Shepherds Wanted

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. – Titus 1:5-9 ESV

One of the first things Titus was to concentrate on was the appointment of elders for the local churches in Crete. As Paul’s letter will shortly disclose, there was a problem with disorder and doctrinal disruption among the believers on the island. Paul will describe these individuals as “rebellious people who engage in useless talk and deceive others” (Titus 1:10 NLT).  He will accuse them of “turning whole families away from the truth by their false teaching” (Titus 1:11 NLT). And to make matters worse, they were doing so for financial gain. That’s why Paul reminds Titus that he has been left in Crete to “complete our work there and appoint elders in each town as I instructed you” (Titus 1:5 NLT).

Paul gave Titus a two-part commission. His first priority was to put in order or to complete what was lacking or left undone. There were some issues within the church there that needed to be taken care of, and Paul spends a good portion of his letter explaining exactly what the issues were. But the second part of Titus’ commission was the appointment of elders. Paul knew that Titus was going to need help. A big reason for the lack of order was the void of qualified leaders. If any organization finds itself lacking reputable and responsible leadership, someone will rise up to fill the void. There will always be those who step into the leadership vacuum and attempt to use their power and influence to take charge. And evidently, that was exactly what was happening on Crete.

So, Paul told Titus to take care of the problem by appointing men to help him lead the local body of believers. The responsibilities were too great for one man to handle on his own. But Paul insisted that Titus was not to settle for second best. Those whom Titus appointed to lead the church were going to have to meet certain qualifications in order to even be considered.

But it’s important to note that Paul’s description of the qualifications has everything to do with character and has little to say about biblical knowledge, academic aptitude, business savvy, or even leadership skills. Instead, Paul mentions qualities and characteristics that would have been visible to all those who knew these men. Titus was to look for the outward evidence of an inward transformation that had taken place in the lives of these men due to their relationship with Christ and their knowledge of the Word of God.

Each of them was to have “a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught,” so that he might “be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong.” (Titus 1:9 NLT). In other words, they had to have a knowledge of the truth of the gospel and the realities regarding God and His redemptive plan for man. That was the only way they would be able to refute falsehood and defend the good news from attack. Worldly leadership qualities would not be enough because they would be engaged in spiritual warfare.

Paul appears to be contrasting the character of these future church leaders and those who were doing harm to the church. Those leading who would lead the body of Christ had to be men who were above reproach or blameless. This doesn’t suggest that they were somehow perfect or sinless. The Greek word Paul used is anegklētos and it conveys the idea that these men were to have no glaring character flaws. They were not to be guilty of living their lives in a way that would cause people to point their fingers in accusation, resulting in harm to the reputation of the church.

They were to be loving husbands with reputations for faithfulness. They were to be fathers who had proven themselves to be capable leaders at home, having children who had come to faith in Christ, and who modeled lives of moral integrity and obedience. This would seem to suggest that Paul was recommending that Titus look for older men with children who had been in Christ long enough to have demonstrated their godly character.

Paul went on to say that an elder candidate “must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money” (Titus 1:7 NLT). Instead, he was to “enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life” (Titus 1:8 NLT).

It’s interesting to note that Paul had to be so specific in his list of qualifying character traits, and h went out of his way to list disqualifying characteristics as well. Arrogance, anger, greed, violence, and alcohol abuse would all be huge detriments to godly leadership. They were outward signs of someone who was under the control of the flesh and not the Spirit. In fact, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul provides an even more detailed list of those characteristics that mark someone who is living according to their sinful nature.

…sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,  envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these… – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

A man who is controlled by his own flesh is going to make a lousy leader. He will be disruptive and, potentially, destructive. And it’s obvious that the church on Crete already had enough negative influences impacting it. Titus was going to need godly men whose lives reflected their reliance upon the Spirit’s control.

Titus was going to need help in dealing with the disorder and negative moral influences within the churches on Crete. He couldn’t handle it on his own. So, Paul emphasized the need for him to find the right kind of men to lovingly lead the flock of God, providing much-needed discipline, and modeling the character of Christ to all those around them.

One of the main qualifications these men were to have was a love for the gospel. Paul tells Titus that each of them “must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught” (Titus 1:9 NLT). They were to remain committed to the gospel message by which they had come to faith in Christ.

One of the problems going on in Crete was the influence of those teaching what Paul refers to as a false gospel. There were those who were preaching something other than salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. They were adding to the gospel. Paul will remind Titus that people were “listening to Jewish myths and the commands of people who have turned away from the truth” (Titus 1:14 NLT). So, the men Titus chose to help him lead the church were going to have to be men who were committed to the truth of the gospel message. They were not to accept or even tolerate alternative versions of the truth. As shepherds of God’s flock, they were to refute all false gospels and destructive heresies.

These men were not to function as a board of directors. They were not to see themselves as figureheads or some kind of ad hoc advisory board for Titus. No, they were called to be overseers, shepherds, and pastors of the flock of Jesus Christ. They were to be godly in character and bold in their witness.

It’s easy to see that Paul had a strong view of eldership. He knew these men were indispensable to the spiritual well-being of the church. This is why he told the elders in Ephesus: “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders” (Acts 20:28 NLT).

We live in the midst of an ungodly world and there is an ongoing need for godly men who will step forward and provide leadership and protection for the flock of God. The church needs men of character who are led by the Spirit of God and committed to the Word of God. Disorder and disruption are all around us. That’s why qualified men are in great need, even today.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

A Leadership Void

15 Like a roaring lion or a charging bear
    is a wicked ruler over a poor people.
16 A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor,
    but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days.
17 If one is burdened with the blood of another,
    he will be a fugitive until death;
    let no one help him.
18 Whoever walks in integrity will be delivered,
    but he who is crooked in his ways will suddenly fall.
19 Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
    but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.
20 A faithful man will abound with blessings,
    but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.
21 To show partiality is not good,
    but for a piece of bread a man will do wrong.
22 A stingy man hastens after wealth
    and does not know that poverty will come upon him.
23 Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor
    than he who flatters with his tongue.
24 Whoever robs his father or his mother
    and says, “That is no transgression,”
    is a companion to a man who destroys.
25 A greedy man stirs up strife,
    but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.
26 Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool,
    but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
27 Whoever gives to the poor will not want,
    but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.
28 When the wicked rise, people hide themselves,
    but when they perish, the righteous increase. 
– Proverbs 28:15-28 ESV

We have a leadership void. Don’t get me wrong; we have no shortage of leaders in this country. It’s just that we don’t have very many godly leaders. There are plenty of ambitious, intelligent, capable, and sometimes even moral men and women who hold positions of leadership in our nation, but most of them lack the wisdom that only God can provide.

