The Greatest Leadership Quality

“Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.” – Joshua to Israel’s leaders, Joshua 23:11

Toward the end of the book bearing his name, Joshua, now “old and well advanced in years,” summoned the leaders of Israel together and gave them both a promise and a warning. The promise: Much of the land had already been taken, and if the people remained faithful to God, then he would drive out the rest of the inhabitants. The warning: If the people turned from God then he would not drive out the inhabitants and would even expel Israel from the land.

In the midst of this, Joshua gave the leaders the charge to be courageous and faithful, as God had charged him, and also to be “very careful to love the Lord your God.”

This same line, taken from Moses, was later given as an answer by Jesus to the question, “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Following this command is, therefore, something we all should do, but it is especially the number one attribute we should look for in leaders.

As you move from Joshua into Judges, you see that Israel’s faithfulness did not last long. This failure seemed to stem from a lack of God-loving leadership to guide the people well.

So often today, we want to treat the church as a business, the pastors as functional CEOs and the deacons as a Board of Directors. We highlight communication and administration skills and matters of personality as the highest priorities. This is not to say that leaders and potential leaders should not seek to grow in these things, but at the core of their being must be a deep love for God above all else.

It is better to have an unpolished leader who deeply loves Jesus than to have a grand executive whose love for God is spotty at best. Only with their own growing love for God will leaders be able to help others grow to love God more.

New posts in this devotional series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

Judge Righteously (a daily proverb)

This is the last post in our January 2017 series looking at a verse or two from a different chapter of Proverbs each day.

Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. ~Proverbs 31:9

Often when we hear “Proverbs 31,” we think of the profile of an excellent wife / godly woman. And rightly we should, as that poem to end Proverbs takes up two-thirds of the chapter. However, before we read about the excellent woman, we find nine verses of advice from a king named Lemuel that he learned from his mother.

Her wisdom comes in the form of moral and ethical commands to encourage her son to rule well. These commands include sexual faithfulness, sobriety, and caring for the needy.

Verses 8 and 9, especially, speak to a king using his power to help the needy in the world. In most circumstances, people in need lack a voice. They need help—someone to come alongside them and to stand up for them. Whose voice is more powerful in the land than the king (or, whoever holds the greatest seat of political power)?

It is easy for any of us to fall to the temptation of favoring those who help or benefit us in some way. We are tempted to give preference to those who can give back and we overlook those who cannot. The old saying comes to bear: “What have you done for me lately?”

A king who “judges righteously” will not be persuaded by money, esteem, or power; just as God judges righteously and cannot be purchased, bribed, or influenced by another. He will genuinely care for the poor and needy in his land.

But we should not limit this advice only to those in power. We each have our own spheres of influence. We might not have a national voice like a king or president, but we have our towns, neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces. In these places, are we more interested in gaining favors and being served by others, or are we more willing to favor the needy and serve others like Jesus served us (John 13)? Our sphere may well be miniscule compared to a nation, but we are still able to “defend the rights of the poor and needy” around us.

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A Righteous Rule (a daily proverb)

This devotional series examines a verse or two from a chapter of Proverbs each day of January 2017.

When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan. ~Proverbs 29:2

Character matters.

Whenever the Bible speaks to good leadership, whether in the home, at the church, or over the nation, the number one thing it points to is character. People with good character breed positive influences, good directions, and beneficial policies. People with corrupt character tend to yield corrupt influence and act more in line of self-betterment than the betterment of those around them.

Righteous character ultimately flows from Christ. There are none righteous, in themselves, as Paul wrote in Romans 3:10. But if we belong to Jesus by faith, then his righteousness becomes ours (2 Corinthians 5:21). Trusting in Jesus, we gain the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit influences us for the better as we yield ourselves to his work in our lives.

Paul wrote in Galatians 5 that the deeds of the flesh, or the fruit of the sin within us, are things like sexual immorality, idolatry, anger and strife, backbiting, and similar other attitudes and activities. But the fruit of the Spirit in our lives is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

At home and in the church, these are the defining traits that we should seek in our leaders and as leaders. More so than looking for vision and business acumen. In our nation, such traits are the ones we should seek for in leaders we support with our votes, not men and women who epitomize corruption at home and in politics.

After all, righteous leaders bring joy in the land, but wicked leaders cause the people to groan.

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The Joy of the City (a daily proverb)

This devotional series examines a verse or two from a chapter of Proverbs each day of January 2017.

When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness. By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown. ~Proverbs 11:10-11

Character matters. That is one of the big lessons we find again and again in the Bible. For God’s people, the number one qualification for leadership isn’t charisma, education, vision, or skill, but character. This is true in the home, the church, the city, and the nation.

Throughout the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, we see a repeated pattern. When the unrighteous are in power or bend the ear of the king, the people and the land suffers. When the righteous are in power or have the ear of the king, the people and the land prosper.

In his proverb, Solomon related this truth to cities. The wicked ultimately care most about themselves. They will make false promises, manipulate, lie, and use in order to exalt self and maintain their prominence. The righteous care about things like justice, love of neighbor, and the plight of the poor, the orphaned, the widow, and the sojourners. The righteous seek not to exalt self but to bring about the best situation for others.

This is what God calls his people to. As Jesus said: We are to love God and love neighbor. Ultimately, we cannot do one without the other.

So, if we have found new life in Christ, we should heed his call to love. We might not all have the power or influence of a king or a president, but we can be a positive force in the lives of those living next door to us. The more we love others, the greater benefit our communities receive, and that brings joy to our communities.

