It was the perfect situation—a paradise. The couple had everything they could ever want or need, and more. But in the midst of this they had one prohibition; merely one boundary. And this boundary was not something innately evil, for everything that existed at the time was good. The man and woman were given this sole limitation to teach them that even if they could not explain the reasons why, they should trust with child-like dependence.
So was the garden into which God put Adam and Eve. The Creator commanded them to eat and enjoy all the lavish provision he gave them (Gen. 2:16): “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden….” No version seems to capture the intensity of God’s desire behind his command to eat. God certainly or surely wanted Adam and Eve to eat and enjoy all he gave them. That command to enjoy came before the prohibition. The one prohibition is this (Gen. 2:17): “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” God desired child-like dependence upon him for all things. This has never changed, for Jesus himself used child-like humility and dependence as an example of the faith that must be placed in him to enter and be the greatest in the kingdom (Mt. 18:3-4).
This intense leaning upon God for all things is not only necessary for the godly life in general, but for leadership in particular. After appearing to King Solomon and telling him to ask for whatever he desires as the king of Israel, Solomon answers the LORD in this fashion (1 Kings 3:7-9):
And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?
This is the fourth truth out of the Pastoral Epistles and the rest of Scripture that we glean about biblical leadership. If we are to lay before self and others our ultimate purpose of glorifying God—a purpose that is carried out as we embody love toward others and attend to truth (our first three truths), this means we will have an accurate view of self before God, and so must do this:
Depend upon God with a humble, praying, Holy-Spirit-trusting, gospel-directed life.
Let’s discover how Paul communicates this to Timothy and Titus.
This Truth Supported From The Pastoral Epistles
God is the one who saves us by his mercy, appoints us to our leadership service, strengthens us for the task, and so the glory belongs to him (1 Tim. 1:12-17). This means we are dependent upon his grace and mercy (2 Tim. 1:1-2; Titus 1:4; 3:15). As such, if we are to engage in God-honoring good works (ministry and leadership) by which we lay up treasures in heaven, we must set our hope upon God (1 Tim. 6:17-19). This leads to the necessity of prayer (1 Tim. 2:8)—especially if others are to be impacted (1 Tim. 2:1-2; 2 Tim. 1:3). It also leads to a gospel directed life by which we see that ministry is carried out by the gospel and for the gospel (2 Tim. 1:9-11; Titus 2:1-11; 3:1-11). This means relying upon the Spirit to empower us and apply the work of Christ (2 Tim. 1:13-14). Our need is so great for the Lord’s power in us (2 Tim. 4:22), it even extends to understanding biblical truth (2 Tim. 2:7). Leaders are to be exemplary in this dependent, humble way. Consider what Paul writes in 1 Tim. 4:12: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (emphasis added)
This Truth Supported From The Rest Of The Bible
As we introduced above, the rest of the Bible also testifies to the need for leaders to have a humble, praying, Holy-Spirit-trusting, gospel-directed life.
In the Old Testament, at one of the most important times in the history of Israel, Moses, God’s leader for his people, learns that it is both true that he is doing the work of leading Israel out of Egypt and that God is doing it through him, and so he must depend upon God. Exodus 3:8, 10 read:
and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”(emphasis added)
In the Old Testament, during one of the most difficult situations for God’s people after the end of their exile, the reality that the wall around Jerusalem was still in ruins and in need of repair, Nehemiah turned to God in prayer. He came in humility, confession of sin, and seeking God’s help to do what humanly could not be done. Nehemiah 1:4-11(NLT) reads:
When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. 5 Then I said,
“O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, 6 listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! 7 We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.
8 “Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. 9 But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.’
10 “The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. 11 O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.”
We see the same thing also in the early days of the New Testament Church. Jesus had said that the only way the Church would carry out her mission of being his witnesses was through the power of the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:8 (NLT) reads: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This need for divine help was also displayed in how the early Church prayed. Consider Acts 4:29-30 (NLT): “And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. 30 Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” What happened in response to this prayer? We see the answer in Acts 4:31 (NLT): “After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.” The entire book of Acts is a record of the Spirit of God working in and through the Church so that the Word of God could go forth with power with the result that more and more become disciples of Jesus Christ.
The need for humble prayer-filled child-like trust in God also is seen in the reality that we now live as part of the New Covenant (cf. Luke 22:20), a covenant which God promised to make with his people whereby he would change their hearts by his Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:25-27), put in their hearts a reverence for him (Jeremiah 32:40), and so place a desire and ability in them to do his will (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The implication of this for ministry and leadership can be found in 2 Corinthians 9:8: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
Not only are leaders to provide a model to others in their faith (1 Tim. 4:12), but the tasks to which God will call any Christian leader cannot be accomplished apart from the transforming grace of God that is ours in Christ and applied to us through the Spirit.
Practical Application Of This Truth
Most discussions of leadership mention confidence. It is hard to lead and instill confidence in others without this. However, the Christian leader’s confidence is not foremost or ultimately in self. Rather, it is in Jesus Christ. Yet, when we have such confidence in Christ, it empowers us to make bold and courageous decisions, as well as to lead in directions and around principles that may not be always easy or popular. Leader, seek your confidence in the power of Christ.
As J. Oswald Sanders wrote in Spiritual Leadership, “the spiritual leader should outpace the rest of the church…in prayer.” Great leaders of the Bible “were not leaders because of brilliancy of thought, because they were exhaustless in resources, because of their magnificent culture or native endowment, but because, by the power of prayer, they could [draw upon] the power of God” (E. M. Bounds, Prayer And Praying Men). Leader, be a man or woman of prayer.
Related to these first two applications are two others. To begin, biblical leaders will understand that we are strengthened by the gospel (Romans 16:25) and so the gospel, as Timothy Keller has famously said, is not merely the ABC’s of the faith to be outgrown after salvation, but the A to Z of the faith to guide and empower for all of life. We are encouraged to go forward by the power we have in Christ and we get up after falling also because of what Christ has done for us and in us. Additionally, the biblical leader is humble. He has a realistic view of himself that understands his need for the Spirit of Jesus Christ and that left to himself he is unable to do anything of eternal significance (John 15:5) and so, like John the Baptist, he wants Jesus to increase and himself to decrease in the eyes of others (John 3:30). So, leader, be humble and be strengthened, as well as directed, by the gospel.
The biblical leader understands that he does not innately have to have all the answers to the difficult issues of life and ministry himself. Rather, he must lead by being led by the Spirit—finding his competence in the Word given by the Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and finding his wisdom in how to apply God’s truth from the Spirit (Col. 1:9). This alleviates a lot of stress so that the leader does not lead out of frustration, compulsion, or in a domineering fashion, but rather in joy (see 1 Peter 5:2-3). So, leader, lead by being led.
Finally, this principle is so important that the biblical leader should memorize it and regularly pray that the Lord would enable him/her to practice it.