The following verse above paints a pretty bleak picture for a nation that finds itself with a moral and spiritual leadership void.

When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily.
    But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability. – Proverbs 28:2 NLT

The Message paraphrases verse two this way: “When the country is in chaos, everybody has a plan to fix it – But it takes a leader of real understanding to straighten things out.”

What an apt description of our own country at this stage of the game. We are in chaos, and everybody has a plan to fix it. We have an abundance of “princes” as the NIV describes them. These so-called leaders and a host of political pundits each offer up solutions to our nation’s myriad problems, but none of them really have a clue as to what should be done about the economy, terrorism, or any other issue facing us. They fail to realize that the root of all our problems is a spiritual one.

A wicked ruler is as dangerous to the poor
    as a roaring lion or an attacking bear.

A ruler with no understanding will oppress his people,
    but one who hates corruption will have a long life. – Proverbs 28:15-16 NLT

Because they lack the wisdom of God, these godless rulers have no way of understanding that the troubled economy is a symptom of a much more serious issue. Raising or lowering taxes is not going to fix what is broken. A larger or smaller government will not be the panacea for our problems. In the very next chapter, Solomon gives us the real solution.

When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice.
    But when the wicked are in power, they groan. – Proverbs 29:2 NLT

In other words, when godly men and women lead a nation according to godly principles and provide wisdom and insight directly from God Himself, the people find themselves living in peace and moral prosperity. Godly leaders make godly decisions. They are not selfish and self-centered. They are not greedy and out to benefit only themselves.

Greedy people try to get rich quick
    but don’t realize they’re headed for poverty. – Proverbs 28:22 NLT

Leaders who lack godly wisdom operate in a spiritual vacuum and are unable to see things from God’s perspective. They are motivated by pride and consumed with the need for recognition. But a godly leader views any power they possess as having been given to them by God, to whom they must report and by whom they will be held accountable.

The trustworthy person will get a rich reward,
    but a person who wants quick riches will get into trouble. – Proverbs 28:20 NLT

What we pass off as leadership today is a far cry from what God had in mind. All you have to do is look at Jesus to see what God views as godly leadership. Jesus came to earth to be the Messiah of Israel. He was to be their King and set up His kingdom on earth. And yet, Jesus claimed that He “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 ESV).

Jesus came to give His life away for the sake of others. He was concerned with and consumed by the will of His Father. He was obedient to God to the point of laying down His life. He knew that the world’s problems were spiritual in nature and the solution would have to be a spiritual one. Toppling the Roman government was not going to bring peace to the Jews. Only a Savior could heal them from what ailed them. They needed deliverance from sin, not relief from high taxes. They needed dependence on God, not independence from Rome.

Jesus did not come to tell people what they wanted to hear. He refused to tickle their ears with pleasant-sounding platitudes or comforting words designed to placate their guilt. No, as the apostle Paul makes clear, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” (1 Timothy 1:15 NLT). And as this Proverb so powerfully states:

In the end, people appreciate honest criticism
    far more than flattery. – Proverbs 28:23 NLT

Jesus was the ultimate example of a godly leader. After all, He was God in human flesh and as a man, He manifested all the wisdom of God perfectly and completely. Jesus lived to do the will of His Father.

“My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.” – John 4:34 NLT

“For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. – John 6:38 NLT

Jesus was not a flatterer or glad-hander. He didn’t tell people what they wanted to hear but, instead, He boldly proclaimed the words of His Heavenly Father and demonstrated the attributes of a godly leader. And His example was emulated by men like the apostle Paul.

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else. – 1 Thessalonians 2:4-6 NLT

Paul and his fellow apostles modeled their lives and ministries after Jesus. They fully understood the wisdom found in Proverbs 28:26.

Those who trust their own insight are foolish,
    but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe.

But we live in a day when everyone seems to be doing what is right in their own eyes. Our society is obsessed with the idea of individual autonomy and freedom from restraints of any kind. Everybody wants to be their own king ruling over their kingdom. And yet, when things don’t turn out quite the way we expect, we look to the government or a political leader to bring us relief and restoration. We naively expect a flawed and failed system to deliver us from our self-inflicted predicament.

Yet God has already provided a deliverer in the form of His very own Son. Godly leaders point a nation back to God. They don’t try to act as a substitute for Him. We find ourselves in trouble as a nation, not because of a bad economy, social inequities, or global warming, but because we have appointed leaders who have no respect for God. Without Him, they are helpless and hopeless to lead us because they lack the wisdom required for the job.

We need to pray that God will raise up men and women who know Him, love Him, and are willing to live for Him. But we also need to pray for a spiritual reawakening among the people of God who have become complacent and sometimes even contributors to the moral chaos facing our nation. We lack godly leaders because we have become a godless nation. But the wise see things from God’s perspective and always know there is hope.

When the wicked take charge, people go into hiding.
    When the wicked meet disaster, the godly flourish. – Proverbs 28:28 NLT

In the end, the godly win. The wicked may have their 15 minutes of fame, but the righteous will always come out on top. Those who walk the way of the wise will find that their path ultimately leads to joy, peace, comfort, and blessing.

trusting the Lord leads to prosperity. – Proverbs 28:25 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Apples of Gold in a Setting of Silver

11 A word fitly spoken
    is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
12 Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold
    is a wise reprover to a listening ear.
13 Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest
    is a faithful messenger to those who send him;
    he refreshes the soul of his masters.
14 Like clouds and wind without rain
    is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give.

15 With patience a ruler may be persuaded,
    and a soft tongue will break a bone.
16 If you have found honey, eat only enough for you,
    lest you have your fill of it and vomit it.
17 Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house,
    lest he have his fill of you and hate you.
18 A man who bears false witness against his neighbor
    is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow.
19 Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble
    is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips.
20 Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart
    is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day,
    and like vinegar on soda.
21 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
    and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
22 for you will heap burning coals on his head,
    and the Lord will reward you.
23 The north wind brings forth rain,
    and a backbiting tongue, angry looks.
24 It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
    than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.
25 Like cold water to a thirsty soul,
    so is good news from a far country.
26 Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain
    is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.
27 It is not good to eat much honey,
    nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory.
28 A man without self-control
    is like a city broken into and left without walls. – Proverbs 25:11-28 ESV

This collection of Solomonic proverbs, compiled by King Hezekiah’s team of sages, seems to have a regal focus to it. As official employees of the king, these men put together a list of wise sayings that would have particular application to their employer. In other words, these were proverbs fit for a king. They were just the kind of timeless insights that Hezekiah would find beneficial as he attempted to lead the nation of Judah as God’s vice-regent.