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Sunday 01.08.17 (the church and her leadership)

This Sunday we’ll start a 4-week series in the book of Titus called “The Church and…” This week, we’ll take a look at Titus 1:1-16, “The Church and Her Leadership.” Then on Sunday evening, we’ll begin a new Bible study on the attributes of God, followed by our quarterly business meeting. We hope to see you there!

Schedule
@945 Small Groups / Sunday School for all ages
@1045 Worship Gathering
@6pm The Attributes of God: God’s Self-Existence
@7pm Business Meeting

Sermon Notes
The Church and Her Leadership ~ Titus 1:1-16

  • The purpose of church leaders: Oversee the spiritual growth of God’s people (1:1-4)
  • With this purpose in mind:
    • We appoint leaders who are men of good character (1:5-8)
    • We appoint leaders who are devoted to God’s word (1:9)
    • We reject ungodly leaders who twist the gospel (1:10-16)

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When Paul Opposed Peter (a meditation)

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. ~ Paul, Galatians 2:11

Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia (a region in modern day Turkey which then included towns such as Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe) is perhaps the harshest that he wrote still preserved as scripture. He minced no words with them because they bought into a teaching that required their men (largely from a population of Gentiles, or nations that did not practice ritualistic circumcision) to be circumcised to truly be right with God. This was an affront to the gospel preached by him, Peter, John, and other early missionaries and disciples of Jesus, which said: the work of Jesus alone saves and this is ours by faith.

To add “works of the Law” to this message, whether to fellow Jews or the Gentiles, was to proclaim a different gospel—a message that wasn’t really a true gospel about Jesus. A message Paul opposed so strongly that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he proclaimed preachers of faith in Jesus plus circumcision to be accursed, or under God’s condemnation (1:8).

Yet in the town of Antioch, Paul found Peter (Cephas) playing the hypocrite in this regard. As the leader of the apostles and a “pillar” of the early church, Peter and other church leaders in Jerusalem gave the charge that the Gentiles had no need to be circumcised or be brought under the Old Testament Law in any other way in order to be saved (2:9-10, cf. Acts 15). So Paul, Barnabas, and others went out with this message of Christ alone.

At the same time, Peter lived by his freedom in Christ to also not be bound to the Law as a Jew. When he was with the Gentile believers in Antioch, he ate and associated with them, along with other Jews, until a group showed up who still valued circumcision as a necessary ritual. Then, out of fear, Peter and the others withdrew from the Gentile disciples and refused to associate with them any longer (2:12-14).

So Paul got in his face and rebuked him.

Within the theological backgrounds that led to this moment, we see accountability among leadership. Though the church is to have leaders, foremost, of high character (see: Acts 6, 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1), they are still imperfect people who struggle with sin and sometimes walk in hypocrisy. But no leader should stand above rebuke.

Despite his status, Peter acted contrary to the gospel and needed someone to point him back to the right path. Paul, though elsewhere calling himself the least of the apostles (1 Corinthians 15), was willing to do just that. We don’t know if Paul was bold at first sight or if he, like Peter and Barnabas, felt fear and so had to take time to reflect and pray. We do know that Paul did what was necessary because the gospel was that important.

The entire letter to the churches of Galatia keeps pointing to this point: Jesus is superior to the Law and salvation comes only through him and not adherence to the Law. He went so far to exclaim that he wished those who pushed circumcision as a requirement of righteousness would have the knife slip on themselves (5:12). So Paul would not be dissuaded.

Church leaders need other leaders and the churches in which they serve to keep them accountable for their character and their message (see also: 1 Timothy 5:19-25). Thus, leaders need to be humble and willing to submit to correction where they have erred. Likewise, leaders need to be bold in the gospel and willing to take a stand upon God’s word, even if no one else will. After all, the gospel about Jesus is still that important.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

Focused on the Word (a meditation on church leadership)

This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the Lord and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel. ~ Ezra 7:10

Pick up a book on leadership, or pick up four dozen—there’s a lot of information and opinions out there about what makes a good leader. You might find, even in church leadership books, a focus on wit, personality, relatability, and the likes. Yet God’s primary focus seems to always be character and devotion to his word.

The book of Ezra describes how after 70 years of exile in Babylon and then Persia, the Jews received a decree from King Cyrus fulfilling what God had promised: you can return to your land and rebuild the temple and cities. There were ups and downs along the way, victories on the one hand and attempts by enemies and subsequent kings to stop the work on the other. Yet work they did, and the temple they rebuilt.

Years later a descendant of Aaron named Ezra returned to Jerusalem with a group of exiles. In the book bearing his name, his story begins with the description, “The gracious hand of his God was on him.” And why? Because he set himself to know, obey, and teach well God’s word (7:9-10). And so it was throughout the Old Testament: the good kings and leaders were the ones who did the same. They wanted to know God’s word so they could live it and lead the people in living it. The evil kings were the ones who neglected it and led the people astray.

Come to the New Testament and you find the same. Titus 1 talks about the character of elders as church leaders. They must be hospitable, lovers of good, self-controlled, and above reproach. They must not be drunkards, violent, greedy, or quick-tempered. And they must know the word well so they can teach it to others and rebuke those who contradict it.

Character and devotion to the word.

Why are these so important? Because it is through the Bible and prayer that we connect with God in relationship—hearing him speak and speaking to him. And it is the character of Jesus we are to emulate, as Jesus himself said: “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35). Or as Paul wrote as a Christian leader: “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

So Christian, if you strive to be a leader (an honorable ambition, as 1 Timothy 3:1 says), strive to be immersed in God’s word so you may learn it, live it, and share it; and let his word shape you to be more like Jesus. And if you are looking for good leaders in a church, look for those who strive to be immersed in God’s word and who seek to imitate the character of our Savior.

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This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.