Sunday, February 21, 2016

Child-Like Leaders

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. 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. 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. 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. 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, 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! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.
“Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. 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.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Feeding Our Joy: The Task Of Leaders

Imagine yourself living in a cabin at the foot of the mountains where you have one water supply—or at least so you think—and it is a well that is not only limited, but contaminated and continues to make you and your family ill. Yet, you think that it is better than nothing, so you continue to drink. Imagine also that you have a steady flow of hikers who stop by for water. You share your limited water only rarely for, after all, you have to provide for your family. And in those rare occasions, of course it makes the hikers ill.

Imagine also that two to three times a month you go to a meeting in town that seeks to inspire you and educate you on how to deal with your water and to remind you of the importance of helping hikers. You often hear:  “Take your pills that make you less sick;” “You must give water to hikers, it is what the owner of the mountain would want you to do.” “Pay attention to how much water you drink. After all, you don’t want to get too sick and besides, you must save some for others.”

And all along the way, you feel sick, unmotivated and unable to carry out these commands. You keep going so maybe you can find help, but it never seems to make a difference. You keep seeking for answers, but finding none; keep seeking for ways you can serve the hikers, but never really able to muster up what it takes.

Then one day your world is turned upside down. Your neighbor comes by to tell you there is a stream they discovered that runs between your two places. You had heard rumors, but never believed it was there, never believed it would be adequate or healthy or even that the owner of the mountain would want you drinking out of it. But, your neighbor shows you that the water has been tested and it is healthy—no more illness!  He shows you the letter from the mountain’s owner stating that he wants you to drink all the water you want. He wants you to enjoy it. You and your family make your way down to it, bend down on your knees and began to drink.  It is the best water, the most refreshing cold crisp water you have ever tasted. And here is the kicker!  You will never have to worry about having enough to drink. There is a never-ending supply. There is enough to supply a whole city and then some. Hikers can come every day and the more you give away, the more you have. It not only doesn’t affect your supply, it actually increases your joy in the stream. Wow!  Finally what you have sought for your whole life.

Funny thing is, you start meeting with your neighbor every week to talk about ways you can give water to more and more hikers and tell other neighbors about the stream. You make buckets so you can transport the water. Finally, you actually want to go to such meetings! 

This short parable is built upon a statement we find in Jeremiah 2:13 (NLT): “For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me—the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!”  The prophet clarifies that at the heart of Judah’s sin (and this is true of all sin) is the reality we seek to find life in sources that don’t deliver, that are inferior, rather than running to and drinking from God’s perfect and unlimited supply!  The remedy is to run to him, to drink from him. John 7:37-39 reads: “Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, ‘Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! 38 Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.39 (When he said ‘living water,’ he was speaking of the Spirit….).”

This parable also helps us understand and bring together the first three principles of biblical leadership, two of which we have already discussed. The first one is that we must lay before self and others our ultimate purpose—God’s glory by enjoying him forever. Our main aim in life, to use the pictures of the parable, is to magnify the owner of the mountain so that people are pointed to his goodness, his unending supply, his generosity, his stream that can bring life and joy to others. The more we drink from the stream and enjoy it, the more we draw neighbors and hikers to the stream.

The second principle we discovered about biblical leadership is that we must embody love as a key purpose in the church. The owner of the mountain wants us not only to drink to our fill and enjoy it, he wants us to share from the endless supply with others. When we are supplied so generously and lavishly we can in turn give to others and find great joy in this—which is what biblical love is (Mt. 10:8; Luke 12:32-34).

Yet, for all this to happen, we must know the truth about the owner of the mountain, the truth about the health and goodness of the stream, the truth about the endless supply, the truth about the need to help neighbors and hikers, the truth that this will not take away from our joy, but add to it, and the truth about how to make buckets so we can carry the water to our own house and others. This need for truth to power our glorifying God through joy and our love of others is the next principle we discover out of the Pastoral Epistles and the rest of the Bible for how we are to lead. We will state it this way:


In other words, the biblical leader is called to pour more and more truth upon the stream-drinker-bucket-carrier so they will be more motivated to drink from God’s stream, draw others to delight in him, and to see more and more coming to the stream. The more we know about the giver, the water, and the need of others, the more we will not only experience joy, but give it away. Leaders, then, are called to feed the joy of others in God.