Wisdom is not reserved for the wealthy and powerful but is available to anyone who fears the Lord. But it is an essential prerequisite for the man whom God has tasked with shepherding His flock. It was said of Solomon’s own father, that God “chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds…to shepherd Jacob his people” (Psalm 78:70-71 ESV). And that same Psalm goes on to say that “with upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand” (Psalm 78:72 ESV).

David was inherently wise because he had a heart for God. In fact, the Scriptures make it clear that David was chosen by God because of the disposition of his heart, not his resume of accomplishments.

“But God removed Saul and replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.’” – Acts 13:22 NLT

When Samuel had been tasked with the unenviable job of finding a replacement for the disobedient King Saul, God had given his prophet the following selection criteria:

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7 ESV

A heart-healthy king is also a wise king. He understands the ways of God. He longs to discover the hidden truths that God has concealed from the foolish and ungodly.

It is God’s privilege to conceal things
    and the king’s privilege to discover them. – Proverbs 25:2 NLT

So, this five-chapter section of the book of Proverbs is filled with additional wise sayings that had been vetted by King Hezekiah’s crack team of researchers. They had discovered proverbs that Solomon had originally collected but that had been lost or simply neglected over time.

An apt description of these sayings is found in verse 11 of this chapter.

Timely advice is lovely,
    like golden apples in a silver basket. – Proverbs 25:11 NLT

Though more than 250 years had passed since these proverbs had first been compiled by Solomon, they remained as relevant as ever. These were timeless truths that held never-fading value because they were of God.

Even divine insight that comes in the form of correction proves beneficial to anyone who will accept it as a gift from God.

To one who listens, valid criticism
    is like a gold earring or other gold jewelry. – Proverbs 25:12 NLT

These proverbs deal with practical, everyday issues that impact both kings and commoners. They contain insights into everything from finding someone you can trust to deliver important news (verse 13) to learning how to control your appetite (verse 16). It is almost as if the men who collected these sayings had King Hezekiah in mind when they compiled the final list. You can almost hear them saying, “This would be a good one for Hezekiah to hear.” Verse 19 is a perfect case in point.

Putting confidence in an unreliable person in times of trouble
    is like chewing with a broken tooth or walking on a lame foot. – Proverbs 25:19 NLT

This is just the kind of advice a king would need to hear. And because a king would never have a shortage of adversaries, verses 21-22 would be of particular help.

If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat.
    If they are thirsty, give them water to drink.
You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads,
    and the Lord will reward you. – Proverbs 25:21-22 NLT

And a king who acquiesced to the demands of the wicked or allowed the ungodly to influence his decisions would prove to be a risk to the nation’s well-being.

If the godly give in to the wicked,
    it’s like polluting a fountain or muddying a spring. – Proverbs 25:26 NLT

A man in Hezekiah’s position always faced the risk of having his reign contaminated by men of disreputable character. There would always be flatterers around who used their access to the king to promote their own agendas and pad their own pockets. So, a wise king would need to constrain his appetite for praise and practice self-control.

It’s not good to eat too much honey,
    and it’s not good to seek honors for yourself.

A person without self-control
    is like a city with broken-down walls. – Proverbs 25:27-28 NLT

Because “If the godly give in to the wicked, it’s like polluting a fountain or muddying a spring” (Proverbs 25:26 NLT). Wise sayings are only valuable if they are heeded and applied. Wisdom is of little use if it is not put into practical use. And a king who surrounds himself with the wrong kind of advisers will end up making the wrong kind of decisions. And there is no better illustration of this truth than the life of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon and the heir to his throne.

The book of 1 Kings records what happened after Solomon had died and his son, Rehoboam had taken over the leadership of his kingdom. He had inherited a divided kingdom and faced rebellion from the tribes in the north, so he gathered the people together in Shechem and heard their complaint.

“Your father was a hard master,” they said. “Lighten the harsh labor demands and heavy taxes that your father imposed on us. Then we will be your loyal subjects.” – 1 Kings 12:4 NLT

They were demanding that Rehoboam correct the excesses of his father and treat the people with greater honor and respect. So, in response, Rehoboam “discussed the matter with the older men who had counseled his father, Solomon” (1 Kings 12:6 NLT). He sought the advice of these older and wiser men, and they gave him their counsel.

“If you are willing to be a servant to these people today and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your loyal subjects.” – Proverbs 12:7 NLT

In a sense, these men offered up “apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11 ESV), but Rehoboam “Rehoboam rejected the advice of the older men and instead asked the opinion of the young men who had grown up with him and were now his advisers” (1 Kings 12:8 NLT). He refused to listen to take the wise counsel of his elders but instead to the more ear-tickling advice of his peers.

The young men replied, “This is what you should tell those complainers who want a lighter burden: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! Yes, my father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!’”  – 1 Kings 11:10-11 NLT

And the unwise Rehoboam accepted the advice of his young friends, creating an immediate and irreparable disaster for his new kingship.

When all Israel realized that the king had refused to listen to them, they responded,

“Down with the dynasty of David!
    We have no interest in the son of Jesse.
Back to your homes, O Israel!
    Look out for your own house, O David!” – 1 Kings 12:16 NLT

Things did not turn out well for Rehoboam. He had been given the opportunity to do the right thing; to rule with wisdom and integrity, but he had chosen to take a different path. And rather than ruling over the 12 tribes of Israel as his father had done. he would end up with a kingdom consisting of two tribes: Judah and Benjamin. And the rest is history.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Leadership Is a Privilege, Not a Right

1 “And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.” – Malachi 2:1-9 ESV

The tribe of Levi had been given the special privilege of serving God with the responsibility of overseeing the tabernacle and everything associated with it.

Then the Lord said to Aaron: “You, your sons, and your relatives from the tribe of Levi will be held responsible for any offenses related to the sanctuary. But you and your sons alone will be held responsible for violations connected with the priesthood.

“Bring your relatives of the tribe of Levi—your ancestral tribe—to assist you and your sons as you perform the sacred duties in front of the Tabernacle of the Covenant.

