, so that we imperfect human beings could enter the Kingdom of God as his brethren and as part of His body.
Standards For Godly Leaders
Finally, let us look at what standards the Bible gives for civil and religious leaders in scripture, to see what qualities God desires and requires in those who lead others. First, let us look at Deuteronomy 17:14-20 to look at the qualities that God sets for kings (and civil leaders in general) within His law. Deuteronomy 17:14-20 reads: “When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall not return that way again.’ Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself. Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.”
Let us summarize the parts of this law as positive obligations not only for kings, but for all political leaders in general. First, let us note that God ultimately has the power to choose leaders. In addition, let us also note that leaders are supposed to be brethren, those under the same standard. Kings and other leaders are not up high while the ordinary people are low, but they brothers looking face to face as equals apart from the dignity and honor that belongs to the office itself. Leaders are not to trust in their own military strength but to trust in God’s protection. Leaders are also not to hoard gold and silver and other forms of wealth for themselves, but are rather to set an example of modest living for those they serve. A leader has credibility telling other people how to live if their own standard of living and way of life can be copied by all of the people they lead. In addition, godly leaders are called to be faithful to one spouse, and are not to amass harems for themselves. Also, leaders are to write down a copy of this law for themselves to reflect on it daily, and to remember that they are under the law just like everyone else. A godly leader is a constitutional monarch, subject to the same law as everyone else (and an even harsher standard to meet of obedience and righteous character than ordinary people). And if a ruler does all of this, then God promises him and his successors an enduring dynasty.
Let us also look at the standard that God demands for religious leaders in His church. Twice in 1 Timothy and once in Titus Paul talks about the qualifications of leaders in the Church of God. Let us look at the list of qualifications in Titus 1:5-9, with the knowledge that all of these lists give mostly the same qualifications. Titus 1:5-9 reads: “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For an overseer must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.”
If you remember my previous message, I commented on some of the qualities of the rulers of heathen nations like Babylon, and we saw that included among those qualities was a love of collecting women in harems, a love for alcohol and partying, anger, self-will, injustice, among other qualities. God demands the opposite of these qualities for His servants. In order to keep the Church of God in proper order, He commands that leaders be trained and placed in all congregations to set an example of preaching and practice for the brethren as well as for the outside world. He commands that they be monogamous, have good control over their children (so that he can discipline his congregation), have good habits of being sober-minded and self-controlled and just and holy and good at public speaking. These are qualities we all should seek to develop here as we are trained to be godly leaders, and that we should work on through the course of our lives. For if we expect or wish to lead in God’s kingdom, we have to start now. And why not start with ourselves, leading the person that we know the best?
Let us conclude by reviewing the seven principles of godly government that we have covered today. First, godly leaders include others rather than seeking to rule through one-man rule. Second, godly leaders are more concerned with serving others than serving for their own glory. Third, godly leaders bring justice to the people so that all can enjoy godly leadership within a society. Fourth, godly leaders are able to accept the rebuke of the righteous without taking personal offense. Fifth, godly leaders model the self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. Sixth, godly civil leaders are commanded to follow the same laws as the people they rule, and even harsher rules specifically given to them by God. Seventh, godly religious leaders are commanded to be sober-minded and just and good examples to the outside world. Hopefully we can all learn and apply these lessons of godly servant leadership here at Legacy and in other aspects of our lives, so that we can all be godly rulers wherever God places us.