This Truth Supported From The Pastoral Epistles
As Paul instructs Timothy and Titus in how the Church is to function and how they are to lead, we discover that leaders must: give strong attention to what we teach, such as there is only one way to God (1 Tim. 1:3-11; 2:5); teach hard truths (1 Tim. 2:11-15); “be able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2); devote [themselves] to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13); “keep a close watch on [themselves] and on the teaching…for by so doing [they] will save both [themselves] and [their] hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16); “rightly handl[e] the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15); “be equipped for every good work” through the inspired Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16-17); “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2); “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 1:9-10); and be able to teach others how our right conduct and life that glorifies God flows from the truths and realities of the gospel (Titus 2:1-15; 3:1-8).

This teaching is not only to engender love for God and others among those being taught (1 Tim. 1:5), but also should lead to a realization God has given all things for our joy (1 Tim. 6:17), and that we are to do all for his glory (1 Tim. 1:17; Titus 2:5, 10).

This Truth Supported From The Rest Of The Bible
This truth permeates all of Scripture. Not only did God teach Israel when on the verge of entering the Promised Land they would glorify God by living out the truth of his Word (cf. Dt. 4:6-8), but we also learn that the gospel, which is the very core of biblical truth (Eph. 1:13; 1 Thes. 2:13), is the vehicle through which God’s power is unleashed for salvation (Rom. 1:16; James 1:18). It is also through the Scriptures that believers are grown and made holy (John 17:17). Additionally, believers are able to “man up” and be courageous when they consider who God is, what he is like, and what Scripture reveals about how God has worked through history to save and preserve his people—in other words, to be theologians (Isaiah 46:8-13). And there is an entire Psalm (119) dedicated to the importance, glory, and benefit of God’s Word which teaches, as elsewhere (cf. Ps. 19:7-10) its superiority to any other treasure in the world. Every person whom God called to lead his people had, as one of their primary tasks, the teaching of God’s truth, all so God’s people could love, trust in, and serve him to his glory (see especially Moses in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, as well as Ezra and Nehemiah [esp. Neh. 8:1-8]).

Application Of This Truth
Here are some application points I have learned about teaching truth from Scripture that have also been driven home through experience.

1. Trust that God’s Spirit works through God’s Word, usually in response to prayer, and usually among God’s people, to change and transform (John 17:17; Rom. 1:16; 16:25; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Faithful, godly leaders must lead according to God’s Word.

2. Avoid the “truth-only-trap.” In other words, do not conclude that all a leader needs to do is disseminate information to the exclusion of:
a. Modeling the importance of the application of truth (1 Tim. 4:12, 16; Heb. 13:7).

b. Encouraging others to apply truth and not merely hear it (Heb. 10:24-25; James 1:22-25).

c. A personal, ongoing, intimate, and dependent relationship with Jesus (Mt. 4:19; 11:28-30; John 5:39-40; 15:1-8f.).

d. Equipping others for the work of ministry  by showing them how to do ministry and not merely telling them what to do and also helping them turn around and train others (Eph. 4:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:2).

e. Personal relationships and community in which fellow believers know each other well-enough so they can speak more specifically on how to apply and how to overcome the specific struggles they have in their walk with Christ (1 Thes. 5:14; Heb. 3:12-13).

f. Loving God and others (1 Cor. 13:1-3; 1 Tim. 1:5).

3. At the same time, however, understand how important the knowledge of biblical truth is for the Christian leader (1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17; Titus 1:9-10) and give it priority in your life, growth, and ministry. This means first and foremost give much time to reading, studying, hearing, meditating upon, and memorizing the Bible. At the same time, understand that given the place the New Testament gives to teachers (cf. Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:29; Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9-10), avail yourself of the teaching of solid biblical teachers on-line, in podcasts, and in print. Leaders are readers—and certainly in our day and time we can add listeners!

4. Though we never want to encourage the teaching of falsehood, at the same time we must not be paralyzed by a person or ministry not knowing, having, or teaching all the truth. We must understand that people are in process and must give grace to others. See for example 2 Tim. 2:24-26.

5. Be brave and teach the hard truths, the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:17-35).

6. Be convinced that you need the help of the Spirit, his wisdom and understanding, in order to know how to apply God’s will to the specific situations you face as leaders (Col. 1:9-11).

7. Understand how destructive leaders can be who know the truth, but carry it out in the wrong ways or with the wrong spirit (consider 1 Tim. 3:1-7; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; Titus 1:9-10).

8. Memorize and pray this principle regularly—that you will have the discipline, willingness, and wisdom to carry it out effectively.