“You yourselves must perform the sacred duties inside the sanctuary and at the altar. If you follow these instructions, the Lord’s anger will never again blaze against the people of Israel. I myself have chosen your fellow Levites from among the Israelites to be your special assistants. They are a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord for service in the Tabernacle.” – Numbers 18:1-2, 5-6 NLT

But at the time Malachi penned his prophetic pronouncement, the Levitical priesthood was guilty of neglecting its duties and treating its priestly responsibilities as a burden and not a blessing. The men given the responsibility of caring for God’s house found their duties to be a drudgery, not a delight. They even claimed, “It’s too hard to serve the Lord” (Malachi 1:13 NLT) and rejected God’s commands as too difficult and burdensome. In a real sense, their hearts were not in their work, and that is exactly what God has to say about their behavior.

“If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.” – Malachi 2:2 ESV

God expected heartfelt obedience to His commands, and His emphasis on the condition of their hearts was meant to reveal the true nature of their problem. This wasn’t a case of simple neglect or poor planning. Their failure to follow through on their commitment wasn’t due to overwork or lack of resources. They simply didn’t have the heart for it because their hearts were far from God.

“The word ‘heart’ (leb/lebab) denotes in Hebrew what may be called the command center of a person’s life, where knowledge is collected and considered and where decisions and plans are made that determine the direction of one’s life.” – Footnote 173: H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, p. 40.

These men were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of Israel but instead, they were setting a dangerous precedent for those under their care. If the restored remnant of Israel was going to survive their return to Judah and enjoy the blessings God had in store for them, it would only happen if the priests faithfully fulfilled their God-given responsibilities. But God’s priests were guilty of the very same sin that had led to Israel’s banishment from Judah in the first place.

“These people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is but rules taught by men. – Isaiah 29:13 BSB

God holds spiritual leaders to a higher standard because, as His shepherds, they are responsible for the care of His flock. They serve as His undershepherds and must give an account for the way they have nurtured those under their care. And as for the Levitical priests, they were also responsible for the sacrificial system God had decreed.

“Tell Aaron and his sons to be very careful with the sacred gifts that the Israelites set apart for me, so they do not bring shame on my holy name. I am the Lord.

“The priests must follow my instructions carefully. Otherwise they will be punished for their sin and will die for violating my instructions. I am the Lord who makes them holy. – Leviticus 22:2, 9 NLT

Malachi delivers God’s stinging rebuke to these heartless and faithless priests, warning them that they were about to be cursed for their infidelity.

“I will punish your descendants and splatter your faces with the manure from your festival sacrifices, and I will throw you on the manure pile.” – Malachi 2:3 NLT

“The disgusting picture is of God taking the internal waste of the sacrificial animals and smearing it on the priests’ faces. Consequently both sacrifices and priests would have to be taken outside for disposal. This play on words communicates a double curse.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes of Malachi

God was threatening to use their defiled sacrifices to defile them. He would no longer allow them to defame His name by their failure to execute their priestly responsibilities with integrity and honor. In a sense, God was warning that He was about to clean house. He remained committed to His covenant with the tribe of Levi.

“They shall teach Jacob your rules
    and Israel your law;
they shall put incense before you
    and whole burnt offerings on your altar.” – Deuteronomy 33:10 ESV

But these particular men had forfeited their right to serve as God’s priests. And when God’s curse fell on them, they would finally understand the gravity of their sin and the sacredness of the priestly role they had once held. And God provides them with a much-needed reminder of how their forefathers had faithfully lived up to their job description, bringing God’s blessings upon the people.

“The purpose of my covenant with the Levites was to bring life and peace, and that is what I gave them. This required reverence from them, and they greatly revered me and stood in awe of my name. They passed on to the people the truth of the instructions they received from me. They did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin. – Malachi 2:5-6 NLT

God had kept His word and restored a remnant of His disobedient people to the land of Judah. Seventy years after Judah had fallen to the Babylonians, God had sovereignly arranged for King Cyrus to issue a decree that allowed a small band of exiled to make the long journey home and begin the restoration of Jerusalem. Under the leadership of such men as Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, the walls had been rebuilt, the gates rehung, and the temple had risen majestically from the rubble. And the priests had been given the opportunity to renew their role as the spiritual leaders of Israel, providing instruction in the law and overseeing the recently reinstituted sacrificial system. Yet, despite all the blessings God had poured out on the nation of Israel, the priests had dropped the ball.

“But you priests have left God’s paths. Your instructions have caused many to stumble into sin. You have corrupted the covenant I made with the Levites…” – Malachi 2:8 NLT

It’s essential to understand the serious nature of their sin. These men had not just led poorly, they had purposefully misled and misguided the people. Their teaching of the law had been inaccurate and confusing. They were guilty of misinterpreting and misrepresenting God’s commands, causing the people to unknowingly violate the will of God. Their propensity to offer unacceptable sacrifices meant that the peoples’ sins were never really atoned for. Unlike their forefathers, these men were liars and cheats, living unrighteous lives and causing the people to follow their example. And God was unwilling to allow their devastating actions to continue any longer.

“So I have made you despised and humiliated in the eyes of all the people. For you have not obeyed me but have shown favoritism in the way you carry out my instructions.” – Malachi 2:9 NLT

According to Numbers 18:32, their penalty should have been death, but God had chosen to punish them by diminishing their stature in the eyes of the people. Their fall from God’s good grace would be painful and swift. They had been set apart by God and given the responsibility of leading and feeding His flock. But they had ended up treating both their position and God’s flock with disdain. After 70 years in exile, the people of God desperately needed solid biblical instruction, godly leadership, and a sacrificial system that provided true atonement from sin. But these men provided none of the above. They twisted God’s words, misled His flock, and defiled the very sacrifices that should have brought atonement to God’s people.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Need For Strong Leadership

1 So Moses continued to speak these words to all Israel. And he said to them, “I am 120 years old today. I am no longer able to go out and come in. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not go over this Jordan.’ The Lord your God himself will go over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them, and Joshua will go over at your head, as the Lord has spoken. And the Lord will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them. And the Lord will give them over to you, and you shall do to them according to the whole commandment that I have commanded you. Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”  Deuteronomy 31:1-8 ESV

Moses’s days were numbered, and he knew it. His long and somewhat drawn out homily to the people was meant to prepare them for the inevitable and, possibly, to delay the unavoidable. He would not be going with them into the land of Canaan. God had denied Moses the privilege of leading the people of Israel when they crossed the border of Canaan and began their conquest of the land.

Moses had been God’s hand-picked deliverer. He had been chosen by God for the unique assignment of rescuing the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, and he had performed that role faithfully and effectively. Then he had successfully led the people to the edge of the land of promise, only to see them refuse to keep God’s command and cross the border – all because of an excess of fear and a lack of trust in God. So, Moses was forced to spend the next 40 years leading this rebellious generation around the wilderness until they had died off. Then, with a new generation in tow, he once again brought them to the edge of the land of promise so they might enter and possess it. But he would not be going with them. Why?

It all goes back to a regrettable scene that happened at a place called Meribah. Early on in their exodus from Egypt to Canaan, the people of Israel found themselves short on water and patience. So, they complained to Moses, who took the issue up with God. And God gave Moses instructions to take his brother Aaron’s staff “and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle” (Numbers 20:8 ESV).

But Moses was angry with the people for reading him the riot act over their lack of water. So, when he had assembled them, he took the staff and, rather than speaking to the rock as God had commanded, he took his anger out on it.

Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” – Numbers 20:10-12 ESV

God accused Moses of two sins: Disbelief and disrespect. He expressed a lack of faith in God by refusing to do exactly as God had said. God’s word was not enough. He decided to add a little drama to the moment by striking the rock. And, on top of that, he seemed to take credit for the miracle, showing a deep disrespect for God. In doing so, he did not treat God as holy in the eyes of the people. As a leader and the representative of God, he had displayed unholy behavior, and his actions had reflected poorly on God. When Moses spoke, he spoke for God. When he led, he did so on behalf of God. When he struck the rock in anger, he did so as the representative of God. And his ungodly actions made God look unholy in the eyes of the people. This was a serious issue that brought a severe punishment from God.

“…because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. For you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land that I am giving to the people of Israel. – Deuteronomy 32:51-52 ESV

And yet, just a few chapters later in the book of Deuteronomy, we read:

And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. – Deuteronomy 34:10-12 ESV

Moses was a great leader. He was a God-appointed and Spirit-anointed leader. But at Meribah, he had chosen to doubt and disrespect God, and he would pay dearly for that lapse in judgment. So, at the ripe old age of 120, Moses broke the news to the people of Israel that he would not be the one leading them on the next leg of their journey. That responsibility would fall to Joshua, Moses’ protegé and successor. And Moses assured the people that, ultimately, it would be God who would be going before them as their divine leader.

“The Lord your God himself will go over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them.” – Deuteronomy 31:3 ESV

Their true leader had always been God Almighty. Moses had been nothing more than a human representative whose authority and power had been delegated by God. Now, the responsibility to lead God’s people would fall to Joshua, whom Moses assured them would “cross before you just as the Lord has said” (Deuteronomy 31:3 ESV).

And just to make sure that the people understood that God, not Joshua, was their true leader, Moses reminds them just who it would be that gave them victory over their enemies.

 “…the Lord will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og…” – Deuteronomy 31:4 ESV

“…the Lord will give them over to you…” – Deuteronomy 31:5 ESV

“…the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV

It would be God who gave them victory over their enemies. It would be God who went before them, never leaving them alone or on their own. Which is they could be “be strong and courageous” and not fear. Joshua would be their new human leader, but it was God who would make their path straight and their battles victorious.

Unlike Moses, God would never leave them or forsake them. Even good leaders can make bad mistakes that let their followers down. But not God. Moses would not be leading them into Canaan, but they could rest easy knowing that God would be with them every step of the way.

Next, Moses turns his attention to Joshua. He brings his much-younger successor before the people and provides him with a similarly worded charge:

Be strong and courageous, for you will accompany these people to the land that the Lord promised to give their ancestors, and you will enable them to inherit it.” – Deuteronomy 31:7 NLT

Joshua would be attempting to fill some rather large sandals. He was tasked with stepping into the formidable role that Moses had held for nearly half a century. And he was going to have to be strong. But his strength would have to be in the Lord. Without His help, Joshua would find the days ahead difficult, because as Moses knew all too well, leading God’s people was anything but a walk in the park. And he gave Joshua the same simple, yet vital reminder.

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” – Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV

The people of Israel were going to need strong leadership if they were to be successful in fulfilling God’s command. The conquest of the land was not going to be easy. The enemies who lived in the land would not give up without a fight. There would be many battles to fight. They would face more powerful foes and come up against what appeared to be impenetrable defenses. But the people and their new leader would need to constantly remember that their strength and success would be God-ordained, not man-made.

Moses knew the people were going to need Joshua. But he also knew that Joshua was going to need the Lord. Effective spiritual leaders are those who allow themselves to be led by God. They find their strength and courage in the Lord, not in themselves. Moses knew from personal and painful experience just how difficult the role would be that Joshua was taking on. He was going to need all the help he could get and the only reliable source he could turn to was God Himself.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Godly Leadership.

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship. Acts 20:28-38 ESV

pauls-third-missionary-journey

Paul had stopped in Miletus on his way to Jerusalem and, while there, he had invited the elders for the congregation in Ephesus to come visit him, so that he could impart some words of encouragement to them. Paul was well aware that he might never get to see these men again, and wanted to challenge them to take seriously their role as the spiritual shepherds of the flock over which God had placed them. Paul used his own life as an example of selfless service, declaring “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27 ESV). He was confident and content with his efforts on their behalf, having served “the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials” (Acts 20:19 ESV). Now, he was passing the baton on to them, and challenging them to “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28 ESV). Notice that he began with a warning for these men to pay careful attention to themselves. Their personal lives were to be closely monitored and the state of their own spiritual health was to be constantly assessed. In one of his letters to his young protegé, Timothy, Paul described the qualifications for an elder.

So a church leader must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? – 1 Timothy 3:2-5 NLT

These men had a grave responsibility, and they would one day answer to God for the manner in which they cared for His sheep. They needed to see themselves as overseers, or guardians over those under their care. The Greek word Luke used is episkopos, and carries the idea of someone who cares for and watches over the well-being of others. But Paul knew that it would be difficult for them to properly provide for and protect those under their care if they themselves were not adequately fit for duty. Spiritually deficient leaders will always result in spiritually anemic followers. Men who were unfaithful to their own wives, lacking in self-control, unable to manage their own households, quick-tempered, quarrelsome, greedy, and unable to teach the Word of God, would make lousy shepherds and do more harm than good to the flock of God. And Paul made it clear why they had to be spiritually prepared and properly equipped for their roles as shepherds.

29 I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. 30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out! – Acts 20:29-31 NLT

The dangers were real. Paul would have fully concurred with the statement made by Peter: “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 NLT). For Paul, the thought of false teachers slyly infiltrating the ranks of God’s people and leading them astray with clever-sounding words, was more than he could stand. The subtle, yet sinister reality of false doctrine was going to be a constant threat to the spiritual well-being of the church. It remains so today. Half-truths and watered-down doctrine are always more dangerous than outright lies. Frontal assaults, while always a possibility in spiritual warfare, are rare. The enemy tends to inflict his damage in more subtle and deceptive ways. But elders must understand that distortion of the truth can be just as dangerous and deadly as the denial of it. But to be able to recognize the lies of the enemy, God’s leaders must know the truth of His Word. That is why Paul told Timothy:

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NLT

Those who remain ignorant of God’s Word will be unable to live or lead well. They will find themselves living like “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14 NIV). Leaders can be appointed, but their ability to lead is God-given and a byproduct of their time in the Word and the degree of their dependence upon God. Which is why Paul stated, “I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself” (Acts 20:32 NLT). Their capacity to lead was going to be directly tied to their reliance upon God. They would need to daily lean on the grace of God and recognize that He alone could provide them with the strength and wisdom required for their role as shepherds of His flock.

Paul closes out his discourse with these men by using himself as an example. He was not speaking pridefully, but was confident that his own life could be used as a model for godly leadership.Paul had never been in it for the glory. He didn’t serve for any kind of recognition or financial remuneration. He plainly states:

33 “I have never coveted anyone’s silver or gold or fine clothes. 34 You know that these hands of mine have worked to supply my own needs and even the needs of those who were with me. 35 And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. – Acts 20:33-35 NLT

And Paul’s life fully reflected the teaching of Peter concerning godly leadership.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. – 1 Peter 5:2-4 NLT

Godly leadership is not about power, position, or prominence. It has little to do with matters of superiority or control. Being a leader in the context of the church of God is all about service, not authority and power. In fact, Jesus provided His disciples with some fairly stunning words about this very matter. He spoke them immediately after James and John had made their rather arrogant and self-centered request to be given positions of power when Jesus established His Kingdom. Jesus simply said:

25 “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28 NLT

And Paul added his own little twist, reminding the elders in his audience of some other words spoken by Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35 NLT). Paul was expecting these men to lead like Jesus. He wanted them to lead by putting themselves last and others first. They were to lead by selflessly sacrificing their lives for the sake of the flock. All of this recalls the words of Jesus, spoken to the apostle Peter in the days immediately after His resurrection. Three times Jesus questioned Peter’s love for Him. And three times Peter assured Jesus of his love. And each of those times, Jesus responded with three simple, yet profound statements.

“Then feed my lambs.” – John 21:15 NLT

“Then take care of my sheep.” – John 21:16 NLT

“Then feed my sheep.” – John 21:17 NLT

The greatest way a leader can prove his love for Jesus is to love those for whom Jesus died and for whom the leader has been called to serve.

When Paul had finished his meeting with the elders, they prayed together, then parted ways. There were many tears and much sorrow because, of all the things Paul had said to them, the one thing that had stood out the most was his announcement that he might never see them again. It is obvious that they loved Paul dearly. They clearly saw him as a loving and godly leader. He had been for them what he was asking them to be for those under their care: A selfless, sacrificial shepherd who had always been willing to lay down his life for the sheep. Now, they were to return to Ephesus and do the same.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Loving Those Who Lead.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. – Hebrews 13:17-19 ESV

In our culture, we tend to view leadership through a distorted lens. We aspire to leadership. We see it as something to be sought after and as kind of a reward for a job well done. Leaders are the successful ones, the over-achievers who have earned the right to be followed and all the benefits that come with their title. For many of us, leaders are not so much to be followed as envied. We covet their corner office and exorbitant salaries. We grow jealous of their prestige and power. And we dream of the day when it’s our time to lead.This mentality, while mostly visible in the secular arena, can even makes its way into the church, the body of Christ. But disrespect for leadership among God’s people is nothing new. Moses found himself constantly questioned and blamed for everything. His own brother and sister tried to force him to share his power and authority with them. The prophets of God were all ignored, disliked, and treated like social outcasts – all because their message was not what the people wanted to hear. Jesus Himself was a victim of leadership loathing Himself. As long as He performed miracles, handed out free meals, and talked of a new kingdom, the people flocked to hear him. But as soon as He started talking about suffering, taking up your cross and dying to self, the crowds thinned out dramatically. When He entered into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, fresh off the heels of His raising of Lazarus from the dead, the people celebrated with great gusto. But when He was arrested, everybody scurried into the darkened corners, including His twelve disciples.

The author of Hebrews knew that people can be fickle when it comes to leadership, even in the church. So he encouraged his readers to do three things: Obey, submit and pray. He knew that leadership was difficult and virtually impossible if those being led refused to follow. He also knew that reluctant or disgruntled followers could make the life of any leader miserable. Gossips, grumblers and discontented followers can become a cancer, spreading discord and disunity throughout the body. So he encouraged his readers to obey and submit. The Greek word for obey is peithō and it means “to listen to, obey, yield to, comply with.” But it also carries the idea of trust and confidence. As believers, we are to place our trust and confidence in those whom God has placed in leadership over us. We are to see them as hand-picked by Him. And we are to submit to them. The Greek word he uses is hypeikō and it means “to yield to authority and admonition.” But it also means to stop resisting. When we submit to and obey the leadership God has placed over us, we are ultimately placing our faith in Him. We are trusting that He knows what He is doing and is working through those He has placed in authority over us.

Finally, we are to pray for those who lead us. It is easy to complain about leadership. We won’t always agree with what they are doing or where they are leading us. But rather than question our leaders, we are to pray for them. Theirs is not an easy job. And we must never lose sight of the fact that they will one day answer to God for how they have led. Leaders in the church answer to a higher authority – God Himself. They will have to give an account for how they have cared for the flock of God. It was Peter who warned the elders of the local church to “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly – not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God” (1 Peter 5:2 NLT). Paul told the elders of the church in Ephesus, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28 ESV).

Leading the church of God is not easy. Shepherding the flock of God is a big responsibility. Do some Godly leaders lead in a less-than-godly way? Certainly. Do all pastors, teachers, elders and deacons always lead in the way that God would have them? Sadly, the answer is no. Moses was far from perfect. David had his flaws and failings. Solomon was wise, but not always the brightest bulb in the box when it came to leadership. But God had placed each of them where they were. Praying for our leaders is the best way to ensure that they become godly leaders. Obeying and submitting to them as having been placed over us by God is an expression of our faith in God. But we must never forget that godly followers are just as important as godly leaders.

Prayerful Leadership.

But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. – Acts 6:4 ESV

As the early church continued to grow in size, there were inevitable problems that came up. Acts chapter four describes a situation that arose between two different groups within the rapidly expanding church in Jerusalem. As a result of the events surrounding the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jews who had come from all over the known world to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost had come to accept Jesus Christ as their Messiah and Savior. There were native Hebrews who spoke primarily Aramaic and were from the region of Palestine. But there were also Hellenistic Jews who were primarily Greek-speaking and from outside the land of Palestine. One group used the Hebrew Scriptures, while the other used the Greek translation, called the Septuagint. It seems that their main issue was a linguistic one that translated into a cultural conflict and ended up making its way into the early church. Even in those early days Satan was attempting to use division and dissension as a means to create disunity within the body of Christ.

While Hellenistic Jews and Hebraic Jews had their own synagogues in Jerusalem, when they became believers in Christ, they ended up worshiping side by side. This inevitably led to some tension. Luke records that a dispute arose over the distribution of food to the widows within the church. The Hellenistic Jews were claiming that their widows were being neglected. This dispute led the twelve apostles, who made up the leadership of the local church, to appoint men to oversee the distribution of the food to ensure it was done fairly and equitably. Their reasoning for this decision was simple. “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables” (Acts 6:2 ESV). They were not diminishing the importance of the issue or demeaning the role of service, but were simply establishing priorities. In their minds, it was essential that they continue to spread the good news regarding Jesus Christ. That was the mandate given to them by Jesus Himself before He ascended back into heaven. So they chose “ seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3 ESV) to handle the issue of the distribution of food to the widows. This decision left them free to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.

It is interesting to note that the apostles saw their responsibility as two-fold. Jesus had made His instructions clear: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV). But Jesus had also taught them how to pray. He had modeled for them in His earthly life the importance of prayer. His ministry had been marked by a careful balance between preaching and prayer. The apostles knew from watching His life, that Jesus lived a life of dependence upon the Father. As impressive as His miracles had been, the disciples didn’t ask Jesus to teach them to heal, they asked Him to teach them how to pray. They had been amazed at the intimacy of His prayer life with the Father. They were taken by His need for time alone with God and the power and guidance He seemed to receive from those moments alone in prayer. They had lived with Jesus for more than three years. They knew how hard He worked, how tired He became at the end of a long day. And they had seen Him spend entire nights in prayer, skipping the evening meal and missing out on much-needed sleep. Yet He met the new day with a renewed sense of commitment and a supernatural energy that they couldn’t explain. When Jesus had his encounter with the woman at the well, the disciples had returned with food and offered some to Him. But He said, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about” (John 4:32 ESV). They were confused by His statement, wondering where He had gotten food to eat. But Jesus replied, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34 ESV). That statement of Jesus probably came to the minds of the disciples as they considered their responsibilities within the growing church. They had a job to do. They had been given a task to accomplish by Jesus and in order to do it, they were going to need to rely on prayer just as Jesus had done. Their accomplishments for God would be directly tied to the time they spent alone with Him. It is interesting to note that when the disciples went to Jerusalem after the ascension of Jesus, “they went up to the upper room, where they were staying” (Acts 1:13 ESV). And Luke tells us, “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14 ESV). It was in that context that the Holy Spirit came.

Prayer must be an essential part of the ministry. Activity alone is not enough. Prayer is an act of reliance upon God. It conveys our need for Him. It communicates our dependence upon His power and our need for His direction. God doesn’t need us to do things for Him. He wants to do things for us and through us. He wants to unleash His power in our lives. But sometimes we get too busy to pray. Our self-confidence can turn into self-reliance, which can end up being self-destructive. Prayer reminds us that we need God to accomplish our God-given responsibilities. Jesus needed God. Jesus depended upon the Father. So why don’t we? The apostles devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. They knew that one was not more important than the other. But they also knew that one was impossible without the other.

Prayer For Leadership.

Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd. – Numbers 27:16-17 ESV

Moses knew that his days were numbered. While had had been the one to lead the people of Israel from captivity all the way to the edge of the land of Canaan, God had told him that he would not be the one to take them into the land. It all went back to an event that had happened during their time of wandering in the wilderness. They had come to the wilderness of Zin. Moses had just recently buried his sister, Miriam. When the arrived at Zin, they found no water, so the people did what they were so prone to do. They complained bitterly to Moses, questioning his leadership and wondering why they had ever allowed him to take them away from Egypt. Their complaining made Moses angry, but he and Aaron took the matter before the Lord, and God gave His answer. “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle” (Numbers 20:8 ESV). God was going to provide water for the people and their livestock – miraculously. But the Scriptures make it clear that Moses did not follow God’s instructions carefully. “Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, ‘Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?’  And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock” (Numbers 20:10-11 ESV). Rather than speak to the rock, Moses chose to strike it. He made it all about him. He let the people know just how angry he was and just how undeserving they were. He really did not believe that God was going to provide for them, which is why he sarcastically said to the people, “shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” We know that Moses did not believe it was going to happen because God immediately responded, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12 ESV).

As a result of his unbelief at the wilderness of Zin, Moses lost his right to lead the people into the Promised Land. And yet, as disappointed as he probably was, when the time came for the people to make their long-awaited entrance into the land, Moses prayed that God would provide them with a worthy leader. He knew the people of Israel well and recognized that they would be like sheep without a shepherd if God did not provide them with a capable leader. As much as he would have liked to have been that leader, he knew it was not to be the case. But rather than pout and have a pity party for himself, he prayed. While he had been constantly mistreated and disrespected by the people of Israel over the years, he loved and cared for them. He wanted the best for them. And he knew that godly leadership was one of their greatest needs. So he asked God to “appoint a man over the congregation.” He wanted this to be a man of God’s choosing, not the peoples. He also knew that it would not do for some self-appointed leader to step to the fore and claim responsibility for the well-being of the people. His sister Miriam and his brother Aaron had tried that once before and it had resulted in God striking Miriam with leprosy for her insubordination and presumption (Numbers 12). Moses understood that the only kind of leader that would work would be a God-appointed leader. He desperately wanted God to provide the people with someone who could lead well because he listened well to God. He longed for someone who had a relationship with God like he did. God had told Aaron and Miriam, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord” (Numbers 12:6-8 ESV). Moses knew what it was like to have God speak to him directly and clearly. He had even been given the privilege of seeing God’s glory and living to tell about it. Moses was painfully aware that godly leadership was only possible with God’s help. He had struggled in leading the people of Israel for over 40 years and, even with God’s help, it had been difficult and, at times, impossible.

The people of God still need godly leadership. But how often do we pray for God to raise up men and women of His own choosing to lead His people? How many times have we prayed for God to appoint the right individual to lead the body of Christ and provide them with godly direction for the future? Moses knew that even God’s people were prone to godliness without godly leadership. And if you study the history of the kings of Israel, you see this fact proven out time and time again. Ungodly kings repeatedly led the people to make ungodly decisions. Ultimately, godlessness if disbelief in God. Just as Moses struck the rock because he doubted God, so godless leaders tend to make decisions apart from God because they don’t truly trust God to lead them. They take matters into their own hands. They rely on their own wisdom and strength. But God’s people must be led by God and we must pray that God provides men and women who have a heart for God to provide leadership for His people.

2 Chronicles 29-30, Titus 1

The Need For Godly Leadership.

2 Chronicles 29-30, Titus 1

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. Titus 1:9 ESV

Hezekiah was a like a breath of fresh air in the stagnant spiritual environment that had so long plagued Judah. The northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians and the people had been taken into captivity. Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz, had closed down the Temple of God, and led the people of Judah in the worship of false gods. He had built high places for the worship of these false gods all over the land of Judah. But then Hezekiah took the throne, and he proved to be a leader of a different sort. One of his first acts as king was to reopen the Temple. He recommissioned the priests, commanding them to consecrate and cleanse themselves so that they could properly care for and cleanse the Temple. Evidently, since the Temple had been shut down, these men had neglected their duties as the spiritual leaders of Judah. But Hezekiah ordered them to take seriously their God-given responsibility and cleanse the Temple. Then they were able to reinstate the sacrificial system and the worship of God. But one of the most amazing acts of spiritual leadership Hezekiah performed was his call to the remnant left in Israel to return to God. He sent messengers all throughout the land of Israel, begging those who had been left to repent and return. “O people of Israel, return to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria” (2 Chronicles 30:6 ESV). He reminded them that “the Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him” (2 Chronicles 30:9 ESV). Hezekiah not only had a heart for God, but a heart for God’s people – even those who were living in open rebellion to Him.

What does this passage reveal about God?

As Hezekiah had told the people of Israel, God is gracious and merciful. He is always willing to forgive. Even after all that the people had done to offend Him, God was still willing to forgive them. He was even willing to pardon those who ate the Passover meal even though they did so in an unworthy manner. It seems that many of the people showed up for the Passover having not properly consecrated themselves. They were ritually impure or unclean. But Hezekiah prayed, “May the good Lord pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness” (2 Chronicles 30:18-19 ESV). And God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and graciously pardoned the people. His concern was the condition of their hearts. Their heartfelt desire to return to Him and worship Him was far more important than whether they had kept the letter of the law. God has always been concerned about the condition of the heart. He had made it clear that adherence to rules and rituals without the heart was worthless. Through the prophet, Isaiah, God had accused the people of Israel of going through the motions. “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13 ESV). Many years later, Jesus Himself would say, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15:19 ESV). God looks at the heart. He knew the heart of Hezekiah. He could see the hearts of the people. He knew they were sincere and desired to worship Him, even though they may have failed to keep the letter of the law.  

What does this passage reveal about man?

Hezekiah was not just a political and military leader. He was a spiritual leader and he took his role seriously. He knew that the health and future well being of the nation was directly linked to their relationship with God. So he lead the people in returning to God. He called them back to a right relationship with the only one who could save them and protect them. But not everyone was willing to follow Hezekiah’s leadership. Many of those living in what was left of the kingdom of Israel refused his invitation to return to the Lord. Even though they had suffered greatly at the hands of the Assyrians and watched as their relatives and friends were taken into captivity, when Hezekiah’s messengers arrived inviting them to the Passover, “they laughed them to scorn and mocked them” (2 Chronicles 30:10 ESV). But there were those who did accept Hezekiah’s offer and returned to the Lord. Not everything a godly leader does will appear successful. Not everyone will follow. The prophets of God are a perfect illustration of that truth. They faithfully followed the commands of God, telling the people the words of God, but the people would refuse to listen. The people would reject their calls to repent and return. They would ignore their warnings of God’s impending punishment. But the prophets remained faithful to their God-given commission. Paul would command Titus to appoint elders in all the towns and villages where churches had been established. And he gave Titus clear criteria concerning the qualifications of these men. They were to be above reproach, not arrogant, quick-tempered, prone to drunkenness, or greedy. Instead, they were to be hospitable, lovers of good, self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. But more than anything, these men needed to be able to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 ESV). God’s people require godly leaders – men who are not afraid to speak the truth of God, boldly and unapologetically. Hezekiah was that kind of man.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The church today is in desperate need of godly leaders. It is filled with complacent and casual Christians who have compromised their faith by growing comfortable with the world. There are many who go through the motions, attending church, even going to Bible studies and other seemingly spiritual activities, but their hearts are far from God. They are ignorant of the truth of God. They remain unrepentant of their sins and their hearts are far from Him. There is a need for godly leaders who will step up and speak out. The people of Judah needed Hezekiah. Had he not lead, the people would have continued to live according the example of Ahaz. Without Hezekiah’s leadership, the priests and Levites would have remained unconsecrated and, therefore, unqualified to serve the people. The doors of the Temple would have remained shut and the sacrificial system unavailable. It took a godly leader to turn things around. I pray that I might be that kind of leader. I pray that God will raise up more men and women like Hezekiah in our day. We need leaders who are more committed to the cause of Christ and the call of God than the applause men.

Father, raise up more godly leaders in our day. The church is in an unhealthy state. There are many who claim to be Your people, who “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works” (Titus 1:16 ESV). May You raise up leaders who are unafraid to speak Your truth boldly and call Your people back to You. May our greatest desire be to call the people of God back to a sound faith and a firm commitment to